Wednesday, August 8, my sister Natasha had her baby. Suddenly, the very same sister who brought me to my first party and taught me to sing crazy loud in the car was a mother. The other day, my father and I watched her load little Zachary into the car seat in amazement. Even after almost two months, it’s still a little weird to see her as a mom. We looked at each other and agreed: she is doing such a great job. We’re so proud of her.
My father was in the military, so we traveled a lot growing up. This made it hard to stay close with our extended family. We had aunts, uncles and cousins, but they were often more on the periphery of our family, generally living several states (at times even countries) away. Of our extended family, we had the closest relationships with my Uncle Michael and my aunt and uncle from my stepdad’s side. But we had a strong core family consisting of my two sisters and me, my mom and my stepdad, and my dad and my stepmom.
It never really bothered me that we weren’t a close large family. I didn’t bemoan the fact that we didn’t have big family reunions, and while many of my friends had a half-dozen cousins living nearby, I never wished I had the same. That just wasn’t us.
As I spent the day in the hospital waiting room, watching an inordinate amount of cast-off Olympics (i.e. the boring Olympic events they stick in the middle of the day when no one is watching), I realized that I want things to be different. I want to be close with my nephews. I want to be the cool aunt they can call if they get drunk at a party and need a ride home. I want to give my nephews regular high fives. I want to give them advice on how to buy a new car and how to treat a woman. I want my nephews to hug me warmly when they see me. I want my future children to be close with their cousins. I never knew I wanted all these things, but suddenly I do. I want to build a big extended family.
There’s so much you can learn in one hospital.
Thursday, August 23, I found myself in the same hospital. Only this time there was no joy to the occasion. There was no inquiring about dilation levels or when the doctor would administer the epidural. There was no waiting for 17 hours (literally) to see the baby.
There was fear. And wondering what we would do without him. We had that panicky feeling inside of us – that feeling that makes you tell yourself repeatedly that everything is going to be OK, but you don’t really know why it’s going to be OK, but you feel like it must be, because you simply can’t handle it if it’s not. It being not OK simply isn’t an option.
I got the call at work. They were taking him to the hospital. He wasn’t feeling right and he fell asleep when he went to the doctor’s office. But I shouldn’t worry and they’d call me when they had more information.
I continued to work. I emailed. I finished projects. My company had hired an ice cream truck to visit the building, and we all got free ice cream.
While I ate an ice cream cone with these little colored sprinkles, I talked with coworkers about my house search. We discussed which neighborhood I may live in. I keep checking my phone, slightly concerned, but not really scared. Everything was OK – it always has been.
While I tried to eat the ice cream quickly before it melted all over my hands, my stepfather was having a stroke.
In the beginning, we didn’t know it was a stroke. We just knew something was wrong. The fear in my mother’s voice on the next phone call snapped me to attention. I sent an email to my teams and packed up to go to the hospital. Then, I found out they were planning to move him to another hospital, one with a neurology unit.
Minutes later, we found out they were transporting him to the hospital via helicopter.
I headed straight to the hospital. And by straight, I mean I accidentally got off on the wrong exit, onto a $2.75 toll road, so I had to pay the toll, turn around and get back on the road going the opposite direction, then pay the toll again. I also had the same lady both times I drove through the toll, who said, “That’s a pretty expensive mistake.”
Yes, that’s what I need right now Ms. Toll Booth Collector. Thanks for that.
When I finally made it to the hospital, I heard this noise overhead. Police officers began to close off the road next to the hospital, stopping all cars from passing.
It was a helicopter. I knew immediately it was him.
I pulled into the closest parking lot, searching frantically for a parking space. This woman stopped ahead of me, blocking my way from parking. I held the horn down, startling her.
“Get the hell out of the way, that’s my dad!” I yelled out of my window. In hindsight, I should have expected her to be just as rude to me as I was to her, but instead she immediately pulled over and let me through. Maybe she could tell that I meant business.
I parked and watched as the helicopter landed. Either this was him and I was a concerned family member, or this was a stranger and I was a crazy lady. I texted my mom and found she was still driving to the hospital.
They began to pull a hospital gurney from the back of the helicopter. From the feet up, my stepfather emerged.
I walked/jogged alongside the doctors as they took him into the hospital. For a man who had just suffered a brain injury, he sure was talkative. He told the doctors how he had just been here a few weeks earlier, when his grandson was born.
Then we waited. The doctor came in and told me all sorts of things that I wasn’t ready to hear. And by “wasn’t ready to hear,” I mean literally wasn’t ready. I should have had a notebook or a recorder or something, because she spoke to me about his condition for three minutes straight, then asked me if I had any questions, and I didn’t even know what to say.
Of course, the moment she walked away, I had about 15 different questions to ask. But she was already gone.
My mother finally arrived, and I relayed the information the best I could. He had a bleed in his brain. They were doing a CT scan to see how bad it was. He needed to be monitored while they worked to get the bleeding to stop. His blood pressure was excessively high and they had to get it down immediately. He may get worse before he gets better, because the brain swells when it’s been injured, and on a young person, there isn’t much room for the brain to swell. Which means we could expect slow movements, numbness, difficultly speaking, etc. But we won’t know the extent of it – or how permanent the damage would be – until they could complete the CT scan and give the swelling time to come down.
Here’s why I could never be a doctor: I repeated all that information the doctor told me to my mother, and as I watched her face fall and tears well up in her eyes, I wished I hadn’t said a single word. If the doctor’s bedside manner was somewhat bad, well mine was terrible. I immediately regretted my wording and that I wasn’t more delicate.
What followed were hours of fear. Questions on top of questions. Some answers, but not enough. Worry. Hope. Some laughter, because my family always finds a way to laugh. Chef left work early to be with my family. The hug he gave me when he got off the elevator was the kind of hug you need when you are scared out of your mind. It’s the kind of hug that lets you know you aren’t alone.
Then there was the regret. Regret that when the phone call came through, I didn’t react more immediately. Regret that I said something hurtful that I didn’t really mean some time ago. Premature regret, regret that I may lose someone I love dearly, and they never saw me get married, have kids, do something really significant.
It’s premature regret because sometimes everything is OK. Your father had a stroke but he’s going to be OK. There may be minor lasting effects, but somehow, he was lucky. We all were. And now you have the chance to say you are sorry for what you said. You can give him the hug you should have given him. You can continue to plan for him to be at your wedding. He can be a grandfather to his new grandson.
Sometimes scary things happen to wake us the hell up. Start eating better. Take better care of ourselves. Love the hell out of the people in our lives. Pay attention (remember the swans?).
There’s so much you can learn in one hospital.
Copyright 2012. Simply Solo blog by Catherine Gryp. All Rights Reserved.