In September of 1992, I was not quite 38. I began feeling bad, and the right side
of my face started to sag. I couldn't drink anything without dribbling it out the right
side of my mouth. I went to a local clinic, was told by a doctor I had Bell's Palsy,
and given cortosteroids. After I took all the pills, I was no better.
One day at work I collapsed.
I went back to the clinic, and saw a different doctor. He touched my right eye with
a huge swab a few times, and told me, "You have no corneal reflex. You need to see
a neurologist asap".
I checked in at a hospital, and endured a number of tests.
One was The TEE (transesophageal echo) Exam. A rubber tube about the size of
a garden hose was slid down my throat. I could breathe, but it was still unpleasant.
In the end of the hose was a sensor that transmitted an image of my innards to a bed-
side video terminal the physicians could view. One doctor told me, "You have a little
hole in your heart, but if you'll take an aspirin a week from now on I don't think it'll ev-
er amount to anything".
I looked it up later. The hole was called a PFO (patent foramen ovale). Everybody
was born with one. It usually closed in childhood, and was then called a foramen o-
The term patent denoted openness.
The medical community estimated from twenty to twenty five percent of the world
population's foramen ovales were patent. A PFO was like a crack in an engine block.
Depending on its location, the motor might run okay.
Another test showed me I was newly claustrophobic. An MRI showed a 'mass' in
the fourth neural ventricle (it was later deemed harmless), and some cerebellar atro-
On the day of discharge, three separate doctors came around, and all gave me dif-
ferent diagnoses. All three differed from the one written on the discharge summary.
The first physician said, "Well, it looks like you've had a little, er uh pretty good lit-
The second guy said, "You probably have MS"(multiple sclerosis), "It just hasn't
completely shown itself yet. You'll know for sure by the time your forty".
I looked up CNS (central nervous system) disorders, and found the field to be one
in which contemporary medicine was woefully lacking. There were hundreds of NMDs
(neuromuscular diseases), and most were unknown in 1992. Everyone who had at
least two 'plaque' formations (I just had one) show up on MRI was given the blanket
If anybody with The MS label began to exhibit symptoms hitherto unseen, a new
NMD was named after them eg.(s); Wilson's, Lou Gehrig's, Huntington's, Parkinson's,
and many more)]. A new CNS was always named after the first host.
The third doctor made the most sense. He said, "Something you breathed in
I've breathed in some noxious fumes over the years.
The written diagnosis was 5th, 6th, & 7th cranial nerve palsies of unknown etiolo-
Since I'd collapsed on the job, I got to deal with The Workman's Comp for nearly
eight years. I had to educate myself on Toxicology as a measure of self defense.
The WC sent me to a neurologist. First time I saw him, he told me to stop the
aspirin. I told him about The PFO, and the other doctor's instructions to never stop
The WC Doctor persisted, saying among other things the aspirin could be caus-
ing tinnitus, the shrill whine I'd heard since Sept-92.
I quit taking aspirin. In six months I had a massive CVA (cerebrovascular acci-
dent) stroke]. It happened in my sleep.
I got my wife to help me get to the hospital.
A different physician conducted The TEE Exam. I told the guy of The PFO before
the test. He couldn't find it.
I'd told The WC Doctor of The PFO the first time I saw him. It was written on the
paperwork he supposedly perused. He ruled it out. The next time I saw him, he
flabbergasted me by saying, "If you'd been taking your aspirin, this wouldn't have
happened". I was dumbfounded. It was determined I had Polycythemia.
Polycythemia was a condition in which too many red blood cells had been made,
causing the blood to be thickened. Some blood was drained out in a procedure
called a "Phlebotomy". A Phlebotomy was like a reverse IV.
I decided to seek a second opinion, and checked into another hospital. They did
an MRI. In addition to the cerebellar atrophy and fourth neural fourth ventricle anom-
aly, some pontine infarction was sighted. That wasn't there in the 1992 MRIs, and
was easily preventable.
A doctor at my third hospitalization conducted a TEE Exam. He found The PFO
right off the bat without being told of it in advance. I coughed, or came as close to
a cough as a guy could with a hosepipe in his throat. The doctor asked, "Can you
do that again?"
I tried to repeat it, and a mystery was partially solved. When I coughed, or strained
as in a manual lift (a movement called a "shunt", or more specifically "The Valsalva
Maneuver"), a tiny embolism such as a blood clot could pass through The PFO.
The doctors were amazed I was still alive, and recommended closure. I asked the
surgeon, "Isn't that like closing the gate after the cows have gotten out?"
He replied, "Maybe, but you still have some cows in there".
So, the next day (Halloween 1994), I went under the knife in a PFO repair.
It must've worked. I've not had another stroke.
I wish I'd gone there first, but then, hindsight's always 20/20, eh?