I was out for the day. Work, actually. I was chatting with a friend when I walked through the front door. My teenage son began to motion, clearly seeking my attention, pantomiming incomprehensively. I hung up the phone.
“What?” I asked.
“It’s Dad. He fell and something is wrong.”
I walk into the kitchen and see my husband sitting at the counter and slicing a brick of a delicious balsamic-drenched cheddar. With a spoon.
I quickly collect the details of a fall at the gym, as the treadmill ran 6.1 mph. Not the end of the world, except the storyteller – my husband – can’t quite get the words right, is still slicing cheese with a spoon, and doesn’t remember falling.
“OK, great. Let’s go,” I instruct.
Everyone moves to the car, I tell the kid to grab a book and once we’re out the door the husband asks where we’re going.
“To the ER. Get in.”
Under slurred protest I drive the 10 minutes to the nearest hospital, where we are not well-known, but nor are we strangers. We slip in during a pretty quiet window before the 3 ambulances that arrived in quick secession. I attempt to join him in triage but am shooed away. I get it – no one needs me completing his sentences or prompting him as they test his cognition. But they could have at least let me tell them that he was going to deny any and all concerns. Not to mention, no one knows better than I what his “normal” looks like.
The kid and I wait. And wait. A young Russian woman and her mother argue loudly, presumably about they fact that they were kept waiting while the ER staff was trying to help their father/husband who arrived in Ambulance 1. I realized I’m well-versed in ER protocol and taking this all in stride. Perhaps too much so.
Time passes. We wait.
“Code stroke to the ER. Code stroke to the ER. Code stroke to the ER.”
By now the room has filled a bit and I watch as faces drop, concern replaced by fear. My instinct is to comfort them. This isn’t about their loved ones, it is about mine. But I have no way of knowing that. I just know it.
In time the ER will run a CT scan, which will wrongly be negative. My husband will be discharged, perhaps still in the middle of his stroke. The week to come will be filled with 3 MRIs, an echocardiogram and 20 vials of blood will be tested. He is 47 years old, fit as a fiddle, works out regularly, has no cholesterol issues, low blood pressure and exactly ONE stroke risk factor: he is male.
We aren’t really through this yet, though he has been given leave to drive and spent half a day in the office. I have some choice words for the ER we went to, and luckily they sent an evaluation that arrived today. Hear me roar!
Monday lands us in the office of our internist – the same doctor who found my cancer by instinct and on baseline mammogram. We rush for the first of many MRIs and learn before the day is through that he did, in fact, have a 2 CM stroke. Which is to say 2 CM of his brain died on Sunday. (Good thing he’s so damn smart!)
Here’s the rub. It’s been years since I was first diagnosed with cancer, and another few since it became metastatic. My husband is my partner, my rock, my caregiver. He knows how to take care of me. He knows nothing of being taken care of. He knows I will die with, if not from, my disease. It has never once occurred to him that he might be mortal as well. It’s been quite a week of table turning and there is more to come. News flash: we are ALL immortal. He’s getting used to that fact. Slowly. Uncomfortably. But if you want to know the truth, it’s good to take care of someone else. But more than that, I wish it were me. I’d take it all on in a heartbeat…pun intended.