On Saturday, May 17, around 10:15 p.m., Bob walked out of our bedroom, into the living room where I was sitting and tried to explain to me that his arm felt funny. That it wouldn’t work. Only, he couldn’t talk. His mouth was opening and closing but no words were coming out. His right arm was moving in circles but he wasn’t really able to control it. A blood clot, one of six that we later learned were scattered throughout his body, had traveled to the left frontal lobe of his brain and was making it impossible for him to tell me what was wrong. Bob was having a stroke. It was the most terrifying experience of our lives.
Earlier that day, the kids and I had picked Bob up from an overnight stay in the hospital after a routine (to us) cardiac procedure. A procedure he had successfully recovered from two times prior. We weren’t expecting any complications beyond exhaustion from the lengthy time spent under anesthesia. So, when Bob wandered out later that night and I asked him, without even looking up from my computer, if he was feeling okay, I assumed his delay in responding was due to sluggishness. It took me a minute to register that he wasn’t responding because he couldn’t find the words to answer my question. By the time I was on the phone with 911, he had regained a portion of his speech but it was clear something had gone very, very wrong.
I mostly remember the interminable wait for the ambulance that evening. We live in the country where nighttime is a type of dark that’s difficult to describe. When we lived in the city, there was a constant glow, even at midnight. Out here, a porch light can barely make a dent. I spent ten frantic minutes running back and forth between Bob on the sofa and the open front door, willing the night sky to illuminate with the red flashing lights that meant rescue, to hear the sound of the ambulance churning over the gravel road towards our home. It was so very, very dark.
At some point, it dawned on me that I would want to go with Bob to the hospital. That I would want to be with him. With three young kids and family so far away, we’ve gotten rather adept at dividing and conquering. However, this was different. This was really serious. I had the phone number for neighbors that we had only met two months prior. I called and tearfully explained what was happening and they were at our doorstep in minutes. I cannot overemphasize how reassuring their presence was.
We arrived at the emergency room and after the staff was assured Bob was stable and after I answered a few brief questions, they rushed him off for a CT scan. After a tremendous flurry of activity, I found myself all alone. Just standing there, in ER bay number 9, not sure what to do next, awkwardly holding my purse and a large box containing Bob’s medication. I didn’t dare move. After a few minutes, the doctor walked in, put his hand gently on my arm and motioned to a chair in the corner. He told me it was okay to sit down. I can’t remember another time I have felt so helpless.
I remember needing to do something while I waited. I couldn’t just sit there. I’m a doer and this was a crisis! I needed to fix something! Make it better! But, there wasn’t anything for me to fix or make better so instead, I cleaned out my purse. Right there in the emergency room. While Bob was off being x-rayed. Carefully organizing my wallet. Putting receipts together. Placing pens and pencils in pockets. Wondering why in the world I was doing this, then, but also unable to stop myself.
The next few hours passed in a blur. A teary, exhausted, wondering-about-the-future blur. At one point, there was hope that Bob had suffered from a “mini-stroke,” something that would resolve itself within twenty-four hours. However, when his stroke symptoms returned and he lost grip in his right hand once again, it was obvious his case was more complicated than that. Sometime around 2:00 or 3:00 the morning of May 18, the decision was made to transfer him to the telemetry floor of a nearby hospital. Upon arrival there, the nurses immediately got to work admitting him, a detailed process during which it became apparent that I was mostly in the way, especially in the cramped quarters of a shared hospital room. I also felt pulled to return home since I was cognizant that our neighbor was probably sleeping uncomfortably on our couch and could use some relief.
Since I had arrived with Bob via ambulance, I asked one of the nurses if there was someone at the front desk of the hospital that could call a taxi. She explained the desk wasn’t staffed at that hour but immediately set about to find a cab company to come and retrieve me.
I was in rough shape at this point; exhausted and worried and so upset that I was physically ill. So, when the cab pulled up in front of the hospital, in the pitch black of 4:30 a.m., I remember irrationally thinking to myself, this cab ride is not going to end well. This guy is totally going to murder me. I am alone, in the wee hours of the morning, not a soul to be seen anywhere and I’m climbing in the back of this cab and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this episode of “Dateline NBC.” I was way too tired to care though. I kept dozing off in between his requests for directions, only to be jolted awake when he came upon deer in the road. I realized, as we drove further and further out into the country towards our house, each curve a little worse than the one before, each turn taking him further and further from the main road, everything around us so, so dark, that this driver must be thinking to himself, this lady is totally going to murder me. I didn’t though. I gave him $60.00 and hoped he could find his way back.
I awoke to a phone call around 7:00 a.m. from a doctor at the hospital. Bob’s stroke was worrisome he explained and the neurologist had ordered Bob to the ICU while they performed additional testing. And, that’s where I found Bob later that morning, when I returned to the hospital after dropping the kids off with neighbors: in the ICU staring down Recovery, Day 1.
Bob spent a total of nine nights in the hospital during that first stay making progress and then not making progress and then just flat out getting worse before he began to slowly get better. He is getting better though. Strokes are unique to each sufferer and we are learning to carefully navigate the somewhat messy minefield Bob’s stroke left behind. It is comforting to know our everyday life won’t always be this challenging and, a little more than two weeks out from the event, I can see improvement.
We’ve always joked that Bob’s extremely laid-back personality accounted for his three operating speeds: Slow Bob, Medium Bob and Fast Bob. His default setting has always been Slow Bob, a kind of lackadaisical wandering from task to task. At times, like when running late for a doctor’s appointment, he’ll switch to Medium Bob since a moderate sense of urgency exists. Fast Bob only appears when he’s running from a grizzly bear or something. When my sister visited Bob in the hospital, she asked him what speed he was going to be operating at now with this latest health development. He replied, “Stroke Bob.”
I think we’re well on the path to recovery.