An earthquake in my brain

Three weeks ago, dear reader, I had a stroke.

Believe me, I was surprised as you are.

On an inauspicious Friday, I went to bed at two in the morning, a healthy, active, fairly young man with a thrice-a-week workout regimen, a nutritious diet, and a loving wife already asleep in bed. Shortly after — I’m not sure if I fell asleep or not — I started tossing and making enough noise that my wife, Claire, woke up cursing at me, and got ready to go sleep on the couch.

Thank God she didn’t before she realized something was seriously wrong. I wasn’t responding to her. Somehow, I ended up on the floor. The entire right side of my body was paralyzed, including the right side of my face. Whatever she said to me, I could only respond with two childlike words: “Stop it.” I’m not sure if I was talking to her or myself.

Before this, the last consciously death-defying event of my life was the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in 2010 (an event that, fittingly enough, also found me in bed). But this time, I wasn’t afraid at all. I can’t fully explain the feeling — I assume it has something to do with the blood shutting off to a fear receptor in my left brain — but if anything I felt like I was having fun. Maybe I felt deep down like I was in good hands.

So much was working in my favor that night. One happy fact was that my parents had just come to town for Rosh Hashanah — including my father, a physician. Another was that our home is literally down the street from the University of Virginia’s main hospital, which has a world-class stroke center. Another is that it happened at a moment when I have pretty good health insurance (through my wife, who is faculty at the university). If I had been poorer, in a rural area, someone afraid of calling the authorities, or left alone, I might have died before anyone found me.

Instead, because I was rushed incredibly fast to a very good hospital, the vascular fellow on call, an M.D./Ph.D., was able to rush an honest-to-God miracle drug and break up the clot in my brain in time to prevent more permanent damage. Just a few years ago, the drug — tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA — was rarely used; rarer still in black and Hispanic patients, women, and those without private insurance. Just two years ago, the lingering controversy over the drug elicited a sympathetic profile in the New York Times. There were risks, including a chance it would provoke a cerebral hemorrhage. But with the counsel of the wise doctor, and my family’s consultation, she went ahead. The drug worked.

I spent two more days in the hospital and was released a day earlier than the doctors predicted. I’ve been resting at home. My physical symptoms, which could have been catastrophic, are nil. I have some aphasia — a hilariously fancy term for struggling to say and write words — but that is rapidly improving. I went to synagogue for some much-needed praying on Yom Kippur. I even went on Twitter a bit after coming home from the hospital, before Claire convinced me to give my mind some rest. (Though I am glad to say that, even with part of my brain out of service, I could still own the anti-anti-Trumpers.) I’m making up for the lack of intellectual combat by battling monsters on my new Nintendo Switch.

I’ll have more to say about my experience in a bit. I’ll be getting more fully back to work on this newsletter and my book soon. In the meantime, I want to thank all of you for your patience and support. Be well, and take care of each other.

Jonathan M. Katz is a freelance journalist and author. My next book, Gangsters of Capitalism, traces the origins and contradictions of American empire. Follow me (soon, again) on Twitter @KatzOnEarth.

Image: Orla/Shutterstock