Award-winning TV reporter describes debilitating stroke
Brent Gilbert, ctvbc.ca
Published Tuesday, October 5, 2010 6:45PM PDT
I've written hundreds of stories in my almost 30 years of reporting, but I never dreamed that one day I'd become the subject of my own story. But that's exactly what happened when I suffered a life-threatening stroke earlier this year.
March 18, 2010, was just a typical day in the world of television news, but not for me.
Something didn't feel right. I had a throbbing headache and a feeling of vertigo I couldn't shake. I thought it was all a part of a bad cold until the vision in my left eye simply disappeared.
By chance, our Dr. Rhonda Low had just arrived at work and would perform a short diagnosis right at her desk, asking me about what medicines I was taking and how many fingers she was holding up.
Despite protests that I should simply go home, she sent me to the station's first aid room immediately.
"I thought you were having a migraine," Dr. Low recalled.
But before I could make it there the right side of my body began to weaken. Within minutes of lying down things got worse.
"You were literally paralyzed on the right side of your body," Dr. Low said. "I said ‘call 911 immediately – Brent is having a stroke.'"
Within minutes I was in an ambulance en route to Vancouver General Hospital.
I fell in and out of consciousness throughout the trip. Dr. Low said I didn't know where I was or even what day it was.
My CT scan would confirm what Dr. Low already suspected – I had suffered a stroke.
Neurologist Dr. Samuel Yip would deliver the news I could have never imagined.
"There's a tear in the vessel wall, one of the carotid arteries," Yip said. "It was very clear you had a clot all the way up your carotid artery on the left side."
A stroke is the kind of debilitating condition you associate with seniors, smokers or those in poor physical health. I just kept wondering how this could have happened to me.
The answer was staring me in the face – a simple cough. I'd had it for weeks, and doctors believe the constant strain had torn the carotid artery, causing the stroke and consequently a blood clot in the brain.
After a restless night in emergency, doctors would be confounded with yet another challenge, a condition so rare in a stroke that they'd never seen it before.
My body went from a state of temporary paralysis to perpetual motion. I couldn't stop moving the entire right side of my body.
My wife Vicki and I worried that these movements could be permanent. But after being sedated for several hours I awoke to find the mysterious condition had disappeared. Other than a bit of slurred speech, everything else seemed to be working.
I would spend the next eight days in hospital hooked to a machine pumping in Heparin, a blood thinner to break up the clotting in my brain.
While life outside moved at a blistering pace, life in the hospital became routine – blood tests around the clock, visits from a physiotherapist and so many procedures and trips down the hall I can barely remember them.
After I was admitted to Emergency at Vancouver General Hospital, I realized that my condition was far more serious than I originally thought and that I would be spending more than a few days in the facility. I decided the best way to deal with the situation was to bring some of my camera equipment in and document what was happening to me.
When I first suggested the idea to my wife she asked "Are you crazy?" but she reluctantly picked up some of my gear and I started filming. The story helped to take my mind off lying in a hospital bed day after day.
It was also a view that reporters rarely see -- we often film in hospitals but under the direction of a media relations officer and everything is tightly choreographed. Over the next eight days I would videotape everything from MRIs to CT scans to blood tests and doctors' visits. It was a strange story to say the least for me, but like life you never know exactly what's coming around the next corner!
At last the day arrived to try walking again for the first time. It was only a few tentative steps but it felt great to finally be out of that bed.
My final day inside I said a few goodbyes to the fantastic staff at VGH. Not only did they provide excellent care, but they put up with all my cameras and constant questions.
There would be many more months of pills, self-injections and doctor's visits, but I know how lucky I am. A lightning quick response gave me the best chance for a full recovery – the recovery that continues each and every day.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Brent Gilbert