A few weeks ago on a Saturday afternoon, Sabra swept snow off the deck and suddenly joined a group that draws nearly 800,000 new members in the U.S. each year: people suffering a stroke.
I was running errands in Iowa City at the time but from what I’ve learned since she had several of the classic signs: a sudden and severe headache, neck pain and nausea.
While she didn’t call 911 immediately, as all the literature strongly urges, she did call within 10 minutes. The emergency dispatchers then called me, and I made it home quickly to find her strapped to a stretcher and being loaded into an ambulance. I followed in my car. At first the emergency transport drove the speed limit without flashing lights, but a few miles down the road the flashers suddenly lit up and the vehicle increased speed.
My heart raced as well.
I tried keeping up, but couldn’t. As a result I arrived at the hospital a few minutes after Sabra. Shortly, however, I was beside her in the emergency room as a platoon of masked and gowned medical personnel swarmed around her. She was sent off for a CT scan, a machine that uses multiple X-rays to make a three dimensional image, and then an angiogram, a thin tube capped with a camera that is slid into the brain from a small slit on the upper leg.
She was diagnosed as having a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a bleeding deep in the brain caused when an abnormal blood vessel breaks or an aneurysm bursts. Fifty percent of the people who have this injury don’t survive the ride to the hospital; only five percent make a full recovery.
No aneurysm was found, so no brain surgery was needed. As a standard precaution, however, a small hole needed to be drilled through the top of her skull and a catheter installed to alleviate pressure, which generally accompanies such an injury. It was made clear to us that this was a serious operation, fraught with many dangers, as the “brain drain,” as I call it, is stuck deep into the gray matter.
From time to time I make fun of, or tell stories about the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC). With more than 700 beds and 7,000 employees the place is a small city. The original building was erected in 1928, but since then the structure has been remodeled and added onto too many times to count. The result is a perplexing zigzag of hallways and elevators.
One urban legend has it that an especially virulent form of Legionnaires Disease broke out on a wing in the late 1970s that killed every patient. Rather than risk further transmission of the virus, hospital authorities had the entrance bricked off, and to this day skeletons lay silently in hospital beds in the forgotten space. Another legend says that Jimmy Hoffa was discovered in the hospital a few years after he disappeared. He was found, the story goes, organizing labor on the maternity ward.
Joking and foolish legends aside, Sabra was in the right place. The hospital is recognized nationally and internationally for the quality of its state-of-the-art services.
I stayed with her until it was time for the procedure.
I told her that no matter what happens she should know that I would meet her on the other side: meaning that I’d meet her on the other side of the operating room or on the other side of this temporal world.
She made me promise that I’d keep her chickens’ water bowl clean, and then urged me to remarry if she didn’t make it.
I told her that I’d use only bottled water for the chickens, and that I’d already put an ad on craigslist.
In other words, I lied twice, and prayed that it wouldn’t be counted against me.