Then, at ten past eight, her daughter called. She was concerned because Mom wasn't picking up the phone. Daughter is the sort of thorn-in-the-side, pain-in-the-ass advocate for a patient that we simultaneously dread and admire: she'd enlisted the help of a couple of family friends who were nurses, and she called regularly for updates.
Anyway, Mom wasn't answering the phone. This wasn't unusual, as Mom tended to sleep in. Plus, as I'd said before, she was groggy that morning anyhow. But, because my Spidey-Sense started to tingle, I went into her room anyhow, to see if she needed help ordering breakfast.
I found an obtunded patient who couldn't move her right side and couldn't speak. She'd stroked out at some point in the last forty minutes.
After the usual stat CT scans, administration of Narcan and a bolus of normal saline in the vain hope that this was merely dehydration, rushing around notifying family members (thank God I didn't have to do that), and transferring her to the ICU, I sat down with the intensivist for a post-mortem of what might've happened.
Turns out she'd had an episode the day before of having one arm go dead. Her legs were already gone, thanks to that spontaneous epidural hematoma, and we couldn't feed her coumadin or heparin or any of the usual anti-clotting drugs, thanks to that spontaneous epidural hematoma. Although she'd recovered her arms in a matter of seconds the day before, the fact that she'd lost one at all (and by "lost one" I mean "lost all motion and sensation") led us to believe that she had some sort of clotting disorder besides the original one.
And, sure enough, she had a previously-undiagnosed bit of atrial fibrillation. A-fib, as we call it in the biz, is a condition in which the top chambers of the heart don't squeeze regularly. Instead, they sort of shiver. This doesn't affect how you feel, much, but it allows small clots to form in the backed-up blood that isn't cleared from the atria. When the heart muscle finally gets its shit together and manages to actually contract the atria, clots can shoot into the brain.
Which is what happened in this case.
The bitch of it is, the utter, total, black-furred bitch dog of it is, there was nothing at all we could've done. Some part of her clot cascade was impaired to the point that she had an eleven-inch long hematoma in her spine with no rational cause, so it's not like we could anticoagulate her. Doing so would've caused the hematoma to restart, and would've certainly killed her.
So, instead, she gets to live with only one (partially) working arm, no speech, and no ability to recognize her daughter.
The daughter was on the way to the hospital later that afternoon. I am not looking forward to seeing her. Even though there was nothing I could've done differently, and nothing would've changed even if I had witnessed the stroke, I still feel responsible.