Saturday, June 25, 2011

Health scare



I'll never forget that moment a few weeks ago. The love of my life (at her request, she shall remain nameless) called and said she was at the emergency room with our son. She sounded drunk, her voice slurry and words coming slowly, but she explained that she was having vision problems and didn't quite feel right. And then, as I asked her more, she said, "uhh... uhh..." And then the line went dead.

I didn't know what had happened, but I feared the worst as I put on a pair of slippers and banged on my neighbor's door to ask for a ride to the hospital. It's funny, but my brain seems to function well in times of crisis. I remained calm through the whole time of transit, even though I went through every potential scenario, including the prospect of death and having to raise our son alone. I didn't know her condition.

When I arrived at the emergency room, I identified myself to the attendant and asked, "Is she conscious?" When he told me she was, a great wave of relief passed over me. After checking on our son, who was being watched by his neighbors in the waiting area, we both went back to visit his mother.

She was hooked up to an IV and a monitor displayed all of her vital signs. The first thing I noticed was her blood pressure, which was 168/90, and even I, with my scant medical knowledge, knew that was very high. She was still out of it, seemed half asleep, and her skin was pale, even by Scandinavian standards.

The first thing I thought was, "She had a stroke." So I asked her to smile. She did, and it was even. Another wave of relief. Turns out I was partly right.

She had stroke-like symptoms, but not a full-blown stroke. She had a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), also known as a mini-stroke. The good news is there is no lasting damage from a TIA. The bad news is she is 20 times more likely to have a stroke in the future.

Blood clots and high blood pressure run in her family, and a previous trip to the emergency room a couple years ago with chest pains, meant the TIA wasn't a major surprise. But it still scared us both. We're too young to be dealing with such serious health problems. We need to be strong to take care of our children and parents. These are the productive years, full-on adulthood. Not a time for convalescence.

She was admitted to the hospital overnight and even stayed the next night for further tests. The cause of the TIA was never determined. Recent appointments with a neurologist and cardiologist revealed nothing. She was not put on any medicine, but told to take an aspirin each day, give up caffeine, and begin a regular exercise regimen. I'd tell to worry less, but know that's impossible. Certain personality traits are ingrained.

It's been such a strange summer so far. Distant friends and associates the same age as me have died. I just found out a guy I hiked with on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2004 died in a tragic bike accident a year ago. He left behind a widow and four-year-old daughter. Even though I've had a few health scares of my own, I am still young and healthy and ostensibly have many more years ahead of me. But you never know when your time is due. That's why the Latin dictum Carpe Diem rings so true.

Live. LIVE! Each moment is precious. Far too soon all of it will be taken away. It eventually happens to us all. We hang on to this existence by the thinnest of threads.

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