It was 4:30 on a Thursday and Steve and I were shut in the bathroom to avoid the two and four legged beasts in our house. It wasn’t supposed to be intimate or life-changing. This was the check in kind of sex. The type that says “I remember you.” A quick release and a promise of more to come.
Instead I ended on the floor unable to see or stand. My mind blown.
The pain in my head went way beyond childbirth. There was no number on the scale for what I felt. The clutching at the back of my neck radiated up to the crown of my head where clearly someone was stabbing me with a butcher knife. It didn’t take long for Steve to realize that this was agony not ecstasy.
Within three minutes the pain was completely gone. No side effects remained…I went through the list with the nurse on the phone no dizziness, no visual problems. I was expecting her to release me. To head down the stairs to the frantic dog and the warmly lit kitchen. Instead she sent me to the ER.
“It might be a stroke.” She told me. And suddenly that sounded right.
Last year Cards Against Humanity released a deck of cards around Hanukkah. Each card had a joke about jews. I carried one around in my wallet for a few weeks. “A headache that is definitely cancer.” I was a living punchline.
As we called friends to watch the kids and told them to make their own tacos I reassured myself. Even if it was a stroke I was not dead. As I walked to the car I began to see spots in my right eye. I reassured myself that it wasn’t an even quadrant of my visual field. My vision was poor in the best of times. But the evidence was mounting. I had had a stroke. I squeezed my fist to measure the relative strength in my hands. The right one seemed weaker. They both seemed weak, but the right one was weak-ER.
Steve was silent as he drove down Sixth Ave. The canopy of trees had lost their leaves and the giant houses were displaying their humongous lit wreaths. Before I moved to Denver I didn’t know that lit wreaths came in 30 foot diameters. But they do. And evidently they come in sets of two.
As the sky darkened the lights came into sharper focus and I tested my eyes squeezing one shut then the other. Were they the same? No. Certainly not.
At the hospital we went through the endless check in procedure and I reassured myself that I was clearly not emergent. At least judging by the attitude of the staff. My blood pressure was 157 over 101. “Very high” the med tech told me matter of factly. I thanked her for the update and my sarcasm seemed to be broken as well because she told me I was very welcome.
Steve tried to distract me with the text string he was having with Oliver.
“We have arrived at the hospital and mama is feeling good.”
“Sheryl will be there around 7.”
“Remember to take the dog out.”
“We are in a room expecting the doctor.”
wait for it….
Leo on the other hand is filling my screen with stings of emojis and heart beats. Pledges of “I love you.” And inquiries into my health. I am reminded of their differences. I am thinking about how much, stoic or emotional, both boys need their Mama.
I am pledging to eat only lettuce. I am committing to walking 16 miles a day. I am wondering how much my weight is factoring into my fear and also my fate.
The doctor finally makes it into the room after we have made it through a nursing shift change.
He comes in and perches on the side of my bed. For the 7th time I describe the headache. Its intensity. Its short lived time frame. I explain my potentially psychosomatic vision problems.
“What were you doing when the headache started?”
I am sure it is in the notes. I have told this story to everyone, including the wrinkled raisin woman in the wheelchair who didn’t speak english.
“I was having sex.”
“Ah.” he says. “This is called coital cephalalgia.” “Sometimes it is nothing. Sometimes it causes a brain bleed with an increase in blood pressure.” “I don’t think I can let you leave here without a cat scan.”
Instead of staying in the moment I have leapt ahead. “What if it is a brain bleed?” “What then?” Somehow he is willing to travel to the future with me. As Steve tells me to take it one step at a time the MD is happy to engage me.
“We go in through your vascular system and just zap it.” I channel Oliver. “OK.”
He orders the cat scan, tells us it will be 90 minutes for the radiologist to read it and he will be back to confer afterwards.
Outside of our sliding door I hear someone ask him. “Is the stroke alert?”
“Yes.” He answers.
I squeeze my eyes and my hands one at a time, waiting for paralysis to set in on my right side.
I refuse the wheelchair when the transport team comes to walk me down the hall to the cat scan machine. It is a huge donut in a room mercifully free of florescent lights. My escort seems put off by the number of people in the room.
“Do you have time to squeeze in a quick head?” He asks them.
I want to ask if he likes being able to squeeze in a quick head but the humor doesn’t seem to reach my lips. Another sign of a stroke, clearly.
Five minutes later I am walking (maybe with a little lilt?) back to room ten.
For the first time I swing my legs onto the bed. I am giving in. I am no longer a mama and a wife and a woman who makes inappropriate sexual jokes to strangers. I am a patient. I am a stroke victim. I am someone whose brain is not healthy enough for sex.
We wait. We text the boys.
“OK” Oliver tells us about our updated ETA.
Things must be OK there. I tell Steve.
The third nurse of the day slides into the room between the scratchy curtain and the edge of the door.
“Cat scan looks good.” He tells us.
And there it is.
No doctor, no radiologist. No admonishments about my weight or advice about our sex life. I am no longer a patient. I am back to being me. I wonder why it is one or the other. But not for long…because as we walk out of the hospital hand in hand I say to Steve:
“That was anti-climactic.”
“In more ways than one.” He responds.
My hands feel strong. My eyes are equal and reactive. My walk is straight.
Most importantly my ability to laugh at poor sexual humor is intact.
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