I awoke to the sound of my 13 month old son on the baby monitor at 3:01AM today. His nickname is Baby Shark, and therefor the baby monitor is known as the “Shark Cam” in our house. And as happens with sharks, he seems to be getting a lot of new teeth these days. I don’t remember my own teething experience, but I imagine it isn’t pleasant to have hard, pointed objects bursting through fresh gum tissue, and not having enough frontal lobe development or life experiences to understand the pain. Poor little guy.

Once I comforted Shark and got him back to sleep about an hour later, I started thinking about the natural thing most moms might ponder at 4AM – cerebellar stroke. Doesn’t everyone contemplate this neurological phenomenon at that weary hour?

I thought of the cases I have encountered over the years of patients who seek help for dizziness, nausea, and vomiting, who are then sent home from the ER, diagnosed with more benign forms of vertigo or migraines, but are dead three days later from severe cerebellar swelling. They are some of the saddest cases neurologists encounter because they are so tragic. And they can occur in young people. What can begin as neck pain (from a dissected vertebral artery) can rapidly become a catastrophic event resulting in death.

To those of you out there who are forever changed by a cerebellar stroke – whether you are a cerebellar stroke survivor, have a survivor loved one, or have lost someone you deeply loved to a cerebellar stroke, know that I am thinking of you this morning. The young adult with neck pain that became dizziness, vomiting, and instability. The person with atrial fibrillation who tried to do everything right to prevent a stroke but had one anyway. The person who didn’t necessarily do what was advised, had a stroke, and now lives with regret and limitations. I’m thinking of all of you this morning with empathy and care.

Life is so complex, isn’t it? It’s robust, miraculous, and yet hangs in a fragile balance. Every single day’s dawning does not guarantee we will see its conclusion.

As I put my sleeping young son back to bed this morning, I marveled at how perfect he seems. His little hands and toes. His sighs. And even all of those teeth that are erupting.

He has his whole life ahead of him. How long will that be? I hope very, very long.