Relax: You May Only Have a Few Minutes Left by Loretta La Roche is a book I bought at the Erma Bombeck Writing Conference. I’ve been toting it in my pocketbook and reading snippets of it in snatches of time in line at sundry places or during interminable waits for appointments.
Since my near -death drowning ordeal, on June 5, I feel as if the book’s title is more prophetic than humorous. I do live each day fully; often I eat dessert first. I do live in the moment- the NOW. My near death experience sobered me and exposed me to several epiphanies, besides the obvious one of eternal gratitude to my husband for saving me and to God for letting him save me.
The aftermath of this ordeal has awakened a new empathy not only for those who have their lives lost by freak accidents of nature but also toward those whose lives are altered by their suffering physical misfortune.
The throbbing headache - after the severe exertion of fighting the undertow and climbing the perpendicular bank coupled with the emotional strain of struggling to survive- did not subside. I took Advil every four hours for seven days. Each night I relived the harrowing throes. I pictured us collapsed on the beach, resembling the Montauk Monster that made the news in July 2008- the unrecognizable beast washed up in Long Island.
Mid week I began feeling woozy. I noticed I missed steps and tripped over throw rugs. I couldn’t gauge distances and couldn’t back down the driveway in my car. My left hand went numb while I was reading. I started missing keys when typing, and a pal phoned my husband saying my misspellings “weren’t like Erika.” We were invited out to a party on Friday night. I turned down the invite. Byron knew that wasn’t like me. He wanted a CAT scan done. Apparently Blue Cross Blue Shield doesn’t authorize those on the weekends unless it is an emergency. There was no reason to go to the ER as I wasn’t in dire straits, and we knew what caused the headache: the drowning incident which occurred seven days earlier.
After some persuasion, the clerk approved the test. My scan was sent over the wires to a radiologist to read at another hospital, and he reported back that I had bleeding on the right side of my brain. On Sunday night our same friends invited us out for dinner. I couldn’t eat but half my eggplant parmesan, also uncharacteristic of me. On Monday, a radiologist perused the test first hand. He advised a MRI for that day.
Monday, our daughter drove me to my husband’s office for blood work before my 3:00 p.m. appointment. The nurse had four tests to run. I joked and jabbered with her and the other staff during the bloodletting. I thought I’d better use the restroom before going to the hospital for the procedure. I stood. And my left side went limp. I fell. Luckily one nurse grabbed my head, and I slumped sideways. Others came running. They propped me up in a slanted reposing position and hollered for a wheelchair.
My eyes were closed. I was scared. I felt something on my belly.
“What’s that? I yelled.
“What, Honey?” one asked.
“What’s that?” I screamed.
“What Sugar?” another answered.
I thought someone had put a clipboard on my stomach, and I wondered why they’d do that. I lifted my head slightly and opened my eyes. What I saw terrorized me. It was my own curled left hand sitting on my waist.
“It’s my hand!” I screamed. Then, I burst into sobs.
Peggy said, “It’s okay to cry,” as she pulled the hair out of my eyes. Several hoisted me into the wheel chair. They pushed me to the backdoor while Peggy, the nurse practitioner, got her van and my husband and others started wheeling me out. Somehow, he heaved me into the van. And she drove to the ER. They talked but I couldn’t understand them. I asked where my daughter was who’d driven me over and where my old 90 year old dad was whom we’d left at the barber shop and where her boyfriend was who’d left his vehicle at the radiator shop and where her dogs were.
“Everyone’s taken care of,” my husband said calmly.
When I arrived, a bunch of folks slid me onto a sheath and then onto a stretcher and tubes were inserted, cannula with oxygen placed in my nose, and monitoring devices stuck to my chest. The emergency doc asked me to point to his finger and then to his nose with my right hand. And he wanted me to touch his finger and then his nose. I could do it.
I started feeling tingling coming to the fingertips of my left hand and then happiness because in the van I’d already accepted the fact I was paralyzed on the left side. So when he asked me to use my left pointer finger to touch his finger, I was excited to raise my left arm. I felt jubilant. I stabbed at his finger and swished the air missing it entirely while yelling out, “I’m doing great, aren’t I?”
Later my daughter told me it was kind of comical because I kept saying: “I’m really surprised I can do this.” Each time I entirely missed the mark.
They lifted me again. They got another CAT. And then they hauled me outside into a baking sun and then into the dark mobile unit that harbors the MRI. I’d never had this test done before in my life. The tech told me it would take an hour and a half.
“I have to use the bathroom.”
“You can’t,” he told me.
“We’re ready to have you go in for your test. Another is scheduled behind you.”
“Have someone help me to the bathroom.”
“You must use a bedpan or a catheter.”
“Call my husband. He’ll take me to the bathroom.”
“There is not time for that,” said the tech.
“Okay. I’ll just wet the tunnel.”
He left with a nurse, and she brought back a cell phone and I had her dial my husband and she handed me the phone. He said they would not let him back to where the MRI machine was. Suddenly another nurse appeared and said she’d take me to the lavatory which was a mere two steps away. So, I leaned on her, hobbled, and took their little cup along too.
Mission accomplished. We limped back in tandem. I was slid back into position and then I saw the tunnel clearly. It looks like a tubular coffin.
“I suffer from claustrophobia,” I mentioned. I thought I saw rage flash in the tech’s eyes. So, the nurse retrieved sedation and pumped it in the portal in my wrist.
The tech gave me a ball to squeeze if I got panicky and instructed me not to move my head for an hour and a half.
BEEP! Bop! BRRRR! Clang! You name it! The testing tomb sounds like an old drill falling apart at the seams. It moves, too! I was afraid my good shoulder was going to get caught as the machine slid. Sometime during this procedure, they pulled me out to insert dye, I think.
“Stop moving your nose,” the tech stated sternly.
“I didn’t,” I said. Later on my husband said sedated folks sometimes move and don’t know they have.
After it was over, I was back in ER. The kindly doc who wanted me to touch his nose and finger reappeared.
“You have had a stroke,” he said.
Apparently adrenalin producing events can cause capillaries to pop causing blood pools and the edema around the blood pocket can impact certain brain function, like spatial judgment.
So… So…So… The harrowing close call with the sea makes me want to take up causes like getting life preservers with ropes installed at Emerald Isle’s walkways and having red flags displayed on dangerous days. The aftermath of enduring a stroke (and thank goodness a mild one) makes me more empathetic to brain injured folks and handicapped persons. One never knows; one shouldn’t judge.
The coward dies a thousand deaths; a hero dies but one, the bard of Avon said. I don’t want to be scared of living to the fullest. Being happy and joyful and grateful for each day is the way to live. I keep in mind that I don’t have complete control over my destiny even if I fight the good fight and seemingly win the battle.
My next MRI is in three weeks. With all the patients funneled through, any chance the tech won’t remember me? Hope springs eternal!