Wednesday, March 02, 2005


In Which I Whistle A New Tune...

First, let me assure you: it is perfectly okay to laugh at my histrionics, both here and in the previous post.

I realize that just kills the suspense for some of you, but when I think back on how it all turned out, it just becomes another story, you know? And given the choice between laughing or crying, I'll pick laughing any day.

You should too.

Not that I would have told you that 11 years ago this week.

Up til then, I considered myself really good to have around in crisis situations. Not because I was handy with my fists or a natural leader or anything. It's more that I would go into a useful kind of shock, the kind where all my emotional responses shut down and all that's left is a certain clinical remove. I can think of four crisis instances in the past 20 years where my response was consistent in this manner (and I'm not even counting my elevator adventure). Two involved medical emergencies where I had to get Her Lovely Self to a hospital, and in both instances we were far from home and had no clue where to find the nearest help. One involved someone putting a pistol to my head and pulling the trigger, and one involved being broadsided by a truck on a busy Chicago highway (where I remember clearly staring at the grille and the silver Mack dog hood ornament and thinking, with a certain uncharacteristic serenity, So THIS is how I die). In all cases, there was no wetting of pants, no raging against the dying of the light, just a certain well-isn't-this-interesting fascination, coupled with a kind of primitive focus on getting out of the situation, if I could.

It all sounds very self-serving to tell you this, but I provide it here merely as counterpoint, merely as proof that I am not heroic, nor even consistent, and probably not the guy to have watching your back when the roof caves in or the aliens finally invade.

Because waking up in the middle of what I was certain was a stroke sent me right over the frigging edge.

Somehow, Her Lovely Self got me dressed and piled into her car and drove me through the icy morning to the hospital. We had only just moved there and being young and invulnerable, had no need for such things as directions to a medical facility, so in hindsight, I can understand how HLS might have had some trouble finding the place. In the event, I was a gibbering mush-mouth, a panicked monkey-boy, literally bouncing in the passenger seat, hurling myself against the dashboard, the door. And I was furious with her for not instinctively knowing where the hospital was. I was, in short, an asshole. It's a wonder she didn't kick me out on the curb, let alone marry me six weeks later.

At a stoplight, though, she did turn to me and fix me with A Look (sadly what would be the first of many), and said, "We are going to get you to a doctor. Until then, you have GOT to keep it together."

Well I tried. I remember doing deep breathing and focusing past the pain in my eye, my ear. And yet, all I could think about was seeing my face in the mirror, how the left side had gone hideously blank, waxy, expressionless. Who had a stroke at 25? Apparently me.

Except...piped up this tiny voice, somewhere under the wave of panic. Except, I can think just fine. I know who I am, where I am. I have definitely NOT lost my ability to talk. I sound weird, but I can form words. I can't close my left eye, but I can move the eyeball. In fact, I can pretty much move everything on my left side, especially my hand, which I was just using in wild gesticulation. Who has a stroke in just their face?

Apparently me. Aggh! Aggh! A stroke in my face! I'm hideously deformed for life! I'll have to wear an Elephant Man mask to my own wedding. Assuming my fiancee isn't completely put off by my hideous hideousness and leaves me at the altar, blubbering into my mask. Aggh! Aggh!

So much for the voice of reason.

We finally got to the hospital (later I was informed that total transit time was about 4 minutes. But that can't be), and I had new people to vent my growing frustration and anger at. For example, the admitting nurse who seemed annoyingly unfazed by my self-diagnosis of stroke. She seemed more interested in poking my face at various spots and asking, "Does that hurt?" (YES!!!) and lifting my bangs and asking me to furrow my brow. And then--this killed me--she asked me to whistle.

"Whad ab by? A fuggin bunkey?" I gabbled. "You wan da freag do do tribs?!?" And she just gave me The Nurse Look, so I puckered, or tried to, and proceeded to blow tuneless, spit-laced air out of my mouth.

The clinical-remove part took over. "Hoy shib. I can'b whibble!" I exclaimed in a kind of awe. The fact that I had lost the power to whistle was just arresting.

For a second. Then I went back to freaking out.

I had been doing some health journalism at that time, and I knew there was a new protocol for treating stroke immediately--administering tPA in the first three hours-- but it was still in the study phase (and would not be approved by the FDA for another two years). I didn't care. I wanted tPA and I wanted it now!

Instead, I waited in the waiting room. Waited for my brain cells to die off, waited for my mental acuity to dissolve slowly, like a bar of soap in a shower.

Finally--I must have been in the waiting room for 10 minutes!!--someone called me back to an exam room. An exam room filled with doctors, all waiting eagerly for me.

Now, THIS is more like it, I thought. A team of medical experts are gonna tackle this problem. They're gonna set me up with major clot-busting drugs before my mind evaporates. Heck, with this many doctors on the case, they're probably going to give me some new treatment that will turn my stroke into an outpatient procedure. Finally, someone's taking this problem seriously!

And then the lead doctor looked at me and said, "Whistle for us..."


I wanted to reserve commentary until you wrote it turned out all right. It turned out all right, right? I'm hoping this was a temporary case of really bad Chinese food poisoning. Or a spider bite. I once had a weird tumor-like thing blow up on the side of my head. Maybe this was a supervillain version of cold feet.
Wow. You have led an extraordinarily interesting life there MM. A pistol to your head and pulling the trigger?? I definitely would have had to check my shorts with that one!
You have a great talent for making your readers laugh - even with such a harrowing story! I'm with you on the laughing rather than crying. Life is too short and utterly absurd not to laugh at.
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