I wake up not quite sure where I am. Look around.
A hospital bed. Not my hospital bed. Someone else’s. I open my eyes and the person I love is laying there next to me in a hospital gown with an IV stuck in his arm. I blink a few times. How did we get here?
Oh, yea. Last night.
You ever look into the face of someone you love while you think they are in the middle of dying? Pretty frightening.
Have you ever been in a situation where you are pretty sure you are supposed to be doing something to save someone’s life but you’re not sure exactly what? Terrifying.
This is where I am. About 10:15 at night. One minute he’s standing by the passenger door of my car. Then there’s a thud and an empty space where he was just standing.
I walk around the side of the car and there he is. On the ground. His limbs are shaking and I can see the whites of his eyes. I’m looking at him laying there, knowing that something is really wrong and that I’m pretty helpless to make it right. Just saying wake up wake up wake up please wake up over and over again isn’t something you’ll find in medical books as being very helpful.
I realize right away what’s going on. This isn’t the first time. Just the first time I’m seeing it. I remember the call from the previous January. “Hi. I had a seizure.” Typically nonchalant. So I know from that episode what’s happening now. Doesn’t make it easier.
I call a friend who is all too familiar with this situation. I ask her what I’m supposed to be doing. Apparently I’m not supposed to be doing everything I am. I stop. Why did I think I was supposed to put my fingers in his mouth? I have this weird flash of a memory from fourth grade when they told us that’s what we do if Jenny ever has an “episode.” That’s what they called it. An Episode. Good thing I don’t follow through on that thought because he’s kind of gnashing his teeth.
I just hold his head so it doesn’t hit the ground. I touch his face, touch his hair, try to talk in soothing non-panicky tones so that if he comes to there is something familiar there for him. Just a voice or a touch. But Jesus, I should be doing something else. Yelling for a neighbor? Giving him CPR? Obviously, I am not good in these situations. I am frozen with fear.
It’s kind of amazing what can go through your mind in the space of two minutes. What if he dies? What would I do without him? What would I tell his parents? Yea, he made it to New York but….Jesus. I couldn’t do that. I can feel myself starting to cry. I tell myself to stop, that’s not what I need to do right now.
I’m going to lose him. I know people mostly don’t die from seizures, but I think that thud I heard earlier was his head hitting the pavement. How hard did he hit it? I’m going to lose him and I just got him.
That thought, 100 times at least, running through my head.
Then: No, I’m not. Just focus. Keep focused. Stop overreacting. Stop underreacting. Quietly saying “don’t die” to a person who isn’t hearing you, on a dark side street late at night is not going to make anything better. Get him help. Now.
I make a call.
Everything is bathed in red and white. Ambulances coming down the block. I’m sitting on the curb, trying to hold him up. Dead weight. He has stopped all motion. His eyes are closed. I open one eyelid. Thank god. They have stopped rolling in back of his head. He’s no longer shaking. My god, that shaking was scary. But is he conscious? Alive even? I look for a pulse, but my own pulse is racing and I can’t remember where to put my fingers and my heart is in my stomach and I think I’m going to throw up. Don’t be dead. Don’t be dead. Don’t be dead.
His eyes fly open all of a sudden. He looks at me. He’s aware. Ok. He’s out of it. I talk to him. He knows his name. That’s good.
But he’s looking at me with a blank stare.
He doesn’t know my name.
He doesn’t know who I am.
That’s a weird feeling.
Before I can feel bad about that I remind myself what it must feel like for him. To not know where you are, who you are talking to, how you got there. I can see the frustration on his face as he tries to remember.
He doesn’t know me.
I try very hard not to cry.
I answer some questions for one of the paramedics while another fires off questions at him. He doesn’t know where he is. He thinks he’s in California. No, he doesn’t know who I am. He only knows who he is.
He’s on the stretcher now, they tell me to follow in my car.
Now I cry. Just because.
I know he’s going to be ok. I know this. Everyone says it. He’ll be ok. He’ll remember soon. He’ll be fine. I drive behind the ambulance. I can see him talking to the medics.
The What-Ifs starts. What if he doesn’t get his memory back? What if he hit his head hard when he fell - the sound of that thud plays in my head on repeat - and now he has some kind of permanent amnesia? What if. What if.
What if he never remembers me? His parents? His life? I have no idea how seizures work and or what they do or what the effects are. I only know what I was told about Jenny, maybe 30 years ago or more. Jenny, who had An Episode in school and never came back.
Thinking about this stuff is keeping me from thinking about the other big things. Like, why. And what next. And what if this happened when he was on the road? Or alone? There’s really no use in thinking of things that did not happen, but they hold off thinking about the things that did happen, or having an anxiety attack over things that might happen.
I told you, I’m no good in these situations. I’m a bit of a panicker.
I give myself a mental slap in the head. Concentrate. Focus. Just get to the hospital and let them handle it and everything will be fine. It’s just a seizure. He’s not dying.
What if he never remembers me?
I get to the hospital, find a parking spot, go into the emergency room. There he is. He’s still on the stretcher. I walk up to him cautiously. If he doesn’t know who I am, I don’t want to make him nervous. I glance up at him.
He looks at me. Says “Hey babe!” Smiles that smile. That grin.
I breathe out for what feels like the first time in hours.
I thought I was going to lose him there. Looking into his eyes as he lay on the ground, just me and him and some kind of medical thing between us, that was the scariest moment of my entire life. I was scared that I didn’t know what to do and scared that I was going to do the wrong thing. I was scared that his life was in my hands and scared that he was going to die on me.
I start thinking in cliches. The whole “appreciate what you have because you never know when it will be ripped from you” thing. I mean, the guy just drove almost 3,000 miles to move across the country to be with me and not two days into his residency as New Yorker, not two full days into our new life together, I’m staring him in the face telling him not to die.
He probably was never even close to dying, but I didn’t know that. In my mind, he was a breath away from leaving me forever. So even though he wasn’t hearing me at all, I told him I love him. It was all I could do. Silly as it seems, I just wanted that to either be the last thing he heard before he left, or the first thing heard coming out of it. Small comfort either way, I suppose.
He spent a couple of days in the hospital and then let himself out before they could drug him up. I spent most of the time there with him, sitting on the hospital bed watching endless repeats of Mythbusters on the tiny tv, eating crappy food, sleeping in positions that killed our backs and necks, and still feeling pretty lucky.
Here’s where I get all Hallmark on you.
Don’t take people you love for granted. Don’t just assume they will be next to you tomorrow. Don’t just assume that even if they are next to you tomorrow they will be healthy. The other guy in this hospital room collapsed out of nowhere and didn’t wake up until five days later. He’s lucky to be alive, and he knows it. We should all know that. It shouldn’t take a coma to make us realize it. It shouldn’t take a medical mishap to make us realize how lucky we are to have the people in our lives that we do. Well, I knew I was lucky all along. This just made me appreciate our time together more.
Laying together on a hospital bed while all you hear around you is people coughing and screaming and nurses yelling and loud TVs and sirens isn’t exactly quality time. But it’s time. Something we really don’t have enough of. Enjoy it while you can.
I took some time after that to educate myself about seizures and what to do in case of one. And what not to do.
Apparently, whispering “don’t die” is not proper medical procedure.
The more you know.