Even during the best of times, we fear it. We dread it. And we know that someday, we will get it. And we know that the shrill ring piercing the night at the ungodly hour of O’dark-thirty is never someone calling to say that we’ve just won a lottery, or otherwise happy news. This past weekend, I received my first 1AM phone call.
Unfortunately, I failed to pick up the phone when it rang on Friday night. You see, in my time zone, the call came at 10PM, and I (incorrectly) assumed that the caller was a friend of mine, calling to nag me about failing to provide him the coordinates of my house so that he and his wife would know where to point their car on the following morning (we had made plans to go for a hike and then dinner on Saturday).
At about midnight (Pacific Time Zone), I decided to give a quick check of my cell phone before turning in the for night. My blood instantly ran cold when I looked at the identities of the recent callers. My friend had not tried calling. My mother was the one who had, at 1:00 AM (her local time in Ohio), tried to reach me in that 10PM call (California time) that I had simply ignored.
Now faced with the dilemma of whether to give her a call (which would have then been pushing 3AM in Ohio), or wait ’til the morning, I decided to wait. After all, no voice message had been left. One thing that age has granted me: the ability to remain calm in nearly all situations. I achieve this realm of controlled peace by convincing myself that the most likely scenario is the one that is the least extreme: that my parents perhaps decided that they couldn’t take “Polar Vortex, Part 2” that was about to descend upon them, and promptly high-tailed it towards Florida in search of sunshine and temperatures with numbers preceded by a “+” rather than a “-“, and they were simply calling to tell me of their travel plans and that they were just tucking into a hotel room, perhaps somewhere in Georgia. In any case, I managed to attain a zen-like mindset that allowed me to get some sleep that night, but I made sure to set my alarm for a time that would be early in Ohio so that I could call them first thing in the morning.
I was awakened the following morning by a phone call from my Mom. Needless to say, I snatched the phone up before it could emit a second ring. The news was delivered quickly: “Your father had a stroke last night.”
It felt as if all the air in the room disappeared. As I struggled to breathe, my sweet mother patiently and slowly described what had happened. One minute, my Dad had been preparing dinner (a big healthy salad) for the two of them. He had sat the bowls of salad on the table, started poking at the fireplace to move around some of the wood, and in an instant, got very dizzy and slowly slid to the floor. He was aware of what was happening, the whole time. As he was going to the floor, he told my Mom: “Honey, I don’t want you to get too excited, but something is very wrong with me”. My mother, a retired ER nurse, saw his shut eye and drooped lip, and recognized these signs for what they were. He begged her to drive him to the ER rather than calling 911, and for some reason, she agreed. (Perhaps her driving was a wise move, as they live out of town and an ambulance may have actually taken longer to get him to the hospital).
Once at the little-town hospital (not much more than a bandaid-station, really), the ER doctor was not sure if he had a stroke, or if these symptoms were actually those of a migraine (strange migraines run in the family). To be safe, my Dad was transported to Columbus, to the OSU neurological department, where he received excellent and thorough care.
The conclusion, based on a spot seen in the brain MRI, was that Dad indeed had suffered a stroke, albeit a small one. (I’ve asked Mom for a copy of his MRI, as I am quite curious to see how a lesion caused by a small stroke compares to MS lesions). His shut eye and droopy lip recovered completely, and he shows no mobility issues and no cognitive problems. He is now back home, following doctor’s orders, which is to “carry on doing whatever you were doing before, but listen to your body and stop when you get tired”.
I’m not sure if there is a morale to this story. For some, a stroke that didn’t do any apparent permanent damage could serve as a sort of wake-up call, to adopt a healthier lifestyle, etc. Ironic that Dad suffered a stroke immediately after preparing an uber-healthy dinner consisting of a big salad, and that he is trimmer and more fit-looking than I ever remember seeing him. Maybe the only take-away message to be concluded is simply this: to live each day to the fullest, to cherish life, to squeeze as much happiness and satisfaction out of every nanosecond that you can, in this otherwise uncertain and ironic universe.