There has always been a certain serendipity to our journey that started in 2003. Moments when I was exactly where I needed to be at a very specific nanosecond of time. Moments when Rich ultimately was in distress and would have been alone if I hadn’t changed my plans for no reason I could have explained.
One such moment was this past week.
As we have been sheltering in place since the Covid19 pandemic hit New York in March, we’ve turned to tasks and projects around the house that usually get tossed on the back burner when the spring weather draws us elsewhere to join with family and friends for holidays and gatherings and outdoor activities. Slowly has Rich been clearing, cleaning and organizing the workshop in the basement. On this particular day, he set himself the task of labeling various tool cases; drill bits, chisels, socket heads. Certainly not tiring, playing with a label maker.
You would think that spending eighty-three days of covid lockdown we would be bumping into one another throughout the day, but as I work remotely from home, I’m in an upstairs bedroom/office. My usual schedule is to grab a bite and continue to work through lunch, emerging at 5pm to join the rest of the household. For some reason, I left my desk and went downstairs to sit with Rich in the porch.
He seemed tired and his words were a little slurred as if his tongue was thick. I advised him to stay hydrated and drink a little more on this warm day. It’s a thin line we walk with congestive heart failure and kidney failure- the line between too little and too much water. With not enough hydration, his blood pressure drops so we decide that we need some information. First I ask him to use his loop monitor wand to tag this moment on his implanted monitor as an event. We check his blood pressure and oxygen levels. And another adventure begins.
From 226/129 to 84/43 his BP is all over the map. Rich becomes fascinated with the numbers and keeps hitting the button to take another reading as the roller coaster of results continues.
His O2 monitor shows a reading of 99 and we’re content. Until it then drops to 77 and then back up to 96… another roller coaster.
Rich’s phone rings; our order from the local shop is ready. He stands to get payment information and barely makes it into the next room. I finish the call while he sits. We both wonder what is going on. It’s time for the ER.
Suddenly he complains of a headache. It is the first description he can give me of how he is feeling. His response until then is “I don’t feel right but I can’t explain it.” He has to use a walker to get out of the house. His legs don’t want to hold him.
We are so indebted to Amy who doesn’t hesitate to take us to the ER despite being unable to socially distance in the car. Rich’s numbers are still fluctuating wildly throughout the ride.
Like everything, it seems, covid has changed this ER from what we are used to. Masks have always been present, but it is eerily quiet. Social distancing at its best. No one wants to be here regardless of how badly they’re feeling. But most telling, when Rich and I complete his intake and he’s taken to be seen, I’m asked to leave. I’m given a number to call; they have my cell to call me. And the waiting begins.
From the very beginning, Rich and I have taken this journey together. However long he was in the hospital, I slept in the same room; whether on the floor or on my various broken vinyl recliners, I was there. It was the oddest feeling to walk away and leave him behind. In my place, he grasps our red book that holds all our notes, calendars, business cards, meds lists, latest reports… all our records of who what when where how. With Rich’s confusion, it was his lifeline to being able to answer the questions he would be asked.
Throughout the day I’m called to answer the parts Rich can’t remember and aren’t yet in our book… what happened today. I’m told they did bloodwork and a CT scan. They’re waiting for an MRI. I find out later they also download the recording from Rich’s loop monitor to check for the event moment he marked.
His web portal pings on my phone. He is covid negative. I keep refreshing the portal hoping for more results. And I wait.
At 10pm, the nurse calls to discharge Rich. I ask to speak to the doctor; I still don’t know any of the outcomes from the tests. At this point, the doctor who has just come on shift is unaware that the loop monitor readings have been reviewed. The disconnect being home instead of with Rich is thrown into sharp relief.
The tests have shown that Rich has had a very probable a TIA: a transient ischemic attack. The doctor explains that there are two areas where microvascular irregularities were detected. The transient or temporary near blockage was the cause of the weakness, headache and slurred speech. We are thankful to hear that there is no lasting damage. This warning is again serendipitous. Usually undetected or unnoticed, these TIA are usually an indicator of probable massive strokes in the future. This micro stroke is more than enough for us, thank you very much. But, ya know, thanks for the heads up… thanks in advance.
Now we add another specialist to our list of gurus and some new prescriptions to our list of meds.
Despite the lateness of the hour, Rich is standing around waiting for us outside the ER doors; looking for Amy and I to arrive. He looks and sounds as robust as he was in the morning as if nothing had happened.
Thank you, Universe. We accept this warning with much gratitude as we settle down for much needed sleep in our own bed. Together.