Hello, my littles! Last we chatted, Dennis had woken up in a state of great, confusion and distress, in Winnipeg, MB Canada. We were one hour north of the city, in cottage country, far from any medical help, and Dennis was insisting on getting up and walking! He had a crazy look in his eyes like he wasn’t quite sure of what was going on. I tried to explain to him that he couldn’t get up and walk, but he was adamant that he needed to move, so all of us at the cottage took turns rocking him. He seemed mostly lucid but was always agitated by his need to move. Dr. Harry Janzen is a retired obstetrician/gynecologist, and lifelong family friend, who has a cottage down the street from my parents. Surely, a lady parts Dr. would be able to fix what was going on neurologically, with an advanced MS patient. Perhaps Dennis was going through “male menopause “? Harry had a look at Dennis and instructed me to call his neurologist in Atlanta and give him a Xanax. Nothing changed. So, I took the Xanax (just kidding), maybe … At this point, Dennis started feeling nauseous, probably all the rocking, so I gave him a Franz. Zofran is a cannabis-based medication used for nausea after chemotherapy. That, mixed with the Xanax, plus being confused, made him a little goofy. Seeing my distress, he told me to take some Zofran, “All the cool kids are doing it”. Finally, he drifted off. Thank goodness, we all thought. I started eating pancakes and relaxing, when not even ten minutes later, I heard a voice from the porch “LEE! I need to get up now!!!” Damn …
Time to get medical help! An ambulance was called from the nearest “emergency room” (as in a great place to go if you broke your leg, or had poison ivy on your ass, not for complex neurological events). The emergency doctor, Dr. Ali, assessed Dennis and gave him a sedative, which only made him crazier. We needed to go to the actual city, which was 90 minutes away. Dr. Ali was a kind man and wanted to accompany us to the city; he was very concerned about Dennis. Dr. Ali told the ambulance driver he had to get a few things and to pick him up at his house on our way. So, we stopped by the Ali’s on our way. It was hilarious … there were 3 cute, little, brown kids jumping up and down yelling, “Bye, Daddy! Feel better, Mr.” Dr. Ali jumped in, and we were on our way.
Wedged up front between two paramedics, I quickly realized the girl driving was TRAINING! I know, without a doubt, that the 90-minute ride to the city took years off of my life, and probably added grey hairs to my head (thankfully, we’ll never know)! Dennis was in the back blabbering to Dr. Ali about needing to walk, and I was in the front frozen in terror as the paramedic told the rookie driver, “Don’t worry, they’ll stop. Just keep going through the red light.” He was, however, nice enough to hold my sweaty hand and supply tissues the whole way to the city. What a mess. Somehow, by the grace of God, we made it to the emergency room. By this time, Dennis was in full blown hysteria, banging his good arm up and down on the side of his stretcher until he was bloody. I had chosen my outfit very poorly. l was dressed like I was going to Coachella, not the Emergency room, in ripped, jean shorts, a gauzy peasant blouse, and sandals (accessorized nicely with silver, boho, jewelry, BTW). I was freezing, covered in blood and heading towards hysteria right along with Dennis.
You know how some Dr.’s have the gift of being able to calm you merely by their presence? The neurologist they called in, Dr. Brian Schmidt, was blessedly one of those. He showed me Dennis’ MRI, and the entire posterior of his brain was covered in what looked like dark, ominous, storm clouds. This was very serious. Dr. Schmidt told me later, they didn’t know who to sedate first, Dennis or me! Dennis was declining, going in and out of consciousness, and still very agitated. At this point, we had been at the hospital for two days. They attempted to start a central line but Dennis was so dehydrated they couldn’t. The Dr.’s decided Dennis was in imminent danger and needed to be put into a chemically induced coma with a ventilator to breathe for him and a feeding tube so his body could rest while they tried to figure out what the heck was going on. They sent me for a cup of tea, still in my bloody outfit, with a blanket wrapped around me. I must have looked super pathetic because the cashier told me the tea was on the house. When I came back to ICU, this was the scene awaiting me.
And, I lost my shit …
Dennis has always assumed he will leave this planet before me; sometimes, to prove him wrong, I hope I go first (I can be a sassy pants). Dennis is generally a loving and caring husband, and he worries excessively about if I will be OK in his absence. It occurred to me, at that moment, looking at him unconscious, condition spiraling downward, that perhaps this was some spiritual plan on Dennis’ behalf. I was back in Canada, among my people; all my siblings, parents and much-extended family live here. I know if Dennis had the ability to pick his exit strategy, it would be here where I had a lot of support. Well! If he thought I was going to go back to GA, with him in a Tim Horton’s Coffee can, he was sorely mistaken! The next 28 days were a blur of doctors, nurses, tests and one surgery. At the worst point, Dennis, 7 days after his surgery, had still not woken up! At night, his blood pressure was spiking to stroke levels. His body had quit digesting food from his feeding tube, and his kidneys were beginning to fail.
Journal Entry August 16, 2014
A Stream of Consciousness from the ICU
What is this alternate universe we have landed on?
a 12×12 torture chamber, of blinking and buzzing lights, assaulting the senses.
I feel like a wounded animal trapped in a cage, the pain is so fierce.
breath by breath, test by test, waves of alternating hope and despair
And yet my love lies there quietly, in the shadowlands between life and death
you are not done! we are not done! don’t let go!
Come back , come back, Damn it come back to me!
Just once more come back from the edge, come back to our life.
No, not letting go, we are not finished!
Love can, indeed, make us freaking, fierce warriors!
Thankfully, due to our windfall from Unum Insurance, I could afford to stay at the hotel connected by a tunnel to the hospital. I would usually stagger in around 4:00 or 5:00 am. Typically, Dennis’ blood pressure started spiking dangerously high around midnight and finally settled down when the sun was coming up. There were many, many angels that helped us through this month. Kindness and care were in great abundance, and Dennis received extraordinary care. I will be forever grateful to the staff at the Health Sciences Centre, Winnipeg.
There are way too many people to thank … family, nurses, doctors, and friends. But, I want to thank one in particular. Many moons ago, when I was still living in Winnipeg, Kyle and Amanda’s Dad and I went through a fiercely painful time. To help get through those tough days, I listened over and over again to Steve Bell, a Canadian Christian singer. To be perfectly honest, I’m not usually a big fan of Christian music; it’s just not my jam. Steve has a very different style. I would describe it as humble, plaintive, and comforting. Steve’ lyrical and beautiful music was like a lifeboat for me to cling to, in the midst of a violent storm.
My brother, Andrew, is an independent filmmaker, and he has done a documentary on Steve called Burning Ember, so they are friends. One day, in the ICU, I got a text from my brother to go up to Starbucks. Looking like road kill, I headed to the Starbucks. Whhhhhhaaaatttttt!!!! Steve Bell was standing there!!! Of course, in my mind, we were total besties; I mean, we had spent countless hours together! I completely forgot he had never met me and didn’t know what I looked like! While waiting for his coffee, he found himself wrestled into an intense bear hug from a tall, (slightly crazy from sleep deprivation), weeping woman. He was so very gracious! We had coffee and talked and talked. I couldn’t believe it. I was having a conversation with someone whose angelic voice had soaked my soul in hope through a very dark time. Here he was, in the flesh, encouraging me again … what a sweet, humble, human being. That day, Steve Bell was an angel for me. I wish I had at least had mascara on!
I remember Love’s first light in me.
I was cold then
like a stone when I saw your flickering
Let me never curse the pain You bring
Somehow I know
I will be whole in Your burning
Steve Bell, album: Burning Ember
My parents and my children will tell you that they had no idea how serious this whole episode was and that I didn’t really share what was going on. I don’t remember consciously deciding to withhold anything, but I do remember feeling that if I verbalized all my fears and how close to death Dennis really was, some invisible layer between internal fears and reality would be broken. The truth exposed … I would no longer be able to control things and would completely unravel. I know, I know Dibbuns, that’s crazy talk. Fear makes us all a little crazy.
I began to wage my own war. I prayed and prayed, and begged and begged for Dennis to wake up. I’m embarrassed to admit I resorted to trying to blackmail an unconscious man! I gave Dennis a list of scenarios that I felt might inspire him to regain consciousness:
- If you don’t wake up I’m going to get a breast reduction; generally, that would work on most husbands.
- Katie is engaged to a high school dropout who is in a Garth Brooks cover band. WAKE UP AND STOP THE WEDDING!
- It’s 2016. It’s an election year, it’s a tie, and your vote is needed to break it!!! (This threat proved to be very counterproductive once he woke up.) 😑
- I’m NEVER going to forgive you if you die!!!
- If you wake up, I will go to any country concert you want to, yes, even Marty Stuart! We went 2 years later, and (don’t tell Dennis, but I loved every second of it)!
Still, my handsome husband continued to slumber on, like sleeping beauty. Time to bring in the big guns! I called Dennis’ life long friend, Phil Holdbrooks, and said: “I need Katie, Dennis’ baby, here, now!” Within an hour, this true friend had Katie booked on a flight to Winnipeg. I told Dennis, Katie will be devastated if she comes and you’re still in a coma. You better WAKE your red neck ass up!
Hallelujah, praise be! I came down at 6:00 am a few days later, 22 days after arriving in an emergency, and Dennis had opened his eyes! Dennis had one on one care in the ICU, so the nurses and I had been together so much that they felt like family. We were all hugging and smiling. Thank heavens!!!! Katie got there that afternoon. My body and soul was depleted, and I needed her. They took his breathing tube out, and slowly in the next days, his kidneys and stomach began to function properly again. What an incredible relief! Dennis had turned away from the light (or maybe I dragged him away from it). There were only two problems; one, he was completely paralyzed, and two, his brains were scrambled eggs. He knew who I was, but was confused about everything else. He kept saying it was 2016! (I told you that was a mistake 😑). He also thought we were in Greenville, South Carolina? None the less, imminent danger had passed, but … we were 1,600 miles from home (remember we drove). Dennis’ complete paralysis made him unable to drive his wheelchair. There was no way to know if he would get the function of his one working limb back. Oh, and he was having a lot of bizarre delusions. One he repeated for several days as he was convinced he had accidentally killed an innocent, little, Hispanic boy, and the Federalis were after him!? Over the next week, a lot of crazy, mysterious things happened. The gong show portion of this insane journey had begun …
Coming soon … part 3, The Long Way Back to Georgia …