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Opinion: An adventure, but not like Pee Wee’s or Bill and Ted’s

Staff Writer
Devils Lake Journal
Thumbs up! This is me, Louise Oleson, after my first Black Hawk Helicopter ride - one of the top ten things I've ever done in my life!

It was like any other Friday morning, August 7, when I was brushing my teeth before heading out to the Devils Lake Journal when I looked in the mirror and noticed a slight droop to the left side of my smile. “What the heck?”

So, like any other thoughtful 67-year old I wondered if I had or was in the process of having a stroke. I imagine my blood pressure immediately shot up with that thought - I can be a drama queen when the situation calls for it. But I also reminded myself that I had quite a bit of dental work recently on both sides so I was quick to poo poo it, too.

After arguing with myself for a few seconds I telephoned my dentist to try to get squeezed in for a “quickie” x-ray in case I was developing an abscess. I’ve had one before and it is no picnic! Since it was Friday, their hours were limited and there were so many ahead of me it looked like it might even be Tuesday before they could squeeze me in, so I told them I’d call them back a little later.

Now, what should I do? If it is a stroke, by Tuesday I’d be long gone, so I drove up to CHI St. Alexius Hospital (a mere two blocks away) and parked in the lot, ate a granola bar, took my medication meanwhile SEVERAL people went in to the Emergency Entrance ahead of me, so I switched gears, and drove next door to Altru Clinic asking for someone to see me for a stroke assessment, “just in case.”

I met Dr. Stella for the first time who was lovely to me, but decided I needed to go to the hospital, again “just in case.” So I went back next door and the excitement really began.

They have a code for potential strokes, it’s called “Stroke Code” I actually heard them announce it and suddenly I was one of the most popular people in the E.R.

I met so many different folks and, yes, I’m sorry (or not sorry) to say I kept reminding them I worked for the Devils Lake Journal and they’d better be good to me, make this a positive experience for me, or they’d read about it in the newspaper! (How ethical is that?!) All that did was encourage them to start giving me fake names to put in my report, even when I could read their name tags! You know who you are “Hildegaard!”

One CT scan, several unusual questions and bouts of thumb wrestling-type encounters one-on-one with the ER doc and a police escorted flashing lights ambulance ride (as far as the Nelson County line, where the PD left us) to Grand Forks I was no longer CHI St. Alexius’ problem. Now I was Altru Hospital’s pain in the “you know what.”

No one would let me stop at Hardees for a breakfast biscuit along the way or to grab a cherry Coke or even a glass of ice water, “just in case.” So, I had to suffer in silence, which, if you know me was the most difficult of all, in fact, I confess I didn’t even try!

At Altru I was met by THE most wonderful people from the caring nurses Pam and Daniel to the technicians who drew blood, tested my sugars, completed my echocardiogram and talked me into doing an MRI - thanks to a hefty dose of Atavan (not sure how to spell that!) - and staying in bed and behaving for over 24 hours! By late in the afternoon on Friday they’d pretty much decided it was okay to let me have some water and a meal. The MRI would be early the next morning. That peppered chicken breast filet, green beans, vegetable soup and apple crisp at 7 p.m. tasted better than anything after that measly granola bar at 8:30 a.m. I was left to watch TV, read and reflect upon my experience so far well into the night as the shifts changed and every two hours my vitals were taken.

I was given an IV of fluids after having little to nothing by mouth all day and that was my only complaint - the noise that pump made kept me awake and every time I nearly drifted off, something would get kinked or something else would happen and loud beeping would set me off - by 3:30 a.m. I was ready to attempt to bash out the window and toss the whole lock stock and barrel out onto the roofs below, I was now channeling the Incredible Hulk. The hospital’s property (and my own liability, no doubt) were saved by nurse Daniel whom I was able to convince that I needed a few hours sleep more than I needed the hydration. The IV was stopped, I got some sleep and awoke to my old sunny self (cue the chirping birds, sunshine and rainbows!)

Nurse Pam was back on at 7 a.m. and she did such a fine job encouraging and educating me that rather than yelling four letter words, grabbing my clothing (and my dignity, what was left of it), and hitchhiking home to DL instead of having the MRI a miracle happened. Nurse Pam left the room momentarily, I wept and bitterly complained to God my sad, sad situation and when Pam returned she had a syringe with a nice dose of something that would help me with my panic attack, claustrophobia, neurotic fight-or-flight response to shoving this 250++ pound body through a narrow tube to the sound of tribal drum beats alternating with heavy metal Gatling gun gunfire for 45 minutes, flat on my back (with knees up, however) as Captain Kirk and Scotty and Dr. McCoy sliced my brain into photos the MRI. (Yes, I KNOW that is a run-on sentence! So, too, was the reality of it!)

The technician who talked me thorough it all as I was incarcerated in THE TUBE was from Devils Lake and was also a lovely, kind and understanding young woman. I’m sorry I can’t remember her name. Thanks to her, Nurse Pam and Atavan I made it through the ordeal without so much as a shudder, wiggle or “get me the _@#$ (blank)” out of here!

It turned out I was right, I did NOT have a stroke. The doctors, when all was said and done, determined it must have been the recent dental work that affected my smile and I was discharged out into an unsuspecting world. I was so grateful for all the good care I received and the experience I’d had, that if it hadn’t been for COVID-19 I would have hugged and kissed everyone along the way as I left the building. Instead, I forced myself to refrain from leaping and singing and tossing flower petals behind me. This, however, is my way of thanking them all - you know who you are, Nurse Pam, Nurse Daniel, aids Tika and Tila, Ultrasound technician Matt, Doctors Aduba and Novacek plus all the folks from the Devils Lake Emergency Room (yes, you, too, “Hildegaard!”) and Devils Lake Ambulance team. Everyone I met was kind, caring, professional and positive. I have nothing but good things to say about my experience all the way around. Most patients don’t have the chance to give a “thumbs up” to their care providers when they have an experience like this, but I can do this because in a couple of months, when I retire and leave this position with the Devils Lake Journal I will have hoped that this column encourages others to go to the emergency room if they notice any of the symptoms of a stroke - even if you’ve had lots of dental work like I had - it really is better to be safe than sorry! My experience was a positive one and I hope you never have to go through it, but if you do, it is worth it!

A great big, fat Thank You! to all of you who helped me along the way, including Uncle Vern, Marcia and Lori who picked me up at my favorite Grand Forks motel, the Come On Inn, on Sunday and brought me home to my two cat kids, who also are grateful I am home!