It is a good day to be alive. I suppose, as the mystical saying goes, it is a good day to die, but I am feeling happy to be in the former camp for now. Five years ago, on this very day of the calendar, I made a fast trip to the hospital. That worked out well, thankfully, in the end.
Home alone that day, I tried to put on some socks. I missed my foot. Twice. After countless times putting on socks in my life, I suddenly just couldn’t do it. My brain said go and my body just didn’t hear it right. My mind was a bit scrambled. My right side was the problem. I got those socks on with my left hand damn it. But I wasn’t right, so to speak.
My right arm rose without me meaning it to. And when I tried to raise it I couldn’t do it. I limped down the stairs. I thought I knew what was up, but no, it couldn’t be. That was for old people. I was a healthy dude. But just to check, I looked in the mirror. My face was sagging on the right side. Crap, that was one symptom hard to deny. I was having a stroke. I tried to utter some profanity to express my freakedoutedness. Turns out I couldn’t speak either.
I had enough medical training at that point to know I was having a stroke and to know that I needed to get to a hospital. Fast. I was intentional in using the land line because I knew they could find me that way. I called 911.
The woman who answered asked me questions but, as much as wanted to answer, I simply couldn’t speak. I could make a few noises, grunts and such, but that was it. She was patient with me, telling me to just stay on the phone until help arrived. I sat, with my wallet, cell phone and those warm socks, waiting for help. I texted my wife with my good but non-dominant hand. It was all I could offer her.
A fire truck pulled up. Of course, they had no idea what to expect from someone who calls for help but can’t speak. An ambulance followed. When the EMT walked in I had my driver’s license ready. I knew he would ask my name and age and I at least could answer that. I couldn’t say a word.
That was a sweet ride to the hospital. It wasn’t all fun. They had to pull over to insert an IV needle. But we flew. I have never gotten into Burlington so fast. And, despite my condition, or maybe because of my condition, it all seemed so fascinating. The ambulance scene, the emergency room, the questions everyone asked, the posse of medical students waiting to see the 40-something guy who was having a stroke.
My voice did start to return. I could sort of make some words. After my wife arrived, however, and a CT scan, it left me again. So they gave me the big, bad clot-buster drug. Serious stuff. That meant I had to spend the night with constant care. That stuff can be dangerous. No ability to clot means bleeding in the brain can be fatal. That wasn’t exactly a comfort, but the nurses were gems.
I wanted to make light of the situation. I wanted to have good humor about it. But I couldn’t joke. All I could do was half-smile and turn things over in my head. There was a lot going on inside that head of mine. Come the next morning I was starting to speak again. It was surreal simply not having control over what I could do. For four decades I had been used to my brain making commands and my tongue or arms or legs responding. I didn’t think about it. It just happened.
I spent a couple of days under the tender care of hospital staff. I got hungry–no eating when your tongue doesn’t work well. When I got to have chocolate pudding I was pretty psyched. I mean, I love chocolate pudding anyway, but this chocolate pudding was amazing. Then I got to go home, my amazing spouse taking over for those staff members.
Bottom line: I didn’t die. I could have. I could have been in really bad shape. But I healed up quickly, physically at least. It took me a lot longer to heal mentally. But hey, I’m not dead. So Happy Not-Dead Day to me. Over the past five years I have thought a bit about my mortality and about what matters in life. If you’ve had a brush with the other side you know what I’m talking about. If you have not, well, soon enough. Enjoy the days while you can. I plan on it.
That would NOT have made for a happy birthday for your brother. You not being dead made an excellent gift to all of us. Happy Not Dead Day, Matt.