There are moments in our lives that leave us without words. They body slam us to the ground and we find ourselves lost in a maelstrom of anxiety and confusion. We suddenly see clearly and yet feel unfocused and muddled. Time becomes so relative that it practically stops. We see the world around us acting as though everything is normal and we want to scream out, “Hey, don’t you know what just happened?” We’ve all had those kind of experiences and they are raw and visceral, hurting while making us just a tiny bit stronger even as we feel so vulnerable and weak.
This past week has been like that for me and my family who had gathered together in the beautiful Texas hill country to celebrate the freedoms and abundance that we so enjoy as citizens of the United States. We’d just had lunch on Monday and were laughing and talking and trying to decide what to do for the rest of the day when we heard a strange thumping on one of the doors. Once, twice, three times it interrupted us, and so my son-in-law Jeremy went to investigate at just about the time that we all heard my husband Mike’s voice weakly exclaim in a very slurred voice, “I can’t get up!”
Of course we all jumped to attention at that point realizing that he was behind the guest bathroom door and that something had gone terribly wrong. Thanks to the good thinking of my daughter Catherine there was a little key perched on the door frame that allowed her to open the locked door quickly. There we saw Mike lying on the floor lodged between the toilet and the vanity with his feet splayed in such a way that he was keeping us from opening the door all the way. It was his face that caused our hearts to stop, for his left eye and the corner of his mouth were noticeably drooping while he proclaimed that he thought that he was having a stroke.
I shouted for someone to call 911 and I think that my grandson Andrew responded first. Meanwhile son-in-law Jeremy had worked his way inside and managed to comfort and reassure Mike and pull him into a sitting position. Son-in-law Scott and grandson Jack attempted to remove the hinges to the door so that the EMTs would be able to get inside when they arrived, while Andrew, daughter Maryellen and I searched for Mike’s medical information from his wallet. Admittedly I also used this time to have a complete and total meltdown out of view of Mike. I didn’t want him to realize the depth of my concern so I let it all out so that I might recover quickly enough to show him a brave face.
Meanwhile all of the younger grandchildren, Ben, Eli, Ian, Abby and William were in the front yard waiting for the first responders to arrive, which they did very shortly. Those young men who emerged from the fire truck and the ambulance were a beautiful sight as they strode inside so confidently, ready to get down to the business of assessing Mike’s situation and rendering aid. By then the family crew had managed to get Mike situated in such a way that the opening to the small room was sufficient for the rescue workers to do their work.
After quietly taking control of the situation they had Mike safely ensconced in the ambulance with me in the front and Scott sitting in the back with the paramedic. By then all of the physical symptoms that we had seen in Mike had disappeared which was somewhat reassuring, but our fears had not abated as we raced to Methodist Stone Oak Hospital in San Antonio.
Soon Mike was in the care of the very professional emergency room team that included Dr. Mansur and nurse Alyssa, strong, compassionate and highly professional women who became my idea of perfect angels in that moment. Before long Maryellen, Catherine and Abby had arrived to sit with us as well. Mike smiled and mentioned how happy it made him to have all of his girls together.
By then his vital signs had stabilized and I suspect that his blood pressure was better than mine because I felt as though my heart was going to literally jump out of my chest. Still it was wonderful to hear him being his old self, laughing and joking with the medical personnel about being a Rockets fan rather than cheering for the Spurs. All of this was reassuring to all of us, but we were not yet ready to celebrate.
Hospital time is unlike that in the world outside its walls. It is a ritual of hurrying up and waiting. The wheels grind slowly, particularly on a holiday weekend when the staff is half of what it normally may be. We tried to remain patient as the medical personnel slowly but surely performed one test after another on Mike, all with great precision. Eventually they announced that he would be staying overnight for observation so that the various diagnostic procedures might continue in the morning. We reluctantly left feeling exhausted and confused.
The following day was a repeat of waiting endlessly. Mike demonstrated that his mental acuity was intact as he answered a question about the date by stating that it was July 4, 241 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and then proceeded to quote the document. I can’t remember a moment when I was prouder of his knowledge or happier to see that it had not been destroyed.
It was well into the evening before the hospital discharged Mike instructing him to follow up with visits to his doctors and a neurologist. It seemed as though the whole city was celebrating the holiday and we had to pinch ourselves into the realization that the world was indeed still rolling along. Later we sat outside Catherine’s house and enjoyed fireworks displays that gave us a tiny bit of hope and the first moments of happiness that we had felt in the last forty eight hours.
I’ve made a long story a bit too long. We have all been left traumatized by the events, but we are trying our best to hold on to the fact that Mike is still here with us. We know how much worse this might have been. Our new reality for the moment is uncertainty filled with questions. Ours has been a frightening journey but we now know that we were never all alone. We have a renewed affection for first responders who toil almost unnoticed day after day until we need them. We have a great appreciation for the doctors and nurses who stand ready to help in emergencies. We realize the magnitude of the love that surrounds us from friends and family. We know that the road ahead will be different but we are ready to accept its challenges.
I’ve often written about the serendipitous nature of life. I’ve urged everyone to seize the day and embrace the love. After our most unusual week I realize that such thoughts are far more than mere platitudes. They are guideposts for living. We really don’t know what is in store for us from one moment to the next. We truly do need to stop long enough to see and appreciate the incredible beauty of life. It is more important than anything to express our love and our gratitude as soon as we feel it. None of us have the assurance that we will see another day. This, here and now, is our time and it is up to us to use it well.