My husband, Pete, my ninety-year-old mum, my son, Mark, and I made a “tree change” from living close to the city of Melbourne to moving to country Victoria. Drouin is now our hometown and is part of the beautiful, green, grassy, rolling hills of Gippsland. We are on two acres, which is also the home for many rabbits and hares. We love our flowers, trees, and large fountain fishpond, which has around forty fish that swim to me when I call them. They actually let me stroke them!
I also have two Cavalier King Charles Spaniel dogs. The elder, Cameo, is a Blenheim (red and white) female who is twelve years old, and the younger, Cooper, is a tricolour (black, white, and red) male aged five. Both enjoy being able to romp in such a large grassy area and especially like to bark at the rabbits when they dare trespass on their territory.
Thursday, May 19, 2011, started out like any other day. Little did I know that life as I knew it would never be the same. Pete and I had decided to do a small amount of grocery shopping. We did not like to shop during a weekday, as we both workedfrom home supporting the home based business operators and put in many long hours. We did not easily find time for such things as shopping.
On the way home, we noticed our neighbours had a car parked outside. As they both did shift work, we never quite knew when they would be home or if they would be sleeping or not. The car at the front of the house suggested that someone was home and not sleeping.
They had a new dog, which they had acquired when she was about five months of age, and she was difficult to walk. In fact, she had pulled my neighbour over and damaged her knee on a walk a few weeks before. The dog was now nearly a year old. As a dog judge, breeder, and trainer, I knew that the breed (border collie) was the most intelligent of all breeds, and I wanted to meet her and see if I could help the family with her training.
I knocked on the door and my neighbour invited us in to meet his dog. I did ten minutes of training and was sure the border collie would learn quickly with a bit of consistent training. We chatted a while and then left to go home for lunch.
I cook a hot meal at lunchtime as it best suits my mum. She is nearly blind from macular degeneration, has had cancer twice, has had her hip replaced twice, and uses a walking frame to help her get around the house. I am her official caregiver, or “carer,” as I call it, and Pete and Mark, my son, help me to look after her.
I dished up the hot lunch for the others, but as I did not feel 100 percent, I only had a small bowl of soup. We decided to eat in the TV room and watch a show. My crab chowder soup smelled delicious, but I thought that it did not taste exactly as it should. I wondered why I seemed to lose my sense of taste. I had just finished my soup and placed the empty bowl on the coffee table when an unbelievably agonising pain engulfed me.
The pain in my head was like a sudden and unbearable explosion. It felt like a knife searing its way through my skull, twisting and stabbing at the same time. It grabbed me with so much ferocity that I could do nothing but hold my head and gasp for breath. I was drowning in pain. I could not speak. I could hardly think. I am sure I moaned as the all-consuming pain persisted. As the pain took over, I seemed to lose all sense of colour; everything was in black and white, with more black than white. I felt as though I were sinking into a massive black abyss. I desperately wanted to reach the light again.
“Are you okay?” Pete asked.
I thought, What a silly question! Of course, I’m not okay!
I could tell by the sound of Pete’s voice that he was concerned and wanted to do something for me, but I just couldn’t answer him. It took all my energy to tolerate the pain. I couldn’t say a word. I couldn’t even see his face; it was simply a blur.
After around ten minutes of the ghastly, agonising pain, Pete said, “I’m calling an ambulance.”
I managed to mumble, “No!” I thought that the pain would subside and I would be okay in a few minutes. I didn’t want to spend hours in a hospital, only to be told to take an analgesic and to rest.
Pete then asked me, “Do you think you have tic douloureux?” This is a facial neuralgia that I had had once before (many years ago), and the pain for that was also severe. Pete later told me that he thought that the intensity of the pain was very similar.
“What?” I gasped.
Again, Pete said, “Do you think you have tic douloureux?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I muttered. The pain had slightly eased and I was managing to relax a little. I was now more aware of what was going on around me. Pete again said, “I think I will call the ambulance.”
“Do what you bloody like,” I mumbled in utter desperation.
When the pain was at its worst and everything seemed darker and fuzzy, sound also seemed to be a long way off. I could not fathom what was happening to me. But now I felt things were returning to normal, and as I had stopped moaning and swaying, I was sure that I didn’t need an ambulance; but if Pete wanted one, then so be it.
Pete later told me that he thought he knew what had happened to me when I did not understand when he mentioned tic douloureux, as not understanding what is being said is a well-known symptom of a stroke. However, such severe pain is not a classic stroke symptom, and that confused him. He immediately rang the ambulance, even though I was still sure that I did not need paramedics.
Little did I know that Pete’s diagnosis was correct and that my life was about to change forever.