Summertime Crisis - What happened?
I want to honor and thank those that have supported me, my husband Bill, and our family. Let me
start at the beginning.
In June, Bill and his friends ran a relay across New England. They ran from Rhode Island to Maine.Bill had a tough race. He wasn't feeling well but the team finished well. I am hoping to join them next year! Bill came home on Sunday night and took care of me as I was recovering from a stomach bug. Bill took Monday off from work. As I was sitting at my desk at work on Monday, I got a call from the emergency room at the UConn Hospital. The emergency room staff told me that Bill was riding his bike, he fell, and he was most likely dehydrated. 911 was called and Bill was transported by ambulance to the hospital. To say I was a little angry would be an understatement. How could that moron be riding his bike after the difficulties he had at the race this
weekend?! I was fuming. I asked the nurse if I HAD to come get him or I could leave him there.I
was mad at his poor decision making. A "normal" person would rest and recover.Take a nap for cryin' out loud! I was yelling four letter words on my drive to the ER.
When I was ranting about how crazy Bill was to get on his bike, after running all weekend, my best friend Chrystal flatly responded, "Well, that sounds exactly like something you would do." To which I responded, "Shut up. No one asked you." Only one best friend to another could get away with speaking like this! I love you Chrystal!
When I arrived at the emergency room, I was quickly pulled aside and the staff told me that Bill had a "small brain bleed" and needed to have immediate surgery. After my initial anger and shock wore off, I was blessed with an emotionally robotic ability to cope with this crisis. If Bill hadn't been riding his bike, he would have died. I kept repeating, "his insanity saved his life." I said this again and
again.I later learned from Bill that while he was riding past the reservoir in West Hartford around lunch time he thought a rock was kicked up by a car and hit him in the head. Heof course had a helmet on! He pulled over to the side of the road and saw and felt a flash in his head. He had stopped his bike but didn't have the time to get his feet out of the toe clips. He spontaneously vomited and fell over.Thank you to the passerbys that called 911.
Bill was at Hartford Hospital on the Neurosurgical Intensive Care Unit for a week. I lived there for 3 days in a chair in his room. I jumped at every cough, change in pulse, rise in blood pressure. After 3 days, I realized that I needed to sleep. I was going crazy. I began to sleep at home and then I would spend my days in the ICU.Two things allowed me to feel happiness: 1. my daughter Maeve and 2. my daily runs with Hunter, my 13 year old son. I would typically arrive home in the early evening and put Maeve in the baby jogger and drag Hunter outside with me. For 30-40 minutes each day I felt happy. I was able to pretend I was "normal" person.
Bill came home after a week. He worked from home for a few weeks and was planning to go back to work on Monday July 11th. Yeah! We had a quiet weekend as our 3 older kids were camping with their grandmother in New Hampshire. Bill, Maeve and I spent that Sunday at Pennwood Forest. We had a great day. Life is good!
That evening, Bill fell asleep before me. I believe the military has bestowed on Bill the amazing gift of sleep. Unlike his insomniac of a wife, Bill can sleep anywhere at any time. He also falls asleep in 5 minutes or less! As we were lying in bed I felt Bill jerk very quickly. I put my hand on him and he felt weird. I quickly turned on the light and I saw that he wasn't breathing.
I began to yell at Bill and I tried to shake him. No response. I slapped his face. Nothing. I had to access what was going on. What do I do? Bill wasn't breathing. I checked for a pulse and it was very
faint. I made the quick decision to call 911. I believed I had the time to do this. He could go without oxygen for a few moments while I made the call. At least he had a faint pulse.
A slight interlude here.... as a yoga teacher I am required to be CPR certified. I know the importance of this training, but hey- it's a pain in the butt. I get the certification grudgingly. I never knew I'd learn how important it is. I highly recommend it for everyone.
To say I "spoke" with the 911 operator would be ridiculous. I yelled, screamed, and I put the phone down while I held my husband in my arms. I thought he was dying. He was dying! I kept screaming that I didn't know what to do. "What do I do?" "What do I do?!" "What do I do?!!!"
I saw first set of headlights pull up to the curb in front of my house. At that moment, Bill took a
breath. It was more like a screaming "GASP!!!" It was excruciatingly loud. Painfully loud. At
that point Bill began to have a seizure. I wasn't familiar with seizures, and this wasn't what I would have imagined. He was stiff as a board and couldn't move at all.
West Hartford uses the Fire Department as the first responders.A t my house, within 5 minutes, were firemen, EMTs, police, and God knows who else. My street was blocked with trucks, police cars, and the like.When they arrived and the emergency personnel started working on Bill, I called my brother, Randy and sister in law, Val.To let you know my state of mind and being, Val thought she was being prank called. All she heard was screaming over the phone and that she thought that she was being prank called in another language.I was hysterical, to say the least.She and Randy got to our house and I left in the ambulance with Bill. It was the slowest ride ever.... I swear we were crawling.
Randy met me at the hospital and we waited in the emergency room for over 12 hours. Insanity began to seep in as the adrenaline wore off.It was freezing in the ER. Randy wrapped himself in a blanket and looked like Obi-Wan Kenobi. Randy attempted to sleep while sitting on a rolling stool and I nodded off for 5 minutes at a time in the chair I was seated in. Bill was in and out of consciousness. He was also vomiting. Bill would ask the same series of questions over and over again.... usually in 10 minute intervals. He would open his eyes and ask:
1. "Where am I?" Response, "You're at the
2. "Why?" Response, "You had a seizure."
3. "I had a seizure?" Response, "Yes."
4. "Why?" Response, "They believe the seizure was a result
of the brain bleed and stroke you had a month ago."
6. "I had a seizure?" Response, "Yes."
7. "Where was I?" Response, "In bed at
8. "With who?" [note we still laugh at this question]
Response varied.Initial response, "You
were with me/Meghan." As time progressed, response was that he was with,
"Beyonce" or "Tyra Banks" or "Cindy Crawford" or any other famously beautiful
woman.Note, you have to laugh... if you
don't you will go crazy.
9. "Oh. Am I going to die?" Response, "No, sweetheart/Bill
you are not going to die.You are safe
This series of questions repeated, and repeated and repeated.I thought I would go insane. I
would break in tears. I would laugh. If Randy or I deviated from Bill's ordered questions he would get even more confused. We attempted to answer all of the questions in one efficient shot for him, and he just became more irritated and confused and ask the questions again until we answered them properly in the above order.
By now the rest of our family knew what had happened. Bill's brother came to the hospital from Boston. Bill's mom was camping with 3 of our children New Hampshire. I cannot imagine how she felt. This was her child, her baby. She was hours away at a remote campground in New Hampshire, with children, and crappy cell phone reception. Although, it did provide me with a level of peace knowing that the kids were with her and safe. They were isolated from our torture. However,
Bill's mom was beside herself. I was worried about her driving to Connecticut.She decided to stay in New Hampshire for a few more days to attempt to take care of herself and our 3 children.
Randy and I waited in the ER for 12+ hours until Bill was moved to the 9th floor on the neurosurgical unit at Hartford Hospital.After more painful waiting Bill had a catscan. We learned that his prior brain bleed was potentially an aneurysm. It was about 1 millimeter and Bill would go into his 2nd brain surgery (of 5) the following day.
I learned there are 2 main ways to treat a brain aneurysm. Clip or Coil. The Coil method
can be done through an angiogram. During the angiogram, a catheter is inserted into the groin and threaded up to the brain. A small metal coil is placed inside the blood vessel and left there to hold it open. The Clip method is done when a Coil can't be done. With the Clip method, the skull is opened and a clip is inserted on the aneurysm. In the 3rd surgery the Clip Method was used. The
4th and 5th and brain surgeries were angiograms to make sure that everything was appropriately taken care of.
Bill was in and out of his brain surgeries for 2 days. Again, my brother waited very patiently with me during these surgeries. What I didn't know was that as Bill was going into his 2nd brain surgery that I wouldn't be able to speak with him for weeks. After brain surgery #2, he remained disoriented and asked me again and again if he was going to die.I told him that he would live a long and healthy life and that everything would be fine. I also told him that I'd see him and talk with him after surgery. My comments seemed beyond appropriate at the time. But, they would cause me significant guilt
Bill's aneurysm had grown to 4 millimeters by the time he had his 2nd surgery. And when he went into his 3rd surgery and had the Clip procedure was performed, the aneurysm had grown to 8 millimeters. I met with the Neuros (my nickname for the plethora of neurosurgeons, neurologists, etc) after Bill's surgery they explained Bill's situation in detail. When Bill had the initial brain bleed in June, the aneurysm was quite small and hidden by the blood. It couldn't be identified.And in fact his current aneurysm (now Clipped, thank you very much) wasn't in fact an aneurysm. It was what the Neuros were calling a "pseudo aneurysm." It was not a "real" aneurysm. The "pseudo aneurysm" most likely formed from a trauma to Bill's brain. This trauma was most likely caused by a bicycle accident. Bill was hit by a car about a year ago(yes he was wearing a helmet) while riding his
bicycle by a young girl who was lost and talking on her cell phone.
I was asked if I was seething in hate for this girl whose actions later would almost kill my husband. I was a bit surprised by my answer. I answered, "No, not at all." It took me a while to figure this out. She didn't hit Bill on purpose. At this point in time, she has no idea what has even happened. And the scary thing is that, I could be that girl. I have all too many times, been a distracted driver. Thank you to God that I have not hit anyone. Please drive safely everyone.
My guilt began to set in. I had promised Bill repeatedly that everything was going to be fine and that he would wake up and be better. After his second surgery, Bill didn't wake up. He was intubated, or on a respirator. Even after surgeries 3 and 4, Bill wouldn't wake up. I waited and waited but he couldn't wake up and they could not remove the respirator. Bill also had feeding tube(s), an arterial line, and more cords than I could count.
Again, Bill was on the Neurosurgical Intensive Care Unit at Hartford Hospital.I became all too
familiar with the staff. 99.9% were wonderful. The remaining .1% almost got their asses kicked. I was yet again living at Hartford Hospital. Initially, I stayed in the ICU all day, went home for a few hours sleep, and then back to the ICU. My sister in law was staying at our home with our toddler. After about a week, my mother in law returned with the kids and stayed in Connecticut. She and
I would come and go from the ICU. I spent about 12-18 hours a day at the hospital. As I sat there, I usually would listen to my iphone with my earbuds. The sounds in the ICU are horrible. Moaning, suction, and varying crisises were too much for me to hear. I became very fond of a few podcasts. Must mention UltrarunnerPodcast.com, The Moth Podcast, The Chaos Chronicles, and Endurance Planet. I also played Words with Friends- thank you to my Scrabble buddies! I read Facebook and Twitter. I looked at friends' lives and pictures and I envied what seemed "normal." I avoided the news at all costs. I was so emotionally unstable, hearing a tragedy on the news would cause a
Bill was required to have regular neurological checks. The definition of regular was quite relative. The checks were attempts to wake him up and test various neurological functions. Bill was on more drugs than I think I could list. However, these neuro checks would upset Bill physiologically and psychologically. The medical staff would decrease his sedatives and painkillers. Bill's blood pressure would increase, his heart would race, his oxygen levels would decrease. During one attempted "neuro wake ups" Bill's blood pressure was 298/180. I didn't know that blood pressure could go
that high. It was frightening to watch.B ut, I wouldn't miss a "wake up attempt" in case this was the time that he actually woke up. Bill was still intubated and had a feeding tube.He would try to pull out any and all tubes and cords. He would fight and moan. It was horrific. He was not only restrained at all times, but had to be held down in addition to the restraints. This lasted for over 2 weeks.
We began to see slight improvements in Bill's vital functions over time. This meant that his responses to the neuro wake ups weren't as severe as they were initially. I was called one Friday evening at 11p and the nurse told me that Bill's respirator would be removed. YEE-HAW!WOW!!! I RACED to the hospital. Racing was unnecessary. I learned relatively quickly that NOTHING moves quickly in a hospital unless someone is about to die. 12 hours later, Bill's respirator was removed.
It's funny, I lived in the hospital as I lived in life. When X happens everything will be ok. For example, when Bill is admitted to the hospital and out of the ER, we will be fine. When Bill has his cat scan, everything will be ok. When Bill is out of surgery it will all be OK. When the respirator is removed, it
will be ok. Bottom line, that's a bunch of bullshit. Why do I live like this? When I get my promotion I will be OK! When I finish an IronMan triathlon, I will be OK! Life is the "in the meantime." The In
the Meantime, included tears, medication, the threat of death, legal issues, wills, family, work, and the like. How do I make peace with the meantime? I have no clue. But, what I know saved me was
acceptance. What saved me is that I developed the ability to adapt.
Side note, prior to Bill's medical woes, I was listening to an interview on Endurance Planet Podcast with the race director for The Death Race. The Death Race http://www.youmaydie.com/ is a 48 hour endurance race. Total insanity and majorly cool. It is a brutal race and very few who enter even finish. And of the few that finish, many are those that you wouldn't predict would finish or
even win. The race director was asked what the finishers and winners had that those that weren't successful didn't. His answer surprised me. He answered, "The ability to adapt." Those that succeed in the Death Race have an ability to adapt. Things will go wrong. It is guaranteed. However, how one
chooses to deal with obstacles determines their potential for success. HA! Bill and I spoke about this podcast months before all of this happened and I clearly remember telling him that I would fail
and not even bother to attempt this race. I told Bill, "I don't have the ability to adapt. I like things like I like them. Period."
I have since done an emotional and spiritual complete 180. I now get what the race director was
talking about. I have learned in the past few months, during these crisises, that adapting is the key to success. I can kick and scream and demand, but nine times out of ten it just makes things worse for me, and those around me. Adapting is acceptance. If it's cold, put on a sweater.I f someone
is annoying, just walk away. If your husband is in restraints and his face is swollen from repeated brain surgeries, kiss him on the head and put a cool washcloth on his forehead. Now, with this said, I can completely identify with the Shirley MacLaine "give her the drugs!" scene in the movie "Terms of Endearment." Sometimes, one does have to take names and kick ass. It happens, but it is few and far between. I did have to take names and kick ass at times, and rest assured, I did not do it
alone. I was never alone. Always supported.
Back to Bill.... he didn't have the speedy recovery I imagined. It was a slow road. He would be awake at times, but he was so drugged and out of it that using the word "awake" seems inaccurate. However, little by slowly he came back. It's the little things that indicated healing. I noticed one day that he would follow me with his eyes when he was awake. His blood pressure stabilized. He didn't need to be restrained. He began to try to talk. He remembered my name at times. Little by slowly.....
The final week in Hartford Hospital continued with challenges and little improvements. Bill
had to have 24 hour supervision, as he attempted to get up and leave and pull out any remaining tube that was connected to his body. He was still very very confused. At one time, Bill was asked my name and he slowly responded, "The Huntress." Again, you gotta laugh... if you don't you'll
Bill was discharged to a rehabilitation hospital. Bill's physical improvements were amazing.
Yet, challenges remained. Bill's cognitive function was not OK. He had trouble speaking and he had some trouble with thought processes.
Another side note here, being a caretaker is an odd role. I have never been in such a position. As I mentioned, I was, and still am TOTALLY supported. I had hugs, groceries, dinners, offers to babysit, my gardening was done, and I have very tolerant friends and family to talk me off of the ledge when I got there. With this said, it is very very lonely. I missed my husband. He was alive and sitting next to me, but he wasn't there. I wanted my friend and partner back. I wanted my children to be able to talk to their father. I didn't know if that man would ever come back. So, I go back to the meantime!How do I make peace with the meantime? I choose to adapt, and accept. I was also in a nearly constant state of prayer. I learned how to live in the now.
We moved closer and closer to Bill being discharged from the hospital and I was scared. He still
wasn't all there. But, he believed the rehab hospital to be pure torture. Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" song was constantly in my head."they tried to make me go to rehab, but I said no no no!" We needed to get him home. As scared as I was, it was the best decision for us. Bill would be able to sleep, eat whole foods, and be in his own surroundings.
As I type this blog, Bill has been home for 1 month. Progress is slow and steady, but its progress
nonetheless. The doctor that is in charge of Bill's rehabilitation told us that in his 20+ year career he has never seen a recovery as amazing as Bill's. I understand this. Bill could have died. As I held him in my arms I screamed, "I don't know what to do! What do I do?" We made it through multiple surgeries, recovery, and rehab and I still don't know what to do. Does anyone really know what to do? Frankly, if you tell me you have all the answers I am going to run like hell as fast as I can away from you 'cause you'd be full of it.
And speaking of running......in case you're wondering..... During the first hospitalization I ran every day. I used the runs to process my grief. I was stone cold solid together, during the first hospitalization that is! After the second hospitalization, I lost it. I could barely walk, let alone run. After a week or so in the Neuro ICU, I began taking the 9 flights of stairs to Bill's unit. I needed the movement. After a while, I began to practice yoga and meditate as best I could. I was registered and had just begun training for the Marine Corps Marathon. Both Bill and I are deferring our entries until 2012. I couldn't eat, sleep, or function. I did the best I could. And that was the best I could do.
Do you know what kept me going? As hokey as it may sound, I would visualize my future. I fantasize
about the Badwater Race, the 134 mile race across Death Valley. I couldn't wait to hit the trails... I fantasized about the triathlons and ultra marathons that I will run. I dreamt about fiercely qualifying and competing in the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon. These goals aren't where I am today, but it sure as heck is where I'm headed. I can't wait to sit on the beach with my husband and kids and talk about this "story." I know Bill and I will sit with our grandchildren someday and this will all be a long ago memory.But, I pray that I hold on to these lessons I've learned.
Today, I am yet again a yogi and running fool. I am still very tired from the ordeal. But, I feel blessed. Bill and I can't wait to run the Metacomet Trail through Connecticut- 62.7 miles. As soon as he is able to we will do this together and I know we will have the support of family and friends.
I've learned that being kind is so important. I've learned that accepting life on life's terms is the easier softer way. I've learned that we are all struggling in some way- so please be kind to one another.I know that without the support of my friends and family I would still be sitting in a crying heap on the side of Washington Street in downtown Hartford. But, with the love and support I got up, or more accurately, I was lifted up, and I brushed off and put one foot in front of another. That's racing, that's life, and that's "in the meantime."
Love and Peace.
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