Leave it up to my husband to have a stroke to ruin my perfectly good mid afternoon suicidal fantasy. I had already envisioned the white, beachy dress, maybe a bit sheer, that flowed to the knee; how I would walk along the Malibu shoreline in search of the perfect rock piling; how the waves would carry my lifeless body along some rip tide.
Okay, morbid but I entertain these imaginary events every few months and usually when I’m story thronged on something I’m writing. Should I toss these eight chapters? Maybe I’ll kill the protagonist in blood letting fashion.
I love to daydream but the romantic plots or professional scenarios don’t really hold much grit anymore, not to mention they get repetitive. But death: endless set-ups, intriguing developments, countless situations and picturesque results.
In any case, I was lying about, coming up with a variety of ways to casual-toss my body off a huge, jagged cliff when my phone kept ringing. I normally never answer, but it was relentless.
“Hey, I don’t want to alarm you but I can’t read. Words. Talk. And thinking. “
“Who is this?”
“Seriously baby, I had to leave a meeting, I wasn’t making less sense.
Then he started to babble about vegetables, shoelaces and Jet Blue. His mind was malfunctioning. He started to sound insane.
“I can pick up some Kale and put it in my briefcase for you.”
Now he had my full attention. I hate Kale and everything Kale represents.
“Think I should I call the doctor? Might just be a thing.”
“What thing! Yes! And Call 911. Now!“ I was shriek shouting. He needed him to hear me inside his clustered brain.
But he hung up. I started researching top neurologists in Los Angeles. I knew Mark would never call his doctor; forget 911. He’s the type that loses a finger in a door jam then sews it back on with a sterilized needle. Yes that happened. He doesn’t like to waste time, which is why he also doesn’t sleep. He might miss something, even if just a random thought. He has a wild mind, out of control, never stops churning. Visible electrical bolts shoot from his skull.
Now it exploded.
Crisis brings out my most efficient self. I’m calling his doctors, lining up appointments, researching his symptoms, glancing through stroke chat rooms. His brain cells were dying by the second. Timing is critical. I had three hours to get him clot-busting drugs—after that brain tissue dies and body parts that they control die as well, potential long-term disability. An hour had passed since he noticed.
Then I hear his car. He drove home in traffic. Of course. Why not?
“What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be at Cedars.”
He was still babbling, but in a cheery mood, because he’s always in a cheery mood.
“Oh my god. I thought right was left and left was right and red was green. I can’t believe I made it.” He let out a victory cheer. “My doc told me to take some baby aspirin.”
THIS SAVED HIS LIFE ^ ^ ^
Our daughters were home, and I didn’t want them to see Mark.
“Hey girls, want to play badminton? Or that mallet game?”
Was he regressing to his childhood? What the fuck was happening?
“Why is dad home?”
He started calling them the wrong names; Maple or Margaret and he couldn’t find the most obvious words “That’s such a pashionable sweatsuit Even!”
I pulled him outside and parked his ass on a bench beneath the Pepper tree.
“Don’t move. An ambulance is on its way.”
“What’s wrong with dad?”
I told the girls dad was having “male issues” because whenever a woman doesn’t want to discuss what’s going on, she says “female stuff.”
“What? What happened? Did his junk blow up?”
“Where did you hear that word?”
“Mom, come on, were 12.”
“It’s complicated but he’ll be fine.”
“It’s complicated” is a phrase I use a lot when I don’t feel like talking. My daughters do the exact same thing. If I ask Girl X why she is choking on tears, “Oh, you wouldn’t understand. It’s just so complicated.” This happens every single day.
I heard the sirens, then Mark was talking to the paramedics, I thought he was going to invite them in for lemonade. They were all laughing and carrying on. I run outside.
“So, where’s the patient.” The paramedics asked me, confused.
“I’m the patient. I’m having a stroke,” Mark blurted. Like he was proud.
I explained to the dozen very handsome men (why so many and why are they always handsome?) that he was having a stroke.
They whisked him away. But not to Cedars; instead to some ghastly hellhole. A place SO horrifying there are over 50,000 awful reviews on YELP.
Like “Yeah, go here if you want to DIE!”
I was trying to track him down at this place of no mercy, but apparently they don’t even have phones. Or doctors. The next morning I get a call.
“Hey it’s me, that’s place is a cesspool. Not one person helped me. My brain is probably twice fried now!
“Calm down. That will only make it worse. Where are you exactly?”
I’m walking home.
He had ripped out the heart monitoring business Jason Stratham style and was storming down Vermont Avenue, taped venipuncture apparatus on the back of his hands, shirt unevenly button but his fly was closed so that’s good.
I picked up him and drove him straight to Cedars where a team was waiting; they immediately put him in intensive care.
By the end of the next day, we learn he basically blew out his a piece of his mind. The technical diagnosis is an embolic stroke of undetermined sources. But his brilliant neurologist explained it so I could understand: a part of his computer crashed, gone forever, but given the plethora of back up it won’t really have much impact in his life.
Because the baby aspirin stabilized him, then again by the paramedics, he was very, very lucky. By lowering his blood pressure, the entire episode halted or he could’ve died, or worse, become a vegetable.
Mr. Neurologist also thinks Mark is an anomaly; he had never seen a stroke such as this. Quarantined to a section of the brain that didn’t affect anything else: the wordy party; the sentence structure neutrons, and only temporarily. A team of neurologists wants to study his brain, to learn from it.
I’m already knee-deep into my grievance letters against the other hospital. Had Mark not left, he would never have received the care he needed. They don’t even have a neurologist on staff. Yelling into the phone, pounding out accusatory letters, making a paper trail. Meanwhile, Mark was laid up in the stroke ward, working, chatting up the cute nurses.
He was home and back to normal in two days. But out goes the diet coke, coffee, tea, weekly cigar, red bulls, energy drinks, junk food and anything else that helped start to melt his brain.
It’s a huge adjustment for someone who never stops, he’s a bullet train that has been now told he has to go 25 mph, change all of his habits, eat better, exercise and actually sleep.
None of us are used to this. Mark sleeping is just plain weird. His nightly routine of working in his man cave until 4am, then catching up on movies, then going grocery shopping, maybe a quick trip to Home Deport, then being there when the girls wake up… no more.
After two weeks of Mark living a “normal” life, my daughter was so frustrated because he kept yawning during an intense game of Apples to Apples, she blurted “Dad snap out of it! That stroke was two weeks ago stop using it as an excuse to be lazy.”
We’ve had to come together as a family and accept that Mark is more like us. We have work schedules, we hang around, procrastinate, lounge, daydream, eat well, exercise for fun, but now he does a bit of that too.
Not that I don’t understand the A type personality, I used to be one. Billy Joel’s Vienna was written about me this much is true. Something changed after I crashed too many spinning plates with work, travel, kids, a house to run, a social life, running marathons, on and on. Something like, “Forget this, I’m tired. I’m going to Vienna to chill out now. Bye.”
A month has passed, but he is already cheating. That is, staying up a little late to finish work documents, making night runs to Cactus, but he is not chugging red bull or returning to bad health habits. He’s paying attention to how far he can push it, which is the normal for everyone else.
So it really was a stroke of good luck, the clichéd wake up call for him to change his life style. I may have to pick up some slack, but I don’t want to think about that just yet.
I was out with friends at a movie and he texted to bring home rice dream. It was past 11 pm and just no way. I failed the Mark test. See, there isn’t a chance in hell he wouldn’t do that. But I’m selfish, and my sleep trumps freaking rice dream.
Since he is now more aware of everything around him, my behavior is getting called out. Including this morning.
“How long does your a.m. cranky bitch routine last anyway? You’ve been up for hours.”
“Sometimes all day, sometimes until I go back to bed. Since when did this ever bother you anyway?”
“Since I’m here now in the morning. You act like there’s no one in the house.”
“Exactly. I can’t just be someone else. Check back at noon.”
So here we both are making compromises. He’s going to slow down; I’m going to maybe speed up. The girls are happy to see us working it out.
On a serious note, strokes can be very deceptive. What may seem like vertigo or a mind lapse could in fact be a stroke. Because time is essential, I found this visual guide quite helpful.
I know there is much on the Internet, most widely seen being F.A.S.T. The problem with this is it can be misleading, particularly regarding the speech. I talk nonsensical all the time, but I’m not having a stroke, I’m just strange. Mark is also strange, but he is highly verbal, it’s his profession. He carefully chooses words, thoughts, edits a document a hundred times before sending out. So, it’s about the actual victim. That was his only symptom.
Further, strokes, particular of the speech mix up variety, are most common among young people, like 25 years old. No one seems to have answers yet, hence the study. But doctors are seeing this more and more…. And given how young many are, this has become a new concern in the medical community. Just putting it out there.