Stroke of Luck
I’m doing this for me mostly, but I’m also doing this for you. You might enjoy reading this while you’re housebound and bored out of your mind
Tuesday Night (I get the call)
Tim and I were sitting in the living room, him watching TV and me on the computer as usual.
Mom called and somehow managed to say your name, slowly, in choked-up syllables. That’s all she got out before I thought the worst and in denial kept repeating, “What? What? No. No. No.” And was somewhat relieved when she finally managed to finish her sentence, telling me that you’d had a seizure.
I made her give the phone to dad. I knew I’d get some details from him. And I did.
I was told you had walked into your patient’s room and collapsed, having a seizure. The patient, luckily called 911. (Later, we found out that it didn’t happen quite like that.) When I first heard the word “stroke”, that’s when I began to get upset again. “What do you mean she had a stroke? She’s 46!” No one was sure if you were conscious or speaking or moving your limbs. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to know if you were okay.
I told them to call me back when they found out more.
I was mostly in shock after getting off the phone. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it. Tim kept reassuring me that you can fully recover from a stroke. So, I googled and googled and was still googling when I got the second phone call. Before you were to be life-lined to St Vincent, you suffered another seizure.
I went ballistic. I immediately began booking a flight. I debated on jumping in the car and driving up. Then, I slowed my thoughts and called mom and Kelli and we all decided to fly up together. I remember talking to Bryan at some point and then throwing almost everything I owned into a bag. All the while, refusing to accept that this horrible, terrible, unthinkable thing happened to you. I took a shower and then slept on the couch for a few hours before picking up mom to head to the airport where we met Kelli.
I know it might have been too much, all of us coming up. I know we might have jumped the gun, but Julie, I never ever would have forgiven myself if your situation had worsened and I did not get the chance to see you. Just the thought of it…it’s too much to imagine.
I could not bare the thought of losing the one person I’ve forever idolized and loved unconditionally. Not you. Not my Juwee.
Wednesday Morning (I got to see you)
Bryan picked us up outside baggage claim. The cloud of worry was very thick on that long car ride to the hospital.
At this point, we knew you could move your arms and legs and could make sounds. When we got to the hospital I was almost too scared to see you. It was hard. I was so incredibly saddened by your condition but thankful that you were seemingly getting the rest you so very much needed.
I remember sitting in your room, all alone, just watching you sleep.
I felt helpless. I wanted to touch you. I wanted to stand up and just wrap my arms around you and all of your protruding tubes. I was close to you but I wanted to be closer.
I wish I’d continued to write this while I was in Indiana. So much of it is a blur now but I remember feeling frightened that Wednesday. You seemed so despondent, so not there. Although you would look at me, it was almost as if you were looking right through me. My stomach turned with worry. And even though you smiled at me, you were smiling at everyone and to everything that was said. So, I thought it might be a sign of uneasiness rather than genuine emotion.
It’s important to mention that almost 20 family members and friends came to visit you Wednesday evening. I knew it was too much for you. I knew you were exhausted. I felt guilty, even, for being there. We all just wanted to connect with you again, to hear our voice and see that bright, energetic face.
That night, I fell asleep wishing, hoping, longing for you to be more like yourself. I wanted your brain to just get better over night.
Thursday (I held your hand for a very long time)
I was very hesitant to go into your room that morning. I wanted to give you your space after Wednesday night. I was most afraid that you wouldn’t recognize me. I guess I was still in denial. I spent most of the morning in the waiting room and made you this because I didn't really know what else to do.
Thursday, Thursday was a great day. When I finally entered your room you looked happy to see me, like you really saw me. You were talking and even exhibiting your natural, normal movements- like the repetitive upward sweeping movement you make with your hand when brushing your hair away from your face. It’s one of the characteristics I most associate with you. It made me grin from ear to ear to see it, again.
You were also speaking so well. It was slow, labored speech but hey, those were words I could understand and they made sense! You were 100 times better than Wednesday. Unbelievable. The brain. Your brain. Just unbelievable.
I remember the OT coming in to ask you questions (or maybe she was the speech therapist, I’m not quite sure). After asking you what year it was you said, “Two-thousand and one.” I remember hanging my head just as you added “…..zero” to the end. We all shared a good laugh and I thought that was interesting- the way your brain processed the year in numbers. Another funny thing you said: The nurse asked you “Who’s the President?” You answered, “Obama.” She then asked, “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” You said, “I plead the Fifth.”
I mean, how is it that you’re cracking jokes at a time like this?! I love you.
You were still mixing up your left and right a little bit and the nurse noticed that your pupils weren’t dilating like they should.
The OT or speech therapist also had you draw a picture. She asked you to draw a clock. You did that perfectly.
I was amazed that you put the numbers in all the right places and you spaced them equally. It was a beautiful clock. You also added the arms. The therapist asked you, “What time does that clock say?” You answered by writing “1-12”. And I knew what you were thinking. I said, “She’s saying she wrote the numbers 1-12.” The therapist said, “Yes. You wrote 1-12, but what time is it?”
You wrote down 12:55. You were a little off.
Later on that night, I was showing someone in your room (I can’t remember who) your clock and explaining to them what you did. I held it up in front of you and asked you again, “What time is it?” And you said three o’ clock. You were right! I remember thinking, “Yes! Hell yeah!”
The best part of Thursday was sitting next to you and holding your hand while listening to you struggle to carry on conversations. I felt like I was sending my energy to you through touch (I know, I sound silly or something, but I really felt that way).
By the end of the night, you were still having trouble finishing your sentences. You would often have incomplete thoughts, trailing off and ending with a smile and a somewhat vacant look. Even so, the amount of function you’d recovered and how quickly.. I was so impressed and proud of your strength.
I still desired one of our typical conversations. And although I knew you were probably tiring quickly of all the questions, I kept asking them in hopes that you would just begin to talk my ear off. (Because, you know, that’s how it normally goes: You get 30 minutes, I get my 30 minutes and then, inevitably one of our phones will go dead.)
I hope to have that again with you someday soon.
I will keep your clock drawing for as long as I live. It will always remind me of this time, of time in general: how important it is, how it can fly by all too quickly if you let it or slow down so slow that you don’t think you’ll ever catch up with reality. One thing’s for sure, Time is on your side Julie. You had great timing. You really did.
Friday Morning ( Goodbye for now)
Chuck took Kelli to the airport bright and early. Mom and I got to stay a few hours longer. It was 6am when we got to the hospital. Mom was itchin’ to see you. Again, I was a little apprehensive. We initially went back to peek in on you and ask the nurses if they’d seen mom’s pill case (which she somehow lost). You were sleeping soundly. Mom followed me back to the waiting room but shortly thereafter said she was going back into your room. I wasn’t going to have any part in waking you up. You know how much I hate to be woken up in the morning!
I gave mom a half hour alone with you and then went back to see you myself.
I was thrilled. You looked fantastic. I was giddy and so happy that we’d decided to hang back for a few more hours before heading to the airport. It was so worth it.
When it came time to leave I couldn’t hold back the tears. I wasn’t ready to go.
I gave everyone hugs and then returned my attention to you, sitting up in your chair, and finally got to wrap my arms around you.
It was hard to leave you.
And it’s still hard to be away.
I love you. You’re doing great. You’re doing better than great. You are an amazing person and I can’t imagine life without you. You’re gonna be just fine. I hope you know that.
Now, pick up the phone and call me damn it.