It was the middle of the night, Jan. 28, 2002. Bad stuff had happened to me. The ambulance was on its way. My daughter, Amy 12, heard sirens in the distance.
It was the “norm” for both Amy and I, when we heard sirens, to pray silently for the families involved in whatever crisis was occurring. So when these sirens woke her up, she began praying even before she realized the ambulance was careening toward our home in Newton, Kansas.
Just that morning, I had called Rita, my supervisor at work. “Rita, I am not feeling well today. I need to take the day off.” It had not been a typical week. I had taken two sick days off from my social work job at Harvey County Health Department on Tuesday and Wednesday.
I rarely used sick days. Now that my kids were pre-teens in middle school, they were old enough to spend parts of the day without an adult supervisor, and I could check on them during the day by phone. So, I didn’t miss work much anymore. But this week was different.
At first I thought I had caught some kind of bug, but my symptoms didn’t resemble the flu or respiratory stuff goes around every winter. My appetite was fine and I had no cough or fever. And my stomach was fine, as long as I reclined in bed or a recliner.
This “bug” was exhausting me, and I spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday tilted back in my recliner in the living room, with the footrest up. Tilted back was the only way I was comfortable when I was out of bed. If I tried to sit upright, or, tried to get out of my reclined position to use the bathroom or to grab something to eat from the kitchen, I felt extremely dizzy.
It wasn’t the vertigo kind of dizzy with a spinning room. But I was lightheaded and felt like I was going to faint. And I felt a little nauseated as well as feeling sometimes like I needed to vomit. Must just be a weird flu bug, I thought. Not respiratory stuff. Just dizzy stuff. And tired stuff.
I was also just too tired to watch TV. The sounds and visual stimulation were to much of a challenge for my brain to tolerate.
Another reason I called in sick was because of tooth pain, requiring a root canal. My appointment with the endodontist was scheduled for today, Thursday morning. On Wednesday I had asked Roy, “Can you take the tomorrow? I’m not sure that with this dizziness still going I can drive to Dr. Thibaut’s tomorrow.”
Roy drove me to my appointment. And everything worked out fine, because while reclining in the dentist chair I didn’t feel dizzy. After returning home, I rested and went to bed early. I had not recovered at the end of day three. I was grateful, though, that my tooth stuff was gone. I waited to see what God’s plan for my future would be.
My immediate future brought some more unexpected bad stuff. About 1 a.m. I woke up to use the bathroom, but I couldn’t’ get out of bed. I tried a second time and a third. In my middle-of-the-night grogginess, I assumed it was because I was dizzy. I felt impatient with my three days of symptoms. I also felt frustrated and resigned regarding about being unable to perform the simple task of getting out of bed.
I woke up Roy. “Roy, I’m still dizzy and I can’t get up to go to the bathroom,” I asked, sorry to have to wake him. “Could you help me, please?”
Roy couldn’t get me up out of bed. Even though I awkwardly could sit up, the rest of me wouldn’t budge. “I can’t move my arms and my legs.”
We contemplated this silently. As I began to realize that my right side was fine, I added, “It’s just my left side that won’t move; I think I’ve had a stroke.”
We talked briefly and calmly about our options and decided to call 911. In the middle of the night. Because, stuff was happening. Stuff that had not happened to me before.
After describing the symptoms, the dispatcher sent for an ambulance so EMT’s could evaluate the situation. Soon sirens sounded in front of our house, and the doorbell rang. Two male emergency technicians came inside. They were friendly and helpful and were a calming presence. They assessed me, transferred me to a stretcher and carried me out to the ambulance. It took both of them to get me on the stretcher because I couldn’t offer much assistance. I was still extremely dizzy when not reclined; and I remained unable to use my left side.
Amy had heard the sirens when the ambulance was approaching. We lived on Old Main Street – used for a lot of emergency vehicles to pass by our home. Unbeknownst to Roy and I, while the stretcher and I were being carried out, Amy had been awake, and peeked around the corner to see what was going on. After I left for the hospital, Roy explained the situation briefly to Amy.
It was still the middle of the night. Roy called his parents to tell them about what was happening, and to request that they come in to Newton for the rest of the night. He hated to wake them up with a phone call in the middle of the night to ask if they could come to sleep overnight at our house in Newton to be with the kids. But, he did, and after they arrived, Roy joined me in the emergency room.
In the ER, technicians did a CT scan on my brain and I was admitted to the medical ward at Newton Medical Center. While waiting to be admitted, a phone call came in for me around 5:00 am. I was comfortable with wellness, not with illness. This is not where I wanted to be.
“Hi mom”, Amy said. Her usual cheery voice sounded tired and worried this time. “I was just wondering how you’re doing and what’s going on.”
I explained as much as we knew so far. I may have suffered a stroke and would need to stay in the hospital. “Dad just left the hospital and is on his way home. He should be arriving there any minute,” I said.
Roy’s parents were still there. But, I was glad that Roy would be home and that Amy would have her dad with her.
I was admitted to Newton Medical Center occurred shortly after Amy’s call. Roy and I had decided to cancel our plans to attend the Topeka swim meet that weekend. On Friday, the following morning, an MRI was scheduled, and a few other medical tests were done that day.
On Saturday, Dr. Williams was the Newton Medical Center’s on-call doctor. He explained the MRI results. There were three “spots” on my brain. One was “active” and two “old”. Dr. Williams said the most likely possibility was that I had had a stroke. But they also they weren’t ruling out other neurological conditions, such as a demyelinating condition.
“What’s a …”, I paused as I pronounced demyelinating condition. Dr. Williams explained it briefly and gave multiple sclerosis (MS) as a possibility of one of its forms. I knew very little about out MS, and had only met one person who has it. She was a woman in her 40’s was confined to bed. I didn’t worry much about it right then, though, because a stroke seemed more likely.
I stayed in the hospital until Monday and began physical therapy with a walker to regain mobility on my left side. Doctors said that I could regain the abilities that I had currently lost, either partially or fully, but it was also possible that I would not. It was expected that I would be off work for several months.
The nurses were caring and competent. But a hospital setting was not my first choice and was uncomfortable. However, I was aware that it was necessary and that I would likely be in good hands.
An appointment with Dr. Odenheimer, a neurologist in Wichita, had been made for Tuesday, Feb. 2. He wanted me to have a second MRI in Wichita where equipment was more advanced than the mobile MRI unit at Newton Medical Center. In the future, Dr. Odenheimer would often puzzle over my unusual symptoms, just as we did.
Wow. My life had taken a huge turn in the days between the first day of being sick on January 26 and this day in the hospital, Feb. 2: Sick days, a root canal, a possible stroke, an ambulance ride, an ER visit, a hospital visit and two MRI’s. And now, Dr. Odenheimer and we were trying to make the strewn-about pieces fit back into the puzzle.
Prior to this, I had my life planned and puzzle was intact. My weekend was planned. And a career change was in process for May. I had always been adept at making plans for my life and taking the steps to accomplish them. But I no longer felt like I had very much control over my life.
I had no idea at this point how many of my earlier decisions would need to be changed due to whatever neurological event had invaded my brain. I also did not know that this event would trigger changes that would require me to re-evaluate and re-define myself.
One thing that I did not doubt, at this time, or at any time up until now, is that God was in control and could be trusted. God could not always be understood; but, God could be trusted. God knew all about puzzles and how to put them together. God rejoices when I am happy. God grieves when I am sad.