During a trip to Chicago, Duane Raible of Bangor had a stroke in his hotel room. He received care in Chicago only to return home and experience another stroke six days later. This time he was rushed to Lehigh Valley Hospital–Pocono.
“I was 53 years old, never sick, took vitamin C and fish oil every day,” Raible says. “I never got sick and all of a sudden I had two strokes.”
Symptoms of a stroke include a sudden loss of balance, changes in vision, face drooping, arm weakness or numbness and difficulty speaking. Strokes can happen to people of all ages. It is common for people to mistake these symptoms for other issues, including intoxication. If you or a loved one is experiencing stroke symptoms, dial 911 right away. The quicker you receive treatment, the better the chances for a full recovery.
Road to recovery
Raible has come a long way since his strokes in October 2019. He completed 14 months of physical therapy and occupational therapy to regain movement and use of the left side of his body. He experienced cognitive impairment including trouble remembering, slower memory-processing speed and even depression because of brain damage. Raible received cognitive therapy for more than 13 months. He continues to see a psychiatrist every three months and a counselor twice a week. In April 2020, Raible received patent foramen ovale (PFO) closure surgery, which involved placing a permanent implant to close a hole in Raible’s heart – the hole that was the root cause of his strokes.
When asked about the LVHN team, Raible says, “These people saved my life. The biggest thing they did was listen to me. They asked me a billion questions and listened to me.”
Read on as Raible tells the story of his first stroke and the day that changed his life forever.
A moment when everything changed
Bear in mind the following as you read what happened during this dreadful early morning that started on Oct. 2. I am soaked in sweat, freezing cold, can’t swallow, have a numb face, difficulty speaking and thinking. My legs are basically wet noodles – I can’t stand or walk. I’m gagging on my own saliva as if being choked. If I lift my head above pillow height, I feel as though my left eye is in a vise and the left side of my head feels like it’s extruding out of my ear.
This is when I embark on the next phase: a fight for my life.
It’s 12:30 a.m. The sweat is dripping off of me profusely. The cold mounts and I shake uncontrollably. The nausea will not stop despite many trips to the bathroom without result.
What is happening? Maybe food poisoning, but nothing comes out?
Saliva flows uncontrolled and my throat is constrained and closing. I cannot swallow. I feel at times like I’m drowning in my own saliva.
What is happening? Maybe allergic reaction?
Now 1:45 a.m., life changed in a second. As I stand, the room spins, my legs collapse, the world spins and darkness begins to fall upon me.
Don’t pass out, don’t pass out, breathe, breathe, fall on the bed.
Somehow, I manage to propel my fall backward into the bed.
Wow, my head hurts. What is happening? I’m confused.
I sneeze as I am nearly drowning in my own saliva, covering my face.
Oh no, I cannot feel my face.
My lips are numb, and no matter how hard I squeeze, I cannot feel anything in my lips or left cheek.
Is this a dream? What is happening to me? Not food poisoning, allergy or heart attack. Oh my God, I think this might be a stroke.
Laying back-flat on the bed brings calm to the uncontrollable gagging. I drag the blanket over my body and realize I cannot see across the room or to the end of the bed. I try to scream but nothing but air comes out.
Was this the last breath? No. No way.
I need help. I clumsily flop around in the bed in an attempt to reach my phone. I have it. It’s dark.
What’s my code?
I try to direct my fingers onto the buttons, but they have a mind of their own. Only my right hand seems to know the code, and light appears. Three simple numbers and I’ll be OK. It seems to take forever to find them.
932? No, 918? No, 911? Got it. My head pounds, my left eye feels like it’s going to explode. This really hurts.
It is now oddly comfortable laying on my side under the warmth of the comforter. The beacon light from my phone hurts my eyes. Every attempted movement or word spoken takes seemingly minutes and does not result in what I want.
“I’m at the Thompson Chicago hotel.”
Am I saying it? I know I’m thinking it. Tell them it’s a medical emergency and I need help. I’m losing it. Calm. Breathe. Count to five. Who loves me – Robin, Megan and Brendan. OK, I’m here.
A human answers. I try to speak, nothing comes out.
Come on Duane, tell them. I need help.
Each question confuses me. Each minute that passes oddly is becoming more relaxed. They repeat. I repeat. Are they hearing me? Am I saying it or thinking it. Reality is unknown.
Calm. Breathe. Count to five. Robin. Megan. Brendan. OK, I’m here. You’re not listening to me. I’m here, help. OK, I’ll do it myself.
The light fades to darkness, the umbilical cord to the outside is gone. It’s dark again, and my eyes don’t hurt. The warmth is relaxing. I’m tired. Closing my eyes makes the room stop spinning.
Wait, stop. Don’t go to sleep. Get UP. Not like this.
I try again to count and recite the treasured names. I got it. Seemed harder that time.
Wait, they asked for the address. Where am I? Call the front desk.
Looking out over the expanse of the bed and room, the phone is on a tiny island seemingly miles away.
That won’t work. I’ll fall. Think. I swing to pound the wall but awkwardly miss and simply roll over in the bed. What happened to me?
My legs are there. I feel them with my hands, but they are both absent.
Where’s my phone? I can press a button. Siri. Come on Siri, tell me where I’m at. Press the button. Pressing 9, no not that one. Great, what’s my code? 4167? No, 5243? No. Why can’t I press the right ones? Calm. Breathe. Got it. Found the magic button.
“Siri, where is Thompson Chicago hotel?” I say it twice after the initial “blah blah blah” that comes out of my mouth was not understood.
She heard me. Got it. Wait, was that 21 or 22? Was that East Belleville Place or East Bell Place? Say it. Say it. Yes, that’s it. Open the beacon light. Hurry, call them and tell them.
I’m moving but slowly.
Was it 21 or 22? Just say it. 913? No, 948? No, 911? Got it. Count to Five. Robin, pause, Megan, pause, Brendan. I’m sinking. Harder to move. Harder to think. What’s happening to me?
Over and over questions. I hear. I think. I speak, at least I think I’m saying it. The saliva, numbness is growing, I cannot swallow now. There, I told them. “What?” he asks. But I said it. “Where are you?” he asks again.
Here. I’m here. I said it.
The other voice from behind the curtain says it back.
Thank God the policeman stayed on the line and said it, as I forgot it. But the officer said it. Did I say it? I’m still here. Someone heard my scream. They’re going to help.
Light fades to darkness. I’m alone. I’m cold. I’m slipping.
I’ve done what I can do. This feels better now, being prone in the bed. 1,2,3.......4........5. Got it. Robin. I see her beautiful face but what’s her name? Megan. He’s big. I see him. What’s his name? Brendan.
Silence. I hear my breath and feel as though I’m sinking into the bed.
Calm. Breathe. Sleep. Silence. Wait, silence? Where are the sirens? Are they coming? Dammit, are they coming? I slam my fists on the bed. No, not like this.
My angel says, “GET OUT OF THAT BED.” This seemingly pulls me back to this horrible reality.
I’m here. Not like this. Crawl.
Grabbing the sheets, I drag myself across the bed. I have to get to the island.
They’re not coming.
Bang, on the floor.
I’m OK. Crawl. Don’t get up, it spins.
Seemingly hours later I’m at the island and knock the phone on the floor. I cannot see in the darkness and the swirling. Zero. It’s at the bottom and middle. “Got it.” Her voice boomed into the room.
Yes, they’re here.
“We’ll be right up. Help is coming.”
I collapse. They heard me.
Wait. Did I latch the door? No. Yes. No. Damn, it’s so far away. They’ll leave. Got to get there. Calm. Breathe. Pause, pause. Robin. Blank. I’m almost there.
Traversing this void is hard as I drag my legs behind me.
Latch. Get to the latch. Breathe. Breathe.
Climbing Everest to the summit was awkward but rewarding as I flung open the barrier.
Wait, open the door or they’re not coming in. Door open, now crawl back to bed. Rest, you’ve done what you can do. What was I trying to remember? Oh yes, count. One, two, Robin, pause, pause, breathe, breathe. That’s not it. Where am I?
I scale the cliff back to warmth. Flopping over like a fish, I chuckle. Damn, that was hard.
Wait. Noise. Voices. They’re here.
I want to give a special thanks to all the providers with Lehigh Valley Health Network who have ensured that I am alive to tell this story.
Learn more about comprehensive stroke care at Lehigh Valley Health Network.