Saturday, August 1, 2009

Heat and Life and Death and Love -- the whole damn thing, indeed!

When daughter #2 was about 9 or 10, I was French-braiding her hair one morning before school. She was kneeling on the carpet so that I could reach the top of her head easily, and we were chatting a bit, when suddenly she slumped to the ground, gone. My first response--and all these thoughts took micro-seconds, I'm sure -- was that she was playing a joke, but then I couldn't rouse her at all, and it was clear she wasn't there anymore to be joking. Luckily, I only had seconds before she regained consciousness, but they were seconds in which I thought I'd lost her. I knew our family doctor well enough to feel comfortable calling his home, and he assured me that she had probably fainted from a combination of the position and not having had breakfast yet. Reassured, we got back on with the daily, pushing the reminder of mortality back into its corner. She's fainted since a few times, with more drama or inconvenience from her perspective, but never with such impact on me.

My husband, on the other hand, rarely shows any physical weakness. He runs regularly altho' he never makes a big deal of it. He also does a basic regimen of army/60's high-school type exercises -- push-ups, sit-ups, etc., again, without drawing much notice. And he walks to work daily, works in the yard on weekends, paddles to town and back for groceries, can hike with the kids easily, and just generally enjoys his good health. Eats what he wants without putting on weight, doesn't visit the doctor except for a rare injury or infection, and when he does get a cold or 'flu, throws some sleep at it 'til it goes away.

Bear with me. I'm trying to set some context here for what happened Thursday night in our very hot apartment after we'd put our little granddaughter to sleep -- the first time anyone had put her to bed other than her mom -- shutting the bedroom door and thereby cutting air circulation further. We had dinner, which Pater cooked, and a glass or two of wine, and he was watching TV. I was sitting on the floor in another corner trying to find a cooler spot, he came over to talk to me, crouching down for a minute or two, then stood, walked a step or two, and then crashed to the floor like a plank, hitting the sharp corner of a desk on the way down. Again, as with my 9-year old daughter, my first flash-thought was of a prank, but following instantly on its heels galloped the image of death, and Pater's face certainly wore that image for me.

I roused him, patting perhaps? I can't remember. Saying his name, I know. Panicking, but trying not to. As he was regaining consciousness, I was realizing I could/should call my daughter for back-up. We still had the baby to think of, and no matter what transpired I thought I'd need more help. She wasn't there, I left a message, Pater was back enough to tell me he was fine, he didn't need anything but air. I ignored him and punched 911 into the phone and somehow eased him onto a chair, shocked by his greyness. Police, fire, or ambulance, someone wanted to know, and part of me panicked for a nanosec at the skill-testing question while another part impatiently chose the correct answer, and the ambulance dispatcher was there. So reassuring and so quick -- someone else sharing my crisis and guiding me.

As I described what had happened, Pater slumped without warning on the chair, his eyes staring sightlessly in any direction, no muscle tone left to keep him upright. Following the dispatcher's directions, I somehow lifted him from the chair -- or guided his gravity-fed movement to the floor -- and got him lying on his side. I know I kept begging him to stay with me, to come back, to wake up, to hold on, and I know I kept calling him sweetheart. Words like "stroke" "heart attack" and worse kept flitting around me, but I think I just batted them away knowing I'd have to deal with them later. It was all about getting through these moments, right now. The dispatcher helped with that by keeping me busy with questions about address -- damn! I can never remember if our apartment is on P___ Street or P____Blvd. No matter. Is it right by this landmark? Yes. OK. Ambulance is on its way -- is there a code to let them in? No. Okay. Go unlock the apartment door. Etc. ETc.

And then the sirens. Never before for us (how lucky!). The lights flashing right in front of our building, this time for us, and seconds later, our apartment is filled with big men and equipment -- two paramedics, then for whatever reason, several firefighters a few minutes later. Pater, now, is off the floor, helped back into the chair by stronger arms than mine, leaving behind a puddle of sweat and a small trail of blood on the floor. Blood pressure is taken, and questions asked, and everyone is wiping sweat from their brows and their cheeks and their necks, and the consensus is that heat and wine and changing position from floor to standing too quickly all caused the fainting. Still, twice? That's a bit of a concern, and Pater's age, despite his health, probably signals the value of a closer look. And then he asks for a bowl and is vomiting, and we all decide that he might be better in an A/C-cool emergency room. All except Pater, that is, who is quite sure that he will be fine, but concedes that if he's not, I'll have a tough time looking after him and the baby (who, by the way, sleeps through this entire commotion).

I creep into the bedroom as quietly as I can and root around in the closet in the dark (I really don't need a baby screaming for her mom right now) for Pater's sandals and a clean t-shirt, and he walks out to the ambulance with these great young paramedics. I collapse on the couch and begin calling my girls. Two voicemail messages left before I connect with Baby's Mom, pulling her away from the wedding, their first long evening out in forever. From there, she takes over, calling the other girls until all is arranged. She calls me back -- one sister and her guy are going to keep their dad company at the hospital; another has been dispatched to get a fan for our apartment (Mr. Stoic (Pater) never thought he needed one!); Mom and Dad are returning for baby and no number of my protests will stop them.

A day and a half later, all is well. Pater and I head back to the island today after taking a slow, precautionary day, drinking lots of fluids (he realizes that in the busy-ness of a heavy schedule on Thursday, he'd probably got behind), and staying in the cool (Harry Potter and A/C -- good combo!). I was so gratified by my family's support and can see that I can afford to get old now (kidding, sort of!) -- they are so competent and so reliable. When I finally got up to the hospital, after handing Nola over to her parents, my two daughters and their fabulous partners were sitting together in the waiting room, Pater was hooked up to IV to replenish fluids. After a few more tests, he was allowed to go.

Easy, really, in retrospect. I have several friends whose visits to Emergency were truly traumatic, too late, life-changing. I remember, physically, the scream that came from somewhere I didn't recognize when my dad phoned to tell me that my brother had died, almost instantly, at 19. This time 'round, though, we've been spared. I keep flashing on a replay of that clunk to the floor, the stiffness of it, or on the vacancy of his eyes, but I can reassure myself that he's still here. I'm lucky. But something within knows that the vacancy, the stiffness, told a truth beyond their moment. And for the next short while, at least, I will be treating my husband like the treasure he is and revelling in my good fortune.

The heat is abating here, but this weekend, if it's warm where you are, take it easy, drink plenty of liquids, and let your loved ones know that they are.


  1. Oh my goodness. I can't tell you how relieved I am it was serious, so I can't even begin to imagine how you feel! ((hugs))

  2. Mater, I am so sorry that this traumatic. It sounds like Pater is fine; has he had his yearly physical?

    It's amazing how instinct takes over when something like this happens. Instinct, and the reward of kind, compassionate and capable children.

    I definitely will tell my loved ones I love them. It's too easy to forget.

    All the best,


  3. Was it really only the other day that you posted about the decades you had spent with P and the love you had shared? I had thought this a beautiful but poignant post - I was in my thirties when my husband died, so never had the chance to spend decades with the man I loved.

    And then this? So relieved to hear that he is recovering and for the reminder of the preciousness of our loved ones. Sending transatlantic cyber-hugs and good wishes to you all.

  4. Even though I knew (hoped) that everything had turned out alright (I'm sure you couldn't have blogged otherwise) my heart was in my mouth reading this. That's quite a shocker - you both need time to recover. It's wonderful that the family was able to rally round though. You are truly blessed. Much love, Patricia

  5. This is so touching. Men. I know. They have to be so strong. And then something like this happens. My hb seldom complains about pain, anxiety, stress or fears. Women do. And when we complain, the load we carry gets a bit lighter. Maybe we women should encourage our men to open up a bit more, to be more selfish. I´m sure, that what happened at your place, was just as you were told; the heat wave and all. I´m just thinking of the situation, the role of men in general. So happy that everything is ok now.

  6. I recognize so much of what you wrote. Not from my experience, but from stories told. The sound of the fall, the way all you can focus on is the immediate. We are all getting older. But there may be nothing we can do to prepare, other than practice how we respond in the immediate situation. I am so glad this turned out to be minor, and hearing of your grown daughters rallying reassures me for my own future.

  7. I almost couldn't read this and
    I'm crying as I write this.
    I'm glad he's okay.
    I love you.

  8. Oh, I am so sorry this happened to you and yet also so relieved that it worked out so well. Hold each other tightly for a while. My thoughts are with you.

    And I think I'll go sit with my sweetie a while.

  9. I, too, almost couldn't read this, but I had to continue to find out whether Pater and you were okay. I'm so, so relieved to read that Pater--and Mater!--recovered. I can't think of anything more terrifying than the pain of one's beloved, unless that is the loss of him.... This brings up so many of my own fears--so much so that it brought me to tears--but your experience reminds me to continue to treasure every second.

    You are both very much in my thoughts.

  10. Jillian: Thanks. Hugs are always welcome.
    Christine: Yearly physical? Ha! I'd be happy if he'd had one in the last decade . . .
    60/16: Given how lucky I've been to have had those decades, I feel a bit foolish being so shaken by a scare like this -- lucky and foolish! Thanks for the hugs -- as above, always welcome.
    Patricia: Thank you -- I do feel very blessed, I assure you!
    Metscan: my guy is a prime example of that kind of quiet strength -- it generally seems quite natural and easy, but who would know otherwise?
    LPC: I think you're right -- there's no possible preparation other than appreciating what we have while we have it. Watching friends experience and survive grievous loss through the years, I know the range of possibilities, but generally I can look the other way. And I suspect I'll be back to that within a few weeks. For now, my poor guy is tolerating my surveillance with fairly good humour!
    I'm so pleased to have you commenting here, btw -- really enjoy your blog!
    Hil: It was really frightening, but all seems to be well now. You can check him out for yourself this weekend (oh, and tell him to go for a check-up, would you?!) Love you too!
    Mardel: Sweetie-hugging is the answer! I know you've had worries over your partner's health that surpass this, and you've already learned not to take it for granted. I've been very spoiled until now . . .

  11. Oh my god, how terrifying for you. I am so glad to hear that he is ok. You and I have had much synchronicity of late - it's as shame we had to share the ambulance experience - my brother and I had to call one for my mother a few weeks ago, and I would not wish it on anyone. My thoughts are with you.

  12. Oh Mater, how terrible for you - I read this with tears in my eyes. I'm glad that your children are so wonderful and that Pater is OK, and that Nola slept through the entire episode!

  13. Oh my goodness, how terrifying this must have been! I'm so glad to hear that he's OK and that it was nothing more than heat and dehydration.

    Yes, life is precious, and family is precious.

    Hope the heat is abating there somewhat.

  14. Tiffany: Those minutes of waiting for the ambulance to arrive . . .
    Imogen: I was so relieved Nola kept sleeping -- I don't know what I would have done if she'd woken in the midst of it all, altho' I'm sure the paramedics would have handled it all easily -- they must be used to everything.
    Pseu: It's still warm here, already this morning, but not quite as warm, and we have rain forecast for Thursday -- we'll soon enough be complaining about that, I'm sure!

  15. A desperate situation and I am so happy for you and the family to hear of the prompt response, quality of care and recovery! And a reminder that we need not feel extremely hot or dehydrated to suffer heat's effects.

    Many men tend to skip regular physicals, a characteristic but unwise approach as one ages.

  16. Duchesse: Pater's lass physical, as best he can remember, was close to twenty years ago. He's generally so healthy and fit that it's hard to argue and I am not about to take ownership of his health, but this incident has him finally agreeing with me that a check-up would be a good idea.

  17. Thanks for sharing so eloquently. So terrifying. The feeling of terror, of being alone, no matter your children, your siblings, your friends. It's you and him. Him and you. You express it so beautifully. I need to breathe...and breathe again.
    You are so gracious.

  18. Isn't it a terrifying experience? For weeks, I relived that crash to the floor, that space I lived in, a space of widowhood. And I try to remember to live my gratitude daily now. And to breathe. . . . take care.


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