Last Wednesday, the Hubs and I were eating in our bedroom when he went to the kitchen for more salsa. He didn't come back after a couple of minutes; thinking maybe he couldn't find it, I went to help. I walked into the kitchen to find him crouched in a football stance in front of the open refrigerator with my 16-year-old daughter looking at him.
"Baby, what are you doing?" He didn't answer. "Honey!?" No answer.
"Sheridan, what happened?" I asked with a firm urgency. "I don't know. I heard him fall and just now walked in here." He must have stumbled backward from the fridge, bumped the pantry doors and landed in this semi-squatting position on the floor.
My instincts shoved all other thoughts out of my head and took over. Rocking him back onto his bottom on the floor, I spoke to the Hubs again, calmly asking assessment questions he wasn't answering. "Are you in pain?" Wuh… I put my hand on his chest but couldn't feel anything. He wasn't hot, wasn't sweating, wasn't pale or flushed. He seemed to be looking straight through me. "Can you see me?" Yy… uh…. "Sheridan, bring me the blood pressure monitor. Top drawer of my night stand." One of the kids asked me later, "Weren't you scared?" Of course I was, but keeping my head about me to respond effectively made an impression.
I kept asking questions, kept him conscious, kept getting no legitimate response. His blood pressure is always very low, but now it was high -- 190/120, but his pulse is what scared me. The man who could run a mile and keep his heart rate below 70 had a pulse of 151 just sitting there on the floor. I told my daughter to call 911. "I think he's having a stroke or something."
The operator had our address and I told her my concern before he started vomiting and Sheridan took the phone. By now the other two kids were in the kitchen. I asked for towels, which they brought, and otherwise waited for orders. Sheridan passed along the question from the operator, "Why do you think he's having a stroke?" I told the Hubs to smile, and he did. I told him to touch my face, both hands. He half-slapped both sides of my face at the same time. It wasn't a stroke. "It's not. Tell her it's not!" I tried to get him calm, help him communicate. "Breath with me. In through your nose (we inhaled together), out through your mouth (we exhaled together). Look at me. Baby, can you talk to me? Does your head hurt? Does your chest hurt? Do you need a drink? Can you hold my hands?" I'm not sure how I understood his answers.
The fire department was on its way from the station a mile or two away, and the Hubs was trying to come back to himself, saying "ok" over and over, trying to stand, and pushing me away from him. He refused to stay on the floor with me and was obviously confused and unaware of his physical limitations at the moment. He heard me tell Cheyenne to go wait in the driveway for he paramedics and suddenly became paranoid. Within a couple of seconds after getting to his feet, he didn't recognize me anymore. He resisted my help to steady him by squeezing my hands and said, "I don't care" when I told him he was hurting me. I didn't know then whether he was getting better or worse, but I was all out of ammo. I didn't know what to do. I finally saw the flashing lights in the window of the kitchen door. I hoped I could settle his mind before they got through the garage.
Everything until now probably happened in the course of only three or four minutes but it felt like I had been trying to get him to respond for a long time. When the paramedics finally came inside, he was already coming back to himself but clearly was not there yet. His vitals were still higher than I was comfortable with, but as long as he was headed in the right direction, the paramedics didn't seem too concerned. They discussed his admitted dehydration and dismissed the idea that his stomach medication could have caused all this, even though he had accidentally taken too much that morning -- a quadruple dose, in fact.
Within fifteen or twenty minutes, he was drinking something, getting some fruit to replace the taco salad his stomach had rejected, and joking about how "This is why you should never run around naked. Something may happen." In an hour, the kids were doing their own thing, the Hubs and I were back in the bedroom going over the events to see what he remembered. We didn't think he was THAT dehydrated, and searching the side effects of his medication was little help. His pulse had returned to normal and he had full control of his faculties, even if he seemed a little off mentally. He insisted he was fine. The whole thing was just plain weird.
I wish I could tell you it was the end of the story, but it isn't. He went to the kitchen to get more tea (because he probably still wasn't thinking clearly enough to realize he needed water instead), and again he didn't return immediately. Going to find him, I met Sheridan in the hallway. "Where's Dad?" she asked. I told her he had gone to the kitchen. "I don't think so…" she trailed off as she ran to the kitchen with me behind her. Not finding him, she ran to the garage and was back a split second later shouting, "MOM!!"
This time he was completely unconscious on the floor of the garage. He appeared to have slumped against the weight bench for support and passed out. I couldn't wake him up. As soon as I touched him, his body seized violently and the vomiting began again, covering his shirtless upper half and most of me. It's amazing how many thoughts your brain can produce in a millisecond when it needs to. The way he threw up AS he seized told me the thing in the kitchen was a seizure, too. What the hell was going on here?! The man is healthy as a horse!
Sheridan asked if she should call 911 again. Yes. No. Not yet. With the next seizure he fell over, head back, and I was afraid he would choke. He was too heavy and too strong (and in effect, fighting me) for me to get him on his side when we were both slippery. "YES! CALL!! And get your siblings!!" The struggle that ensued to get him on his side while every muscle in his body flexed and convulsed resulted in a nauseating mess of me trying to wrestle him to consciousness or at least safety. Then it got worse.
The retching finally stopped and he was turning blue. He wasn't breathing. HAD he choked?? Sweep his mouth. I couldn't because his jaws were clenched shut. Back blows. I pounded on his back with my hand and fist, screaming at him to breathe. I jerked his head around against another spasm. No result. There was no air moving. By now Dakota was in the garage trying to help me keep him on his side. "His back!" I shouted. "Get him on his back!" We seemed to struggle forever. My thoughts were still clear, but the calm voice that had been impressive earlier disappeared as I grew more desperate.
Even as the body-wracking seizures began to subside, he was still purple. Sheridan had told me paramedics were on their way again and stood waiting for instructions. I could hear Cheyenne crying and ordered her to stop being hysterical and move my car so the ambulance could get close to the garage. With the Hubs on his back, still not breathing, I was becoming exhausted and Dakota was about to lose his cool. He shook his dad and screamed, "Wake UP, Dad!!! I NEED YOU!"
I realized air was only going to get in his lungs if I forced it. I wiped the puke off his mouth with a towel, shook him one more time, and took a deep breath. The kids remember me saying, "You're really going to make me do this aren't you, you son of a bitch?" I lifted his neck, held his nose, put my mouth on his, and blew. I could hear a rattle as the air entered his lungs and knew it had gotten through. Chest compressions. "One... Two... Three... Four." No change. Dakota yelled for me to do it again. I did. "One... Two... Three... Four. BREATHE, GODDAMMIT!!!!" Another breath. "One... Two..." Then he gasped. The seizure finally released his chest enough to breathe on his own. I think I laughed.
He still wasn't conscious, but he wasn't convulsing, puking, or changing colors, either. I was trying to catch my breath and get my own bearings as the paramedics arrived; two of them were here only an hour ago. I told them I wasn't doing this again and to take him in. One recognized the seizure immediately, even though he was lying still and literally snoring while unconscious. While I answered questions from a couple of the responders, the others bagged him and attempted to get him on a board to take him to the ambulance. I cleaned him up as best I could and went inside to rinse my own hands and face in the kitchen.
Cheyenne had started the car, gotten clean clothes for the Hubs and me, gathered my phone and purse. Everything was in the car and waiting for me. Again I gave clear, concise orders for Dakota to find the hospital on a map and direct Cheyenne to it. Sheridan was to keep her phone free so I could contact them if necessary; I rode in the ambulance, texting family and listening over my shoulder to the paramedics as the Hubs woke up.
In the Emergency Room, they gave him two saline IV bags, took blood and urine, and performed an EKG and CAT scan. Other than "a little dehydration," they found nothing. They, too, dismissed the possibility of his medication having caused the problem. In a few hours, we were home. The only fitting word to describe the Hubs was "bewildered," though Sheridan said he still seemed "intoxicated" later that night. I was scared to death; if he left my sight, I had a small panic attack. I don't DO panic. Obviously, I didn't sleep a wink Wednesday night.
On Saturday morning he left for work in west Texas, against our wishes and better judgment, and we were right to worry. To make this long story somewhat less so, I'll just say he fell asleep at the wheel and ran off the road. He truck sustained minor damage, but he walked away with only a burn from the seat belt on his neck. He sounded drunk when I talked to him moments afterward -- somewhat incoherent, disoriented, slurring speech, and couldn't really tell me what happened. I knew he wasn't drinking, and I knew he wasn't right. This is when I called on my Facebook friends for prayer and spiritual support.
In desperation and perhaps through divine intervention, I called on a friend I should have contacted days earlier. After briefly explaining all that happened and answering a few questions, a Cherokee healer told me his magnesium was low. Within minutes I was scouring the web to confirm his diagnosis and found it to be exactly right. The Hubs headed on to the job site with orders from my gifted friend to get magnesium supplements and take measures to correct his other electrolytes. I was almost giddy, knowing we had found the solution. Today, five days after beginning treatment that cost all of $14, the Hubs IS himself again.
The Hubs has always been somewhat invincible, and that attitude is probably what caused this problem. We now realize that he had ignored symptoms for months, maybe longer, thinking they were isolated and unrelated to each other. Long-term use of his stomach medication and the stomach problem itself had led to a minor magnesium imbalance, which goes hand-in-hand with an imbalance of the other electrolytes, especially potassium. That day's dehydration and the mild overdose that morning probably caused it to bottom completely out. Because those minerals are essential for neurological function, it was his 'neuro' system that shut down. A few more days without treatment, further dehydration when he got to work, or another seizure could very well have killed him.
For all we've suffered in our lives, the one thing I knew is that the Hubs would always be there. In less than 90 minutes on a Wednesday afternoon, out of nowhere, I came face to face with the reality that my security was an illusion, and it has shaken me to my core. I still panic when he doesn't reply to a text, and absolutely everything about him is seen under a magnifying glass. If he trips over a word, forgets something, snaps at me, or leaves my side for even a minute longer than I think is reasonable, I get a little hysterical.
Combined with starting home schooling and the many related activities, losing my personal space, buying a car and needing to buy two more, fear of my old dog dying soon, getting behind on house work, dissatisfaction with my own body and fear about his, frustration with many things and people, and what all of that is going to cost us.... I'm well past my stress limit.
I admit I'm struggling with keeping it together for the first time in a very long time, and I cry multiple times a day, usually for no specific reason. I used to take all this stress in stride, but I seem to have forgotten how. Shouldn't that be like riding a bicycle? People keep saying they're worried about me because this simply isn't how I handle things. I agree, but I'm getting better. I'll have all my balls back in the air and have a smile on my face in no time. Please keep sending my family your light, peace, and healing until then. My gratitude for those who have reached out to us in the last week far surpasses my ability to express it.
Of course I learned some things from all this. I have no idea where I learned CPR, how to handle someone who is having a seizure, or how to test for a stroke, but I'm glad I know those things. You need to know them, too. I have certainly explained all my actions to my children and made sure they know how to respond in similar situations. I'm not sure I could have done it without them. They are truly my heroes. I am also committed to putting some legal matters in order -- matters we were too young to worry about before now, like Power of Attorney, Advanced Directives, and conversations with family about "what if something happens." But the greatest lesson I learned was from Dakota.
Somewhere in all this, I felt the need to get everything in order. Get laundry caught up, get a shower, get phone calls made, get supper ready. As I walked through the kitchen, Dakota asked me for a hug. I went to squeeze his hand and said, "I don't have time for a hug right now." He caught my arm and told me plainly, "Don't ever say that, Mom. Don't EVER say that." I never will again. There is always time for a hug.
Go hug your wife. Hug your husband. And squeeze your kids until they make you stop. Right now. Because there may not be time tomorrow.
How to check for STROKE
Learn the signs of a HEART ATTACK
(Note they may be different for WOMEN)
Learn more about handling SEIZURES
Get general First Aid training through RED CROSS