This past Sunday (August 18 2019), I arrived to practice as usual at the studio shortly before 7:00am, a routine I am very familiar with having done so for the past two decades. But this Sunday’s practice was to prove anything but routine.
Walking into the yoga room I was happy to find a spot in the front between Stu and Meghan, and placed my mat there. When Meghan saw me she moved her mat to the right to make some space. She was on her knees so I assumed she was about to go into the posture karandavasana and I asked her if she wanted help with it. She looked at me quizzically and did not answer. I took that to mean that she did not want any help and started my practice with sun salutations. As I started to bend forward, I noticed that she had left her mat and gone out to the lobby.
It was almost time to start the 7:00am chanting, so I went out as well to get the chanting books. I found Meghan slouched on the rectangular ottoman in the entrance, with Beata and Anne talking to her – something was wrong, she appeared to be crying. We tried to figure out what was going on but she wasn’t replying – it looked like she was having a panic attack, not finding words and breathing quickly. Beata was supposed to start teaching so she had to go. I had a sore throat anyway so I asked Anne if she could start with the chanting and I would see what was the matter with Meghan. I asked her to go lie down in the blue room, and began asking her questions. It became quickly apparent that she could not find words to respond – as if she had lost the ability to speak. She was trying her hardest to answer but was not able to retrieve the words. She was lucid though and was able to answer yes/no questions.
At that point I began suspecting this was serious and thought to call my father in law, who is a doctor and has often helped us in the past with medical emergencies. I was relieved when he picked up the phone after a couple of rings and I was able to describe the situation to him. He asked if Meghan had been taking medicine – “no”, had migraines – “no” and then said – “You better have someone take a look at her.” At that point I became convinced this was a stroke and knew that it was a race against time to get her to a hospital. I still don’t know why this conviction arose, it must have been from hearing a friend’s story or in a movie I had seen. I only knew of two hospitals nearby, Stanford and El Camino. I decided to take her to El Camino since it was closer to us and to her house.
Stu and I started gathering her things, and asked her to get her shoes. She looked at the dozen of shoes in the cubbies in front of her in confusion shaking her head helplessly, as she realized she could not recognize which ones were hers. We eventually figured out the right ones by pointing, which only alarmed us even more. I thought it would be a bad idea to bike her there so we took her car – I unlocked the doors and realized that she was not able to open her side, so I opened it for her and we sped off to the hospital 4 miles away. I drove as fast as I could, and when we got close to the hospital it was helpful to have the Emergency Room signs clearly indicated with red arrows. I parked the car in the driveway and we went to the reception.
Through hand signals and fumbling she helped me get her wallet out of her bag and we managed to retrieve her Kaiser health insurance card and driver’s license. It was frustrating trying to convey the urgency of the situation to the receptionist who was insisting for Meghan to sign some papers before being seen by a doctor. When I asked her to sign she could hardly understand what I was saying to her, and I had to point at the paper repeatedly for her to start scribbling her signature on it. Finally a doctor saw her, asked her a few questions and it only took a couple of minutes for him to realize this was serious. At this point everyone went into crisis mode and they whisked her away, telling me to wait as it would be a good 20 minutes of frenetic activity.
At that point I called her husband Andrew, and he said he would find a neighbor to take care of their 4 young kids and come right away. They then told me I could go see Meghan in the ER and I found her in a hospital bed with various tubes in her arms and beeping machines, two nurses, a doctor and a neurologist hovering over her. This was quite a contrast from an hour earlier practicing on her yoga mat. She seemed to be finding more words than prior, almost making full sentences. She had had a CAT scan, and was being given blood thinning medicine. They told me the neurologist was busy because they had another stroke patient at the same time; also the neurologist was on the phone intermittently having a consult with another offsite neurologist. The general impression was that Meghan was in expert hands, and in retrospect it seems El Camino hospital is renowned for being a stroke center.
At this point Andrew turned up and took over and I went back to the studio for the sutra discussion at 10:00 am.
The latest update on the situation as I write this 36 hours later (evening of Aug 19) is that Meghan has no more symptoms. The probable cause of the stroke is a hole in her heart (apparently 20% of adults have this) when a blood clot went through it and straight to her brain, near her Broca’s area (left frontal lobe, the part of the brain responsible for language). This happened while she was on her yoga mat, when she was an hour into her practice about to go into pincha mayurasana. She told me later that the first symptom she noticed was not being able to see from her right eye, as she could only see one hand in front of her, and feeling dizzy. When she went out to the lobby area and Beata came to her she could only see half of Beata and felt confused. Her left arm and leg felt numb too. At this point she was having a stroke and lost the ability to retrieve words, and we were lucky that through this series of events she was able to receive expert care under 45 minutes from the beginning of the symptoms.
Just a note about stroke symptoms – there is an acronym F.A.S.T. which helps memorize them:
- Face Drooping
- Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven or lopsided?
- Arm Weakness
- Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence.
- Time to Call 9-1-1
- If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get them to the hospital immediately.
Meghan’s already had quite a few visitors at the hospital and they’ve all said that she is in good spirits. Here’s the latest update as of 8/21/19.
P.S. Meghan has read this and approved of its publication.