Oh. Hi there, awesome readers.
Last Thursday was a difficult day. It was a day that forced some of my worst fears to rise to the surface. And yet in its own quiet way, it was a special day. Sometimes things happen and while in the moment you may hear the music from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho playing in your head, there’s always a take-away. An appreciation of something you may usually take for granted … an awareness … something.
It all started when my phone woke me from a deep sleep at 1:19 a.m. My thoughts at the time? This can’t be good. My thoughts were right.
It was my ex calling me. More than just “my ex”, he’s also the father of my (our) two young adult children. His voice was frantic and the only words that made sense to me were “Samantha” (the name of our 19-year-old), “ambulance”, and “paralyzed”.
“But she’s okay.” His last sentence before he stopped to take a breath.
If I was barely conscious four seconds earlier, I can assure you that I was now wide awake. He was panicking. But she’s okay. His way of saying NOTHING IS OKAY. THE WORLD IS FALLING APART.
After asking him which hospital they were taking our daughter to, I flung my body into some clothes, grabbed my wallet and keys, and left for the hospital.
During the drive, I realized that my thoughts kept jumping to the details of work. Email content that needed to be finalized … Promotional items that were ordered and not yet received … Event agendas to be confirmed … And then my thoughts would return to my daughter and the many questions I had and why was it taking so long for me to get to the hospital?
In other words, my thoughts were clinging to the most recent past as a way of coping with the dreaded immediate future. It felt like I was stranded on a high-beam while being swallowed by darkness. I had no idea where I was about to fall; what was about to change; what condition I would find my daughter in.
Finally, I arrived at the hospital. It was almost 2 a.m. and I found my daughter in the emergency room, hunched over in a chair and crying. She was hyperventilating and was barely able to speak. That’s when I noticed that half of her face wasn’t responding normally. My mind flashed back to the phone conversation with her father. “Paralyzed”. Ah, that’s what he meant.
The left side of my daughter’s face was drooping, motionless, as the other side of her mouth tried desperately to get the words out. She was sputtering incoherently and I felt helpless. All I could do was pull away the long strands of her hair that were sticking to the stream of tears rolling down her cheeks. Someone dressed in a light green hospital smock gave her a paper bag to breathe into.
Inflated … collapsed … inflated … collapsed …
For what felt like forever, my eyes saw only the paper bag as my mind searched desperately for a way to help her. I rubbed her back. I kept moving locks of hair behind her ears. The sound “sshhh” whispered out of my mouth. Soon, her breathing went back to quasi-normal but her body was shaking uncontrollably. We were brought into a hospital room where she was given a bed and she was connected to a screen with numbers and lines. Her name was written across the top. The beeps seemed to reflect her anxiety … sporadic and rapid.
They asked my daughter questions. They took blood from her. They gave us forms to fill out. They explained that tests were needed, an EEG and brain scan, and then they left us. All we could do now was wait. The tests needed to be scheduled and even God wasn’t awake at this time.
Meanwhile, my daughter complained to me that she couldn’t sleep. That her brain was on turbo-charge. I encouraged her to try to let go of her thoughts. I found an extra blanket and tucked her in. In my mind, she wasn’t 19 years old, she was six again.
“I’m glad you’re here, mommy,” she said between sniffles as I rubbed her back. I imagined that she was six in her mind as well.
Finally, she was seduced into a state of relaxed nothingness and was able to fall asleep. It was almost 5 a.m. by this time and my body was starting to feel the battle between sleep-deprivation and adrenaline. I sat with my thoughts and waited. Waited for day. Waited for someone to tell us that my daughter’s tests had been scheduled. Waited for this nightmare to be softened with answers.
The waiting was a blur of passing nurses and other hospital workers, the sound of snoring from other patients, and the spontaneous beeps from monitoring devices. I was surrounded by a lot of movement. The present was very evident and yet it was like looking through a tunnel, where the present moment existed but only in the distance.
The reality of those moments-turned-hours had nothing to do with my surroundings and everything to do with my thoughts. I had many visitors as my daughter slept just a few inches away from me.
I was visited by fear: What if she has brain tumors? She’s only 19 years old. For those of you that don’t know, my brother lost the battle to brain tumors when he was 39 and the pain of that loss will always be close to the surface.
I was visited by guilt: What if this is my fault? I haven’t always made the best choices in life. At the time, we’re always doing our best but looking back, we know that our best can always be better. This is the curse of being a parent.
I was visited by regret: What if I could turn back the hands of time? In many ways, guilt and regret are cousins. Where guilt clings to you with the stench of a coward (because deep down, you knew better), regret makes you relive a memory from the perspective of a wiser you.
Did I really know better?
Yes, you did.
But how could I have?
Because the little voice that lives inside your head TOLD YOU SO.
Why didn’t I listen?
Because you didn’t know better.
But you just said that I DID know better.
Yes, but you didn’t realize the power of consequences. THAT’S where younger you failed.
I’m a failure.
You did your best.
And on and on the conversation with myself went.
As light of a new day snuck through the dirty windows, I could feel that the battle between sleep deprivation and adrenaline was being overtaken by exhaustion. I even felt a little crazy. I needed to sleep. The chair I was sitting on was very straight-backed and very hard. It reminded me of an execution chair except without the straps. I thought about crawling into bed with my daughter. I thought about curling up on the floor beside her bed. I even considered climbing up on the windowsill, which was about 12 inches deep. (Did I mention that I felt a little crazy?)
And then my attention was hijacked by the empty hospital bed next to my daughter. I walked over to it and checked out the mechanism for lowering the side guards. It seemed I needed a degree to lower them. Then a nurse walked by and I went back to my uncomfortable chair.
I sat there for a few minutes and my mind started acting crazy again. I needed sleep. I needed sleep more than I’d ever needed anything in my entire life. I walked back to the empty bed and this time was able to figure out how to lower the side guards on one side. Ever-so-quietly I slid onto the bed, careful not to put my feet on the white sheet. I draped a thin blanket across my neck and shoulders. I remember taking a deep breath and must have dozed off before I heard someone directing the words “MADAME” at me. Twice. “MADAME … MADAME”. On auto-pilot, my body jumped out of the bed.
Desole. I’m sorry.
He was wearing a light green smock and as he walked briskly away from me, he muttered something about how he was going to have to change the bed now. Feeling slightly delirious, I sat back in the execution chair and waited for my thoughts to catch up to my movements.
“Asshole.” Ah. My thoughts had arrived.
I don’t know how long I slept for but I can say that it was just enough to get me through the rest of the day. Eventually, they brought my daughter breakfast. They took us to get the tests and brought us back to “the room”. We waited for the results. Lunch was served. We waited for the results. Supper was served. We waited for the results. Then finally a doctor came to see us. They couldn’t tell us why this had happened; they couldn’t explain the “episode” but they were able to rule out epilepsy. Some hours went by and they came back to tell us that brain tumors were now off the list of possible causes as well. It was a process of elimination.
More than 17 hours had passed since our ambulance arrival and they were letting us go home with papers for more tests. We don’t know what caused this yet but we do know that stress is a possibility.
My daughter was frustrated. “Don’t wish it was something terrible,” I told her.
“But why did we just spend all this time here?” She asked.
“Your body is telling you something and we need to listen,” I said.
It was a long day. It was a difficult day. But it was also an eye-opener. My daughter, who feels the pressure of university, has come to terms with the fact that dropping a course is not the end of the world.
As for me, I feel grateful. A tumor is not revisiting my family. I got to spend some one-on-one time with my daughter. I got to be there for her. And I got to reflect on the potential of now.
At the beginning of this post I wrote that this day even had a special side. Everyone is so busy. My daughter’s unexplained “episode” forced us to stop and just be. Together. We still don’t know what caused the partial paralyzing of her face but we’re hopeful.
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