It had been hours since I first stood in the waiting area of that emergency room, texting the kids to let them know what happened, which immediately prompted phone calls for more details. I had been keeping them updated but we were waiting so long for the last couple of tests that the kids got worried when I was quiet, so they texted to see if I was still with you, and if you were ok. I snapped a photo of where we were: Together, on your gurney, still in the E.R., now waiting to have you admitted so they could do the last couple of tests that may not happen until morning.
Traumatic events seem to happen both simultaneously in the blink of an eye, and in slow-motion. Details are acute, while also a blur. I know it happened on August 5th, yet it somehow feels like it was years ago, not three months ago. I remind myself multiple times a day that you’re okay now, but the images of what happened will be burned in my memory forever.
We’ve long joked about how good I am in a crisis. When shit goes down, my practical brain kicks in to take care of whatever is about to fall apart. While good in the moment, it’s not so good on my emotions that are put on the back burner in order to get through it. In those moments before it happened on that summer day, you went from screaming in pain, to walking across our room in silence, and I briefly thought you were feeling better. But when I walked you back to bed and you said something that didn’t make sense, then crawled to the middle of our bed, flipped on your back, and had a massive, full-body seizure, I knew you were NOT feeling better and my practical brain flew into high gear as I raced to grab my phone. I know I gave the 911 operator the details of what was happening as I stood over you on our bed. I know I gave her our address and asked for an ambulance to come to our house immediately, but when your face turned so blue and the seizure wouldn’t stop, I threw the phone and held your sweat-drenched body propped up in my arms, watching blood-stained saliva drip out of the side of your mouth from biting your lip and tongue, hoping that somehow my love would be enough to help you. I don’t even remember hanging up on that call. My only thought was if you were about to die, it wasn’t going to be alone on our bed, it was going to be in my arms.
We arrived in the E.R. at the same time, you by the lights and sirens of a speeding ambulance, me by car, driving way faster than I probably should have. I was at the front desk trying to check you in and could hear you moaning in the hallway behind the wall of the receptionist area as the paramedics took you straight in for a CT scan to check you for a stroke or an aneurysm. The receptionist did her best to keep me calm, saying it was okay to take a seat and a nurse would come out to get more information on you. I turned to look at the lobby and was relieved to see so many empty seats. The lobby was split by “standard emergency” and “Covid patients.” It reminded me of the smoking and non-smoking sections on airplanes when I was a kid: completely pointless because we’re all in one closed space, breathing the same air. But when I saw there were only two Covid people, I was relieved because it meant there would be a bed available so we could get you the care you needed.
I sent a few texts and made a couple of quick phone calls to family members to let them know what happened, and left a voicemail with your manager, who would need to cancel your on-camera job the next day. I briefly looked up from my phone and out the window of the lobby area when a man with kind eyes, carrying a clipboard and a pen, came out from a side door by the receptionist area and sat down next to me. He spoke softly as he told me they recognized you and listed you as a private patient. I hadn’t even considered this getting out into press and how invasive and traumatic that would feel, but I remembered the wall of news vans lining the block for days at that hospital when Luke Perry was brought there after having a stroke, and I thanked him for doing that for us. I filled out the paper on the clipboard, handed it back to him, and he told me someone would come back out to get me as soon as you were back from the scan.
Within minutes, my name was called and I was escorted back to a room just as you were being wheeled in on a gurney. You were talking now, confused as to what happened and how you got there. It was that moment that I felt alone in this nightmare. Of course it made sense that you wouldn’t remember a seizure, but you didn’t remember at least an hour total that began before the seizure, or recalling the three paramedics showing up in our bedroom, with one asking me a bunch of health questions while two others worked to get you strapped into a device that looked like a furniture dolly with a seat and torso straps. You didn’t remember yelling about how bad your head hurt, or that I had to hold your hands as they took you to the ambulance so you wouldn’t undo the straps that were preventing you from falling off that contraption, and you didn’t remember the ambulance ride to the hospital or the CT scan you just had. I had to explain it all to you while you looked at me as if I was telling you a story about someone else’s life.
Seven hours and multiple tests later, the doctor came back in to let us know a bed was ready for you in the neurology wing. It was past visiting hours but since you had no memory of what happened, the doctor said I could go with you to help get you settled in your room and answer questions the nurses would be asking, and then I would have to go home for the night. When they finally came to get you and we headed out of your room in the E.R., I wanted to once again thank the doctor and all of the nursing staff for everything they did to help you, but you were being wheeled away so quickly that there just wasn’t time. I hoped the gratitude I expressed with each brief interaction throughout your time in that part of the hospital had been taken to heart.
Knowing I had to leave you there overnight was awful. Taking your wedding ring with me because you couldn’t wear it while getting an MRI made me feel like you were truly alone there, which was even worse. I felt like we were just getting you settled in to your new room when they came in to take you for the MRI they had originally said wouldn’t happen until morning. The nurses told me I needed to go home but to come back first thing in the morning so I could be there when the neurologist arrived. I watched them take you down the hallway, disappearing behind a set of double doors, before I walked myself down the quiet, dimly lit, empty corridors of the hospital and out into the warm night air to make the drive back to our house, alone.
I didn’t sleep that night while you were away. Every time I started to drift off, images of your blue face in my arms made my heart race and I was wide awake once again. I reached over to your side of the bed more times than I care to admit, and when you weren’t there, I’d rotate your wedding ring around my thumb, over and over. As sunlight slowly filled our bedroom the following morning, I jumped up and got myself ready to go walk in those hospital doors when visiting hours started at 8am. When the neurologist came to your room to tell us all of your tests were clear and the cause of your seizure was pinched nerves, a rapid onset migraine, and one of your anti-depressants creating the most unlikely trio of circumstances that can cause a seizure, but you would be just fine, I felt numb. I had spent the last 24 hours worrying that you had a brain tumor, or some sort of seizure disorder that we were somehow going to figure out how to navigate so you would be okay. The relief at knowing *you* were going to be okay sent a tidal wave of emotions at me that I had stuffed away in order to allow my “crisis brain” to get us through this. Once we got home, those emotions were so intense that just watching you climb into bed sent me into one of many panic attacks I would have over the weeks to come.
I’ve often heard that emotional trauma can trigger an injury somewhere on the body of the person that is affected by an experience. Some people call it a spiritual meaning, some describe it as a place where energy is stored. Whatever it is, it sounds a little woo-woo and probably not something that’s scientifically proven but knowing now what happened to me then, it does make sense. When your migraine lingered days after coming home from the hospital, I was so worried you would have another seizure. When we tried having a quiet dinner at home on my birthday, I found myself just looking at you from across our dining room table to see if the signs of a seizure were happening again. I spent nights with my hand on your arm while you slept next to me, and I would sit up and look at you with even the slightest twitch or movement you made. I was so terrified, and so exhausted, but I knew I needed to stay strong to get us through this. What I didn’t realize was just how much of a toll it was taking on me, physically.
For someone who believes that spirituality and health are connected, the low back is a significant area where emotions are stored. The L4 area of the spine is the seat of emotion, especially grief. It is also where one holds joy within their family. The lowest vertebrae, L5, represents one’s roots, their walk through life, and the relationship to their time on Earth. So when I launched out of bed in a complete panic on August 9th to the sounds of you vomiting in the kitchen sink from the migraine you still had (I thought you were having another seizure) it’s no wonder I herniated the disc in between L4 and L5. You are my heart, my soul, my partner in the life we have built together, my foundation, and in that moment, I thought you were possibly being ripped away from me forever.
While the road to my physical and emotional recovery has been slow, I know I am improving daily and will continue to do so when I focus on the future, and not on the circumstances of past. And with each passing day where I have to remind myself that all of your doctors have said this completely random series of events that caused your seizure is so unlikely to ever happen again, I still find myself checking on you in the middle of the night, or quietly panicking if I hear a loud noise coming from whatever room you’re in during the day, even though you’ve been fine. I hope I’ll get past it, but I’m not quite there yet. And while you still don’t remember the events of that day, I know neither of us will ever forget how much help our friends Bonnie, Stephanie, Donna, Steph, and Yesenia stepped up to help us out while you recovered from your seizure, and I recovered from my back surgery. I know now that in those first moments in the hospital when I thought I was alone in dealing with this, I wasn’t. The love and support was actually there all along.