January 6, 2011
I had been dozing in the chair next to my husband, content to hear him breathing. When the nurse came in to wake him, I realized that he was still as groggy as the night before. He had a hard time waking up and keeping his eyes open. His speech was getting more labored and muddled. I figured he was still fatigued from the previous night's ordeal. However, when the stroke team came in to visit him, they were visibly concerned at his overly sleepy state and his complete lack of sensation or movement on his left side. They ordered yet another CT scan (CT #3!) to find out if there were any new developments. (All this time, and we were still on the waiting list for an MRI!)
The next 24 hours were the most blurry, perhaps due to lack of sleep and the surrealism of it all. I had decided to go back home (thank goodness the hospital is only 6 blocks from our house), and get some more clothes to send to my friend's house for my kids. Some time during that hour (or was it two hours? Maybe 3? I can't really remember), I got a call saying that Al was going to be moved to Neuro ICU so they could keep a closer eye on him. I think that's when I fell into a full-fledged panic. I called my mom and sobbed to her over the phone that Al might have had a stroke. I told her that the idea of telling Al's parents was terrifying. We hadn't called either family until then because we wanted to have answers before worrying them, and we were hoping all would be well by the next day.
Once I returned to the hospital, I got the definitive word – first from my husband, and shortly thereafter from the stroke team, that the 3rd CT scan showed an area of stroke.
Damn it! It really was a stroke. And I was afraid it would take my husband away. Even if he survived, I wasn't sure what he would be like when it was all over. I was slowly learning that a stroke isn't necessarily an instantaneous event. I would later learn from one of Al's nurses that a stroke can progress for 3-5 days. I was growing more worried since Al's condition had already deteriorated quite a bit from the night before; I didn't want to know how much worse it could get.
I called Al's parents, and thankfully his dad answered. For some reason, I was able to hold myself together enough to tell him the news; I'm sure I wouldn't have been so composed if his mom had answered. There was no tactful way to say it, so I just came out and said, "Al had a stroke. It's in the area of his brain where his tumor was. He's in ICU. He can't feel or move anything on his left side." It seemed my words were so blunt, but there was really no other way to say it.
There had been a flurry of phone calls for the past day, but at one point, I realized that our good friends Michelle and Phil may not know what was happening yet. I called and left an abrupt message: "Al had a stroke. We're in the ICU. Just thought you'd like to know." Phil was there within the hour. He looked sad and concerned that his friend had once again landed himself in the neuro ICU. (A few years back, Al had flipped his scooter and managed to break his scapula and 3 ribs. Neuro ICU for the first night was just precaution, and then he spent 2 days in the neuro / ortho step-down unit.) And obviously even more concerned since a stroke is much more ambiguous in terms of damage and extent. He visited a while and then offered to retrieve anything we needed from our house. I asked for my laptop so I could get online and update people en masse, instead of trying to catch the now-steady stream of phone calls. A while later, Phil's wife, Michelle returned with the requested computer and my warm bathrobe, which turned out to be a gigantic blessing later in the night when I slept in a vinyl chair beneath a frigid window.
At around the same time, our family doctor – and long-time friend of Al's and mine – showed up to check on us. His reaction concerned me the most as he looked over Al and tested the feeling on his left side. As I stepped outside the room with Dr. Pete, he told me more than he had dared in front of Al. He voiced his concern about the density of Al's stroke, and how it was devastating to see it happen to a friend. I asked the scariest question of all: Was there a possibility that Al would never regain the use of his left side? Dr. Pete admitted that it was a possibility, but not a very big one. Al is young, and he had learned to walk again once before, after his childhood brain tumor. But I still cried and Dr. Pete hugged me as he got ready to leave.
Al and I settled in for his second night in the hospital. He was still as sleepy as ever, so it didn't take much to get him ready to nod off. I, however, had to take a long walk to use the bathroom, and then try to make myself as comfortable as possible in a vinyl recliner.
I had slept for maybe an hour when I heard Al's nurse come in and try to wake him to take his vitals. She started out in a loud whisper, “Albert, wake up.” Nothing. She got a little louder, “Albert, Wake Up!” She started tapping his shoulder and leaned her face in close to his. I was quickly growing concerned. He simply wasn't rousing. After a few more minutes of poking and prodding, Al began to mumble something incoherent. I tried not to panic, but my fear was that the stroke was taking more away than just his movement. I prayed to God that his mind would still be intact. As the nurse's voice had escalated to a yell, Al did not open his eyes, but stated in a very determined, deadpan voice, “You're yelling in my face.” Ha! His mind was still there! He told me later that the nurse had breath that would wake the dead, and he had been trying to formulate a tactful sentence that would convey the message to her.
After the vitals were taken, we drifted back off to sleep; Al more deeply than myself, I'm sure. Still, I was able to sleep more soundly than the night before, knowing Al was breathing a few feet away from me.