I’m not sure where exactly to start this, so I guess it just makes sense to start this at the beginning. This is the before part of the story. Before the death. Before the loss. Before my life changed forever. Most people are living in the before and don’t even know it, don’t even know how lucky they are, living in the ignorance that is the before. I would give anything to go back to before. Fair warning – it’s a long one.
To preface this I work for a very busy surgeon/CEO of a hospital, and there are few times my cell phone rings and I can actually answer it. I’m often on the phone with a patient, or someone is in my office talking to me, asking to arrange a meeting. In this moment though, my Dad calls, and I answer it. “Hi Dad,” I say, cheerful to talk to him, because he has been working so much at his new job, I haven’t been able to talk to him a lot recently. He says, “Now don’t get crazy, but Paul just called from the Bistro. Mom collapsed at work and he thinks she was having some kind of seizure. They called EMS, they’re talking her to Euclid. I’m on my way there now.” I literally said out loud, “OH.” I was completely caught off guard and speechless, and at that moment, “OH” was the only thing that would come out of my mouth. I told him I would meet him there. I turned around and looked at my brother (we work in the same office together) and said, “Something happened to Mom, I’m going to Euclid, I’ll call you when I know something.”
I got from downtown Cleveland to Euclid Hospital in 10 minutes. No idea how. And in my head I was thinking, “Did she not take her medicine right? Did she add a medicine I don’t know about?” My mother had high BP, high cholesterol and a history of a stroke, so she took a few medicines, but I knew her doctors and didn’t think she was starting any new meds. But seizures sometimes happen when a person takes their medicine incorrectly, so that’s where my head was. I was going to walk in there and say to her, “Well what the hell happened Mom?” But when I got to the ED, before my father, they put me in this room, a family consult room. I’ll mention again I work for a surgeon. This turned out to be a blessing and a curse. See for people who don’t work in a hospital, or around medicine in the slightest, you don’t know the signs. You don’t know what the guarded looks on the doctors faces mean when they see you, but I do. You don’t know that it’s bad that they put you in a separate room, instead of letting you into your mother’s room, but I do. And so I sit in this room and let my mind run wild, creating every kind of situation imaginable, and what we’ll do to fix it. And because I work for a surgeon, and believe in the power of surgery, I still think there’s a way to fix it. There’s always a way.
My mom’s ED doctor comes in the room just as my father is arriving, and while I know the look on the doctor’s face, I erase the worry from mine, because I don’t want to alarm my dad. And so the doctor says, “We think she had a stroke, but we can’t find it. And we had to sedate and intubate her so we could do another CAT scan.” So they do another. And another. And people keep coming in the room with sad eyes, asking if we want anything to drink, if we need anything. And I think, “this isn’t good.” And my dad echoes my thoughts and says out loud, “I don’t have a good feeling about this.” And so I tell him that I don’t either, but let’s wait for the CAT scan to start worrying, thinking my assurances can buy us time somehow. It doesn’t. At that moment, they think she had two separate strokes, on both sides of her brain, and they are life flighting her to main campus. And my dad asks him, “Am I going to lose her?” And in my head, even though I’m in the separate room, and they all look at me with eyes that I know are clouded with sadness, and speak with a soft tone of voice that I know comes with death, I think No, she’s not going to die. We can fix this. There’s a way to fix this. There’s always a way.
I call my brother who is still downtown and tell him he needs to meet us at main campus. I call my sister in Cincinnati and make one of the hardest phone calls of my life, telling her she needs to come home because something is wrong with our mother, and I don’t know if she’s ever going to wake up. And I drive to main, and again let my mind run wild. Because now in the silence of this car, by myself, I acknowledge the faces of the doctors, and the room and their eyes. And I let myself drown for a moment in the circumstance that I know is coming. I’m eight and a half months pregnant while I write this, and while this nightmare is happening, and it occurs to me that by some bullshit twist of fate, I will have a child who will never know my mother. Will never know what her hands feel like, the softness of them as she holds her. She will never hear her voice sing her the same lullaby’s she sang to me and my sister. She will never memorize her face, knowing where each laugh line lives, how she loses her eyes when she smiles, what her laugh sounds like. I let myself drown in this thought, completely devoured by the sadness that consumes me; I don’t even try to fight it. I’m alone and I’m allowed to come apart when I’m alone. And then before I know it I’m at Main Campus, and I pull myself together again, trying as quickly as I can to erase the sadness from my eyes, the worry from my face. And in between praying Our Fathers and Hail Mary’s, I just keep telling myself, there’s a way to fix this. There’s always a way.