It was 3:30 in the morning on March 28, 2019 when my life changed forever. It seems selfish to say since it was my husband who had the stroke. I am learning more and more how the interplay between physical health, time, and spirit, determines the quality of one’s life.
My husband is 60 years old, I am 55. We have been living with his idiopathic cardiomyopathy and various joint replacements since he was 47. His health has been a third person in this marriage and the fifth member of our immediate family. It sits up front and center at every family gathering demanding attention and usurping the celebrations of graduations, babies, weddings, and even good weather! I resent it, and still am grateful he is with us!
The day of the stroke I woke to find him laying on the floor moaning with blood all over from hitting his head on the night stand as he slipped to the floor from our bed. I remember thinking immediately that it seemed like a stroke by the way he was not using his arm and unable to talk, yet hoping for a head injury and didn’t want to move him. I ran to get my son who was staying with us and working as a partner in Dave’s chiropractic office. Joe told me quite quickly to call 911, dad was having a stroke.
The paramedics had to take him out of the house in a sheet, swinging like a hammock, while yelling at him to keep his legs still so he didn’t fall out. I recall asking them to be nice, to please not yell at him, while my son tried to reassure me. I vaguely remember getting dressed, riding in the ambulance, the doctor at the local hospital confirming a blood clot in the brain, and the subsequent ride to Grand Rapids (one hour away) for a specialist to perform a thrombectomy since it had been too many hours for the clot busting TPA.
The results of the stroke were immediate, left side paralysis. The clot had lodged in the right frontal lobe spreading into the parietal area which thankfully spared his language and speech. As a health care provider, a chiropractor, Dave had intimate knowledge of the nerves and muscles and the need to move and restore functioning as quickly as possible. This first day was critical in several days and the one-to-one care from the nurses contained neurological testing every 15 minutes. It was this intense care that caught the second stroke later that evening.
Having lodged in the same general area, but further into the smaller vessels, this event took back what little gains he had made in his arm and leg during the day. We watched helplessly as he struggled to understand. We were pulled into the hall to have a conversation about the need to give a blood thinner while still working to complete another procedure to remove this clot. A third clot had been found in the left ventricle of his heart, this was thought to be the original clot that had been throwing small pieces into the veins to travel tragically to the brain.
I vividly recall looking at both of my children, my son on my right, my daughter on my left. I couldn’t quite understand all of what the doctor was explaining as we listened on a cell phone to the attending physician explain what would happen, the risks and benefits. I knew only that no matter the outcome, I couldn’t let my children be responsible for the decision and shoulder the blame if the outcome was poor. The dynamics of parent and child demanding I try to shield and protect them both was uppermost in my mind.
I am still not sure why, but as we came into the room, I practically dove under a low counter in a futile attempt to hide and protect myself – to escape the reality around me – and cried loudly and fitfully. Both of my grown children joined me in a huddled mass, as a single unit, we clung to one another both comforting and seeking comfort.
Dave eventually asked what was going on, where they were taking him, and I explained as best I could the decisions we had made and asked for his consent. His trust was both reassuring and heavy as he was prepped for the journey back to the operating room where the same weary surgeon would perform miracles yet again. Eyes closed, he asked what the crying was about, who was doing it and why?
In the characteristic humor that has provided release in every tragedy we have faced, as he was wheeled to the door Dave yelled, “I’m not dead yet”!