Sunday, April 4, 2010

My Very First Conversation with the Disabled Guy...

Oh, friends, I'm going to take it down a notch today. Shawn left last Wednesday and I've been feeling melancholy in general, but its also April. DG became DG fifteen years ago this month. He says that his "anniversary" doesn't bother him, but he becomes a right jerk around this time of year. His stroke happened on April 13, 1995.

I've told the story many times, how it was payday and I was out of the house with the kids when the trucking company called. This was before everyone on the planet had a mobile phone. I was on the phone with the Ask-a-Nurse helpline because our then-five year old had chickenpox and I didn't have a family doctor yet. Jerry- as he was called back then- had gotten out of the Army on October 3, 1994 and we had six months of health coverage left. It ran out on April 3 and nothing had happened that I needed to find one sooner. It was just one of those things I put off. Well, the nurse helpline was finding a doctor that accepted our new insurance and I got a special call-waiting beep which meant Jerry was calling. I told the nurse I'd call back and she said she'd mail the info to me anyway. I clicked over, expecting Jerry to reply. Instead it was a woman named Linda Sue for Schnieder National Trucking.

As she told me about Jerry collapsing, a million things ran through my mind. It had to be the heat, he never drank enough in the heat. He didn't eat breakfast because he slept in the truck after reaching his destination, so he just sort of passed out. Its not hot in [Washington] D.C. in April, you idiot. He drank a couple Cokes for breakfast, so he's fine... Linda Sue stayed on the line with me and connected me to the ER doctor. The ER doctor didn't want to tell me anything on the phone. He was being extremely vague and seemingly annoyed with me. I said, "Look, I've got three small kids. I'm in Savannah, Georgia. I need to know what's wrong with him now so I can make some arrangements and get up there."

"We think he's had a stroke."

Jerry was 28 years old.

Now, fifteen years later, we know how and why and we basically live our lives day-to-day. And, as you know from reading this blog, sometimes, he's fun and funny. I don't post about the non-fun and unfunny times because any time I try to explain it, it seems angry and I don't want this to become a sniping, bitter blog.

I hope this will be my only serious blog.

After I found out what happened, Linda Sue gave me directions, her personal office number, and I made arrangements for our dog and cat to be looked after. (turns out that was a mistake, the person never really did look after our pets and my mom and dad returned to our house a week later to an extraordinary mess- alive pets, but MESS!)

I'll skip most of my trip. It was extremely uneventful. Although I want to pass a nod to the truckers on I-95. They gave me spontaneous "Smoky reports" and somehow managed to keep that far left lane clear as I drove north from Savannah at 85+ miles per hour. One guy even paid for my $20 worth of gas so I wouldn't have to get all three kids out of the vehicle and walk all the way into the gas station. And I mean that- he paid. He refused to take my money.

Jerry was unconscious when we arrived in record time. Near Fayetteville, North Carolina, I was supposed to pull off at a rest stop and wait for my in-laws. I didn't have to because as I passed the highway on-ramp, they were coming down. We acknowledged each other, clogged up our CB radios talking for a few moments and didn't stop again till we needed gas and food.

It wasn't till Saturday that Jerry woke up with any kind of coherency. Apparently, when a person has a stroke- basically a brain injury- the brain swells and the person sleeps. Sometimes they put a person in a chemically-induced coma so the brain can heal. But, Jerry always slept off illness anyway. When we were alone in his ICU room, he looked at me and then the right side of his face fell. He was trying to hold back tears, but his paralyzed side couldn't be controlled. His lip curved down, tears fell from his right eye. He held up his paralyzed hand and let it drop. He picked it up again, and let it drop. We were both crying freely by the third time and he dropped his hand and motioned to it. Then he shrugged and shook his head.

I said, "I know. They told me." We cried for a little while.

Okay, now that I'm crying AGAIN, let's move on.

They had given him a feeding tube up his nose. It couldn't have been very comfortable because two days later, he pulled it out. So very casually, Jerry reached up and simply pulled the tube out of his nose. It was decided to leave it out till morning, when they would do a "swallow test" to make sure he could swallow real food.

This woman- I can't remember her title, but she was with the physical/occupational therapy people- came in with a clipboard and two little cups of pudding. We stood around and watched. ("We" being my mother-in-law, father-in-law and one of Jerry's uncles who decided he should come and be a major annoyance). She fed Jerry a little spoonful of pudding, watched his swallowing effort, turned, made some notes on her clipboard... and repeat.

She did the spoonful of pudding thing several times. While she was making some longer notes, Jerry reached up with his good hand and picked up the spoon. He proceeded to eat the rest of the pudding- both cupfuls. When she turned back to pick up the spoon, Jerry was sitting, calmly staring at her. We all burst out laughing- Jerry included (though he didn't make any noise). She chuckled and decided he could be put on a "soft food diet" till they did a better test later in the day. Jerry's dad and the jerk-uncle went down to the vending machines and bought all the pudding they could carry.

Later that day, he was put on a normal food diet. His swallowing hadn't been compromised by the paralysis.

Now on a totally different note- I don't have anything set up yet, but our youngest daughter, Christine ("Ceej") is in orchestra in high school. She'll be a senior next year (that's the last grade before college, for my non-American friends who don't keep track of USAian school customs). The school's orchestra has been invited to New York City and we have to raise funds for that trip. Now, to lessen the blow on parents, the kids and their teacher will be doing fund-raising through the year (we have till next March). Through the help of a famous online person (details to follow as soon as I have them), I'm going to set up a donation account on Paypal and DG will make some small things out of wood. Kat (our almost 21-year-old artist daughter) or I (because I used to be an artist) will draw up a rat wearing "little Nike shoes". We'll be selling stuff through an etsy store where the funds will go to help get the high school orchestra to New York City. (the fact I'll be selling stuff on "etsy" should clue a few of you in to who it is that will be helping me).

Shawn, in his total awesomeness, has already given us some money. I'm going to use that money to open a savings account for Ceej's funds. Anything extra we get will go to the orchestra's funds.

Here's a couple photos taken four months before Jerry became DG. The kids (Kat, Jase, Ceej) were all under the age of five.

If you look closely, you can see some "Wolverine-esque" growth on Jerry's face. He was attempting to grow a beard, but it never got past the "I forgot to shave for five days" look.


Jennifer said...

Anniversaries like this are difficult on everyone. My youngest was on full life support for 2 weeks after he was born. I have a very difficult time when his birthday rolls around. Folks say, "Oh, he's fine, look on the bright side!"
While that is true, I think it is more a "muscle memory" thing. I don't even know it's happening.
Thanks for sharing. You are not alone.

Debra said...

Patty, thanks for sharing this. Before, when you wrote about him, he was just DG, someone on paper. Now he's a person. And a HOTTIE too!

Foxy "Debbie" Lady

Grumpy Housewife said...

When I hear of someone whose life has been affected by stroke? I think of you all. Your story always touches me deeply, and because of that, when my husband was being told that he had to go to the doctor NOW because of his blood pressure? We went. He's fine, but it was scary.

Patty O'Chair said...

There are drugs out now that, if given soon enough, can reverse the effects of a stroke. Back when Jerry had his, these weren't available. I found out about them something like a year later. I was angry, then I found out they'd just been approved by whoever it is that approves those things.

Then a few months later, it occurred to me- those very drugs were in the testing stages when Jerry had his stroke. He was in Laurel, Maryland- which is a suburb of Washington D.C.. There wasn't a single hospital in the area that was part of the test group? I bet there was and somewhere, someone would have thought- "Hey, a 28 year old man with three kids under the age of five... he might benefit from this drug." I mean, really, what else did he have to lose? Best case would have been he'd have been fine. Worst case would have been nothing.

I was kind of bitter about that for a while.

Hester said...

Just ... damn.

Kelsey said...

Cried my little eyes out at this. Xxx