A Year I’m Not Likely To Forget

2020 has been a real shit show so far, hasn’t it?

If we weren’t already feeling the effects of being essentially locked away in our homes, or afraid of the what-if’s involved with a global pandemic, angry/mortified/terrified of the decisions being made by our leaders, including one who likes to govern via Twitter…there’s widespread unrest (for lack of a better term coming to mind, and I apologize for the attempt to sum it up in a single word) in the US.

If you’re included in my immediate family, on top of all of that, you’ve narrowly escaped a real tragedy in the past week.

Last Tuesday evening, my husband suffered a stroke. It’s really weird to type that. Even when I say the words, they don’t feel right coming out of my mouth. Since that night, I think I’ve walked on a virtual path of eggshells, not knowing exactly where it’s safe to step. I am beginning to feel the sort of exhaustion that comes with being on edge for nearly a week, and to be fair – we have a ways to go before things might go back to some sort of normalcy. Things like self-care, watching the news, or even deep breathing are all things I sort of put aside last week. I felt like I lived in a cave, really. In fact, I was so absorbed, that I didn’t even about George Floyd, the protests, or even the extent of violent rioting, until maybe Saturday night.

Telling the story is helping me process, so bear with me. Last Tuesday at around 5:30, I went into the bedroom to practice clarinet. The day had been very warm – I’d say it had reached a high of about 98 degrees (F), but it had begun to cool off. That’s important because while I was practicing, unbeknownst to me at the time, Walt – my husband – had decided to walk up to the top of our property to plant three small fruit trees that we needed to get in the ground. He disagrees with me, but I believe it was about 85 by the time he’d walked up the hill. I finished practicing about 6:30, and heard our dog Gizmo barking outside. I went out to investigate and found him at the turnaround point in our driveway/private road down to the house. I walked him down to the house, and set about making dinner.

I found out later that Walt had been up the hill at the time, looking down at me with Gizmo. Walt disagrees with me, but it’s not normal for Gizmo to bark at Walt unless something was wrong. Walt thinks Gizmo thought he was a gardener, and that’s…well, I know my dog. I don’t think that’s what Gizmo was barking about, but I’ll never know.

I’d gone back into the bedroom to fold a load of laundry, and came out to find Walt on the couch, beer in hand, sitting across from our oldest. I paid no attention as I walked to the kitchen and did some dishes, only to hear some commotion. I turned around and Walt had apparently fallen asleep while sitting up, and dropped his beer bottle, pouring out about half of the beer on him. That woke him up, and he and Heather were mopping it up.

This was weird for two reasons. First of all, in all of the time I’ve known Walt, he has NEVER dropped a beer bottle while napping. In fact, the guy regularly falls asleep at night on the couch holding a wine glass, a beer bottle, a small glass of whiskey…and never drops it. Me, I can’t seem to hold onto things while fully awake. The kids and I have always marveled at how he never seems to drop glasses or bottles in his sleep. Secondly, he spilled about half the bottle before snapping to attention, which seemed weird to all of us. I’m the klutz in the family, not Walt – whose reflexes have always been superhero like. This is a man who catches things in midair if I drop them! So, my senses were already on high alert. I think I knew something was off right away.

He walked over to the kitchen to throw paper towels away and I immediately saw that he wasn’t walking normal, kind of stumbling a bit. Not horribly, but enough. Something else, too. He had a weird sort of half-smirk on his face, and that’s not an expression I have *ever* seen Walt have…and good lord knows I’ve given him enough reasons to smirk at me over the years! I called him over and told him to look at me. From the second I saw his face, I think I knew definitively…but I didn’t want to believe.

Immediately, I ran through the stroke checklist I knew: BE FAST: Balance Eyes Face Arms Speech Time (to call 911). His balance was definitely off. I asked him if he could see and he said it was fine, but later I found out that he was seeing double…because why bother telling the truth to your wife when you’re ill, right?? ugh!!! His face was the teeniest bit droopy. His arms seemed to be fine (you have someone raise their arms and see if they struggle to keep them level), Speech – well, he couldn’t say my name (the most alarming thing I have ever heard in my life, by far) and words were garbled. So, that left me with time. Time to call 911…and my darling husband wasn’t having ANY of it. He fought me. I’d go so far as to say he was combative. Heather tried reasoning with him. I tried reasoning with him. Our youngest told us to listen to dad, and Gavin said he probably just had heat exhaustion. Walt was very quiet, and insisted that we leave him alone. I haven’t seen him that angry in a long time. The fact is, even thought I was sure…I wasn’t sure beyond a shadow of a doubt. Then again, I’m not a doctor…and also I’m really bad at fighting my headstrong husband.

We ate dinner, I watched him attempt to cover the fact he couldn’t hold a fork properly, and then, in an act of sheer bravado, as I was putting laundry away, he did the dishes. He never does the dishes. Then announced that he was really tired, and that he would not be going to the hospital. He needed rest from… you know, planting trees….couldn’t tell me how MANY he planted, but he was damn tired.

In hindsight, I should have strong-armed him into the car. I should have insisted. But I didn’t, and Heather agreed we needed it to be his decision. He was conscious, and aside from his being super quiet compared to normal and a smirk that no one in the house seemed to notice besides me, it didn’t seem serious. We went through a dozen other possible ailments, but I kept coming back to stroke.

We went to bed that night, and I couldn’t sleep. I had to have my hand on him the entire night for fear he’d stop breathing. He murmured in his sleep, and I laid there awake. The next morning, he got up late for his 7am conference call, but made his way into the office to take it. I took a shower, and as I was leaving the bedroom he came back in to take his own shower. I looked at him, seeing that he was pretty much the same. The next thing I knew, he was calling me. I went running. He was cold, clammy and lightheaded. That’s when I announced that we were going to the hospital and that was it. I called Heather, she came down to the house and we loaded him in the car.

At the hospital, we had to say goodbye to him at the door, thanks to Covid-19. I didn’t know what to think. On one hand, I hoped it would be anything BUT a real stroke. On the other, I knew what I saw. What I didn’t expect was that the hospital wouldn’t call me. I eventually did hear from Walt much later that day. He texted two words: small stroke. We asked for the hospital to call, which they did not. Later, as in yesterday, we found out that the hospital had gotten the wrong number to call me, and that Walt didn’t exactly mention that they needed to release all information to me, which didn’t help. My advice to anyone reading is to take the time to print out a sheet with emergency contact numbers and be SURE that the hospital knows who to call when and if your loved one goes in during Covid-19. That would have saved me a lot of stress and a few less points on my own blood-pressure meter.

So the end of the story, for now, is that yes…Walt came home. That alone is cause for celebration. I have friends who have already lost husbands, and one that lost hers from a massive stroke, so yes, I am lucky. The unfortunate thing is that no one has a stroke and gets away unscathed. There are some speech issues that he will be in therapy to manage. The confusion I recognized off the bat is starting to go away, the slight droop or smirk on his face is better now, but comes back the more tired he is. Even speaking has gotten better with each passing day. The more he talks, the more pathways in his brain get rebuilt. His personality is mostly the same, although because his speech is a bit of a struggle, sometimes I worry that I lost part of him. This is scary.

And, because I am me – I challenged him to Scrabble over the weekend. The joke was of course, that this may be the only time I’d ever beat him. I was wrong. Not only did he wipe the floor with me, he didn’t lose one single bit of his strategic game play.

It was the first time I was overjoyed to be the loser.

I just want to finish by thanking everyone for checking in on me or sending me notes via Twitter. Thank you for not saying anything on Facebook – Walt was adamant that he be the one to tell his family, and although I desperately needed support last week, I wanted to respect his wishes. I’d also like to thank Simon, Katy, John, and Roger because without their programming last week, I am positive I would have lost my mind. It was hard enough as it was! At least, I had a few things to take my mind off of what could be happening at the hospital, if even for an hour or two. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. I know you don’t do any of it for just me, but last week – it sure felt that way – and I just can’t thank all of you enough.

I need to sign off for now, as we’re having a home visit from the hospital to make sure that Walt has ever thing he needs to ensure the best recovery possible. I will gladly accept any and all positive notes, vibes, tweets, etc for the coming weeks.

-R

2 thoughts on “A Year I’m Not Likely To Forget”

  1. This was absolutely horrific to read. It was worse because your instincts were correct and yet you had to defer to him the at first. I’m glad that while damaged it seems he will come through relatively unscathed.Take care of yourself and I will send all positive vibes in your direction.

    1. Thank you, Lyria. I really appreciate that. He’s doing better each day. I’ve never been more grateful than I am now to have him with me, that is for sure. -R

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