Guest Post by Sandy Bishop
Saturday, December 8, 2012
Friday night was pretty typical for my partner Marc and I. We had dinner and then retired to the family room to watch t.v. It was a fun evening with lots of the usual laughter and chatting during commercials. Neither of us had a clue to how the rest of the night would unfold, nor that it would become a struggle for life.
Just after midnight, Marc said, “My ears are ringing. Can you hear that?”
I just laughed and told him no.
A minute later he stood up, holding his hand to the right side of his head. “My head feels funny. I’m going to go to bed. Go ahead and finish watching the show and I’ll see you when you come up.” He assured me he was fine. No real headache. His head just felt funny. No big deal.
About 10 minutes later I heard him throwing up in the upstairs bathroom. None of this concerned me. He had seemed perfectly fine when he left the family room and he has acid reflux so he occasionally gets caught by surprise when he lies down at night. I wasn’t worried in the slightest.
At that point I decided to head up to bed myself. I let the dog out, unplugged Christmas lights and headed upstairs. I entered the bedroom expecting to see Marc cuddled under the blankets.
What I saw instead took a few minutes to process. Marc was in bed, but he was right on the edge and his left leg was on the floor. His face was gray.
“Marc, are you okay?” I asked.
“Ya, just need my water the glass is on the counter it’s on the counter. The counter,“ he said, motioning to the bathroom. His words were badly slurred and he was speaking in run-on sentences.
My heart sank as I rushed to get him a glass of water. I think I knew immediately that he’d had a stroke but my mind absolutely refused to go there. Marc is only 47 years old. I offered the water like it was just the thing to snap him out of this. The magic elixir to keep life the way it was supposed to be.
“Why is your leg hanging out of bed? “ I asked. When he looked confused about that, I tapped his leg and said, “Pull your leg up onto the bed, Marc.”
He moved but the leg didn’t. I grabbed it placed it on the bed, my concern increasing.
I think we should get you to the hospital. Something’s wrong.”
“Okay, but call an ambulance,” Marc replied.
I heard him say that but I was still in denial. Then he asked me something I could handle. “Do Reiki on my head. Reiki on my head”, he slurred, indicating the spot on the right side of his head he’d declared “felt funny” earlier.
Reiki is a form of energy healing that I practice and Marc quite enjoys it. I hopped on the bed beside him and started doing Reiki. The second I started, he began throwing up again. I grabbed the garbage can on my side of the bed for him.
Once he was finished I said, “Okay, I am calling the ambulance. I think you’ve had a stroke.”
There. I said it. This was real.
Marc wanted to sleep for just 10 minutes but I knew that was a bad idea. I decided to put on his pajama pants before I called for the ambulance. I asked him to put his leg into the leg hole for me. He lifted his right leg and slipped it in easily. “Okay, give me your other leg.”
He lifted his right leg again.
“No, this one,” I said, tapping his left leg.
His right leg again raised into the air.
My mouth went dry. I held his right leg down with my hand and slapped his left leg fairly hard. “Now, lift this leg.”
No response except for his right leg struggling under the weight of my hand.
I got his pants on in a hurry and called 911. I told the dispatcher that I believed my husband was having a stroke and began describing the symptoms: Ringing in the ears, nausea, slurred speech, gray skin tone, laboured breathing and lack of movement in the left leg.
“Tell them I heard it pop,” added Marc.
This was news to me. Until then he hadn’t mentioned that he’d heard this mini explosion in his head.
It all started with a big bang.
The fire truck and ambulance arrived within minutes. I had barely unlocked the door when I saw the lights flashing as the vehicles approached.
They quickly assessed Marc as I got our Golden Retriever, Ceilidh (pronounce Kay-lee), locked away in the spare bedroom. She was very upset about Marc and all the commotion and had decided to help the paramedics by getting in their way.
I called my daughter, Ashley, and told her what was happening. She was at a bar with her co-workers for a work Christmas party but upon hearing that Marc was being taken to the hospital and that I thought he’d had a stroke, Ashley said she’d be right there. She hopped into a cab and made it to the house just as Marc was being loaded into the ambulance.
By the time we arrived at Royal Victoria Hospital, Marc was being wheeled in for a CT scan. Ashley and I went to get a coffee and after a brief wait, were summoned by a very solemn nurse. The doctor, who specialized in strokes, wanted to speak with us.
The news was far from positive.
“Marc not only had a stroke, but he’s had a major bleed. He needs to get to Toronto right away for neurosurgery. I’m calling Toronto General to see if they have a bed available and I’m going to arrange for air transport,” he informed us. Toronto is an hour’s drive south from our city of Barrie, Ontario and has a number of major hospitals. Despite the size of Barrie’s RVH, it does not have neurosurgery capabilities.
Ashley and I sat with Marc while we waited for the logistics to fall into place. We explained what was happening and he took everything in stride. He was alert and even joked around. When the nurses explained they hadn’t been able to get his catheter in, he said, “That’s because you didn’t buy me dinner first.”
At one point Marc looked at me and said, “Rub my tummy and sing, Warm Kitty, Soft Kitty.” I figured he was in pretty good shape if he was quoting The Big Bang Theory.
We were told several times that night how lucky it was that we had been awake when it happened and that I’d gotten him to the hospital so quickly. The pun ran through my head that it was a real “stroke of luck”.
Toronto General Hospital didn’t have a bed to spare and it was too foggy for the air ambulance to fly that night. The doctor finally announced that he’d found a bed for Marc at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto and that they’d arranged for ground ambulance to transport him.
When the ambulance finally arrived, I was down the hall. Ashley was standing on the other side of the curtain and overheard one of the EMT’s tell the nurse that he wasn’t comfortable taking Marc to Toronto. He said he’d looked at the CT scan and that there was no way Marc was going to survive the trip and he was amazed he was still even alive.
“I know,” said the nurse, “but he’s been talking for three hours. You’re taking him.”
Ashley told me later on about that exchange but I had already figured it out. I could tell how they felt. It took them 1 ½ hours to prep him for the trip. They explained that he had to be sedated and intubated for his own safety. The jostling of the ambulance and resulting stress could cause a seizure if he wasn’t sedated and they were worried about his laboured breathing. They prepared countless needles full of medications. They were prepared for absolutely anything to happen during this trip.
I rode in the passenger seat of the ambulance for what turned out to be an uneventful ride to Sunnybrook. Ashley and her boyfriend Robbie met me there just after we arrived. Robbie had arrived at the hospital before they transported him and Marc had asked him if he’d made a move in chess yet. He and Robbie play on-line and it’s become a big focus in Marc’s life.
We pulled into the emergency department at 9:00 a.m. that morning. The neurosurgeon thoroughly explained what would happen. They couldn’t tell what was going on inside his head due to the amount of blood from the bleed. The plan was to stop the bleed and remove the clot. He explained that the right skull flap would likely be removed and kept out for 6 months to a year until they were satisfied the swelling had subsided and that no other surgery would be needed. He also explained that there was no guarantee with this type of surgery. Anything could happen, including the risk that they might even cause another bleed. On top of that, risk of infection is high. It sounded like a long list of hurdles but I knew that without the surgery, Marc would die.
Marc’s parents arrived shortly after that and by 11:00 a.m., Marc was in surgery.
We all sat in the critical care waiting room on the second floor of Sunnybrook. What was supposed to take 1 ½ hours took almost 3. I really don’t remember that wait now. It was such a blur and I was numb. I remember crying a lot. I felt such sorrow. It felt like the bottom had dropped right out of my world. Marc is my best friend and I just couldn’t imagine life without him.
At one point during the wait, I decided that there’s no way he would die. Marc is one of those people who is on top of everything. He organizes garbage day like it’s his job and does it two days early. There is no way he’d trust me with the important task of taking out the garbage. How would I ever manage? No, he’d make sure he lived just so he could take care of everything.
Just before 2:00 p.m. two neurosurgeons finally came out to speak to us. They said it went well and that there wasn’t a tumour, which is always a possibility with this kind of event. Beyond that, they couldn’t offer us much. They told us his bone flap had been removed and that he’d be sedated for several days and would be slowly allowed to awaken when it was safe to do so.
Eventually we were allowed in to see him. There is a door off the waiting room through which access is granted by the nurse in charge of the patient. If all is well, they buzz you in. We were escorted through a maze of beds until we were finally introduced to a nurse named Sandy. As she was talking to us, we looked at the man in the bed in front of us. He was sleeping and had bandages wrapped around his head. I wasn’t sure who this man was and I had no idea why we were being delayed like this when all I wanted to do was see Marc.
Marc’s mom turned to me and said, “Is that Marc?”
It took a few seconds to realize that this was my husband. The man I love was barely recognizable. He was all swelling, bandages, breathing tubes and wires attached to noisy, beeping machines. Somewhere under there was Marc. I couldn’t help but wonder just how deeply he was buried. Not knowing the real extent of the damage was difficult. All we could do was hope for the best, at that point.
A few hours later, with exhaustion setting in, we made our way home. My eye lids felt like heavy pieces of stone and yet sleep felt a long way off. I was afraid to sleep. I was afraid not to sleep. I was afraid the phone would ring in the middle of the night.
Life had just changed in the blink of an eye and I wasn’t prepared.
Sandy Bishop entered the world of blogging last year with her humorous craft/D.I.Y. blog, Confessions of a Cheap Chick http://confessionsofacheapchick.blogspot.ca/.
Sandy’s partner, Marc Gratton, suffered a massive stroke and brain bleed in the wee hours of December 8, 2012. Sandy began blogging each day’s events in critical care, hoping to have a journal for Marc when he recovered so he could see the progression from that fateful night when hope for his survival was scarce to becoming whole and healed. Sandy also hopes that their experience may one day help others facing recovery from stroke.
A Stroke of Luck http://fromhopetohealing.blogspot.ca/ takes us day by day along Marc’s healing journey. Big Bang Theory is the first day of that journey.