It’s been 5 years since my world changed. 5 years since the future I saw for myself and my little family was altered so significantly that it looks like nothing I had ever thought of before.
I woke up early that morning in November with my toddler daughter crying because daddy had rolled onto her arm. This was odd, in and of itself. At 3 am, it’s difficult to think of anything other than what should be normal and this was definitely the opposite of normal. My husband kept rolling to his side, then to his back, and then would pull up the sheet before doing it again. There was something off about this pattern and things became alarming when I couldn’t make him stop or wake him up. He finally stopped but I still could not get him to wake up, open his eyes or even acknowledge that I was there.
That 911 call was not the first one I had made, but was definitely one that is etched deeply into my memory. My father was a volunteer fireman for many years growing up, and my aunt and uncle have done EMT work for decades, and now fly for Life Flight, so I knew the steps that would need to happen. While speaking with the dispatcher, I was putting a robe on, gathering our dogs into the bathroom so they would be out of the way, and comforting my daughter. We had moved into the apartment not that long ago, and still had not unpacked everything. Our front room was a disaster and all I could think of was making sure that there was a wide enough path to get a stretcher to the back room.
Even now, half a decade later, I remember the cold wind wrapped around my ankles while I waited on the landing by our apartment door, standing at the top of the steps on the second floor so that as soon as I saw those flashing lights, I would be able to get them to where I needed them. I knew there was nothing I could do for my husband right then. He was laying in bed, nothing was around him and directing the first responders would be something I could actively do.
The firemen were the first arrivals, and seeing those familiar (if from a different town) uniforms seemed to comfort me. I calmly explained the symptoms that I had witnessed, along with the time frame. They went through their routine and were also unable to receive any response. So transporting, it was.
We were located right in the middle of two hospitals, one that is where we had our daughter, and the other is one we had never been to before. At that time in the morning, I couldn’t even think about it so told them the one I had given birth in.
This was the one decision I wish I could take back. Who knows what could have happened if we had not have gone there. But we did. And we survived. But it was horrible. They were adamant that he had overdosed on a drug. Even when the blood test came back with only a small amount of pain relievers because he had had his wisdom teeth out recently, they still were like “It’s just drugs”. But then it was meningitis. Or something else.
Even though they had done a CT Scan, they didn’t even look at it. It wasn’t until we were moved into a temporary waiting room outside of the ER specific, and I noticed that he was moving around but only one side of his body. It took me mentioning to the doctor for them to actually look at the scans.
It took them 5 hours to figure out what was going on. He was only 27, so it had to have been drugs. In fact, it was a stroke. A significant stroke that affected more than half of the left side of his brain. His carotid arteries has torn, both sides, and by the time they realized what was going on, they had also almost completely sealed shut. This meant that the only blood flow was getting to his brain from the back of his neck. Before this, I didn’t even know that blood went to the brain in the front and the back of the neck.
The neurologist on duty at the hospital was amazing. The one bright spot at that building was this doctor. He knew what was going on, and knew his limits. He knew that he didn’t have the supplies needed to add stints to my husband’s damaged arteries. So he was sent to OHSU. By this time, although he was not fully conscious, he was aware of what was going on at a base level. He recognized our daughter, his mom, and myself, but was not able to respond to a lot of things.
Another ambulance ride, this one a lot less stressful, since we were more aware of what was going on. He was transferred to the Neuro ICU for observation. It was far too late for the drug that can break up clots, and by the time he arrived at the new hospital, his arteries had sealed shut completely. Between that and the fragility of the arteries that caused tears in the first place, they were hesitant to do stints or any other surgery. The future that was coming was uncertain and extremely scary…but my husband was alive and every day he was getting stronger.