“I’m not getting sick,” I would explain to every one and any one who would listen. It’s the weather, it’s 20 degrees one day, 65 degrees by the weekend, it’s a wonder everyone didn’t have a cold.
On Inauguration Day – my self declared “Independence Day” - I sat with a girlfriend – the only one who bravely still went out to lunch with me after I’d snapped her head off the Friday before because my head was killing me - twinkling my toes during lunch, trying to make amends for my crabby behavior.
The day would have been perfect, if it had not been for the persistent headache that dragged on for first one day, then two, breaking miraculously on the third. The snap on my two-day constant headache brought good moods all around, little did I know that by 2:00 p.m. that same afternoon, I would not be able to shut my left eye and the corner of my mouth began to droop.
What was this? Was I having a stroke? Being the midlife diva that I always have been, I keyed my symptoms into WebMD the best as I could with my shaking hands. Stroke – was I trembling and shaking? No. Aside from being scared to death, I was not. Was there any confusion? No. I could walk, talk, and think. I checked my frozen expression repeatedly, finally calling my doctor who directed me to the emergency room.
Terrified, I left the office thinking, not thinking. How could this be happening? I couldn’t have a stroke; I had a son to get through college. It was only him and me and if there was no me, what would happen to him? Oh goodness, then I still had to pick him up from the college! He was stuck there without a car or phone and if I had a relative show up to pick him up – without warning – he would panic and expect the worst. I wanted to cry, but my frozen eye would make no tears.
Want a little attention? Walk into a busy emergency room with symptoms presenting themselves as a massive stroke. You get pushed to the front of the line pretty quickly. I had barely warmed my uncomfortable waiting room chair when I was whisked to the back.
“Can I bring you a wheelchair?” I was asked for the first time. And after even more offers of wheelchair rides, I was beginning to wonder if they charged mileage on those things or what? Is this their version of car rental? Exactly how was this going to show itemized on my soon to come medical bill? Two rides in wheelchair - $300. No. I decided to avoid the wheelchairs at all cost.
Can you walk? I was asked again and this time, I wondered if maybe I should not have been able to walk. I was fine, I reasoned, after all, I had just driven myself to the hospital, after picking up The Teenage Wonder from college and enduring the everlasting traffic jam. No, I was fine; I just could not feel my face.
I saw more areas of that hospital than I could have imagined. Again, another orderly asked if I needed a wheelchair as I hopped off the hard bed to follow him. My legs were fine; it was my head that was having the problem. That made him laugh.
A quick triage exam soon turned into a six-hour ordeal as my blood pressure spiked to an all time high – even for me - of 224/125. OK, maybe I was not OK. I was asked, “how are you feeling?” more times during the six hours that followed and honestly, I was beginning to wonder – am I OK? Maybe it was a stroke. What does a stroke feel like? Would I know if I was having a stroke? I have to admit, all of the concerned looks and whispered conversations were beginning to freak me out and admittedly did not a thing to lower my blood pressure.
I was whisked away again, this time to “lay quietly” in a room to allow my blood pressure a chance to return to normal. Great. I lay in the cold room, fully dressed on the sterile cot. There was music playing in the room, supposedly to relax me.
I lay with my eyes closed when I heard the crooning of Mick Jagger coming over the speaker:
“You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you just might find
You get what you need
Oh baby, yeah, yeah!”
My eyes popped open and I looked around. What? Was this some kind of cosmic joke? This thing, the paralysis of my face, this was so not what I wanted! First of all, I wanted to get out of here.
Possible stroke – that was a sobering thought. What about all of the things that I had taken for granted that I might never get to do again? The things that never mattered so much before as they mattered now when I faced an uncertain reality that if I was indeed suffering a stroke, I might never get to do again.
Things like being walked by the dog. Riding my bicycle. Chasing Son from the kitchen as he devoured gobs of raw cookie dough. Looking at bugs with my six-year-old nephew. Being teased relentlessly by my nieces. Gabbing on the telephone for what seems like hours with my sisters. Looking for toads. Everyday stuff, things snuffed out by a stroke. These were the things that I wanted. Would I ever have them again?
The nurses finally allowed Son back into the ER cubicle with me, watching the two of us with puzzled expressions as I laughed as Son regaled me with stories from his short time out in the waiting room.
After spending a little quality time with the noisy CAT Scan machine, it was determined that my brain, thank God – was just fine, no clots, no tears, and no signs of damage. As the Teenage Wonder says, my squirrels were just fine.
The cute YOUNG doctor who could have been my son – had I started MUCH earlier – asked the all-important question – do you want to die? I had been prescribed medication for blood pressure that I took sometimes; there was always a reason why I didn’t take it. No excuse is a good one, I know, but there it is. His question got the Teenage Wonder’s attention.
“Nobody said anything about dying,” he had muttered, drawing his entire six foot six frame to attention.
No, it appeared that dying was not on either of our agendas.
No, it was not a stroke. I had dodged the bullet, giving the idea of having a massive stroke the stiff arm, accepting my diagnosis of Bell’s Palsy, the result of a virus from my never-ending cold, almost giddily. It was still scary but curable, survivable.
Along with the major lecture to always take care of my blood pressure, of which I had not been monitoring or medicating properly, numerous prescriptions were written, instructions ordered, follow-ups with my doctor demanded, I walked out of the hospital on my own, a happy woman, face still frozen but happy. I would get the chance to do the things that I wanted.
I wanted to skip out of the emergency room that evening and would have if it had not been for fear of breaking my neck, overloaded with a drug-induced euphoria. I had walked into that hospital, my face as solid as stone and had dodged the bullet. No, stroke but a diagnosis of Bell’s Palsy instead. I would recover. My memories remained mine and in tact. My mind, unscarred. My sense of humor dinged but on the mend. My relationships, my loves, my hopes and dreams –still attainable waiting for me to grab them with both hands and never let them go.
You don’t always get what you want. I needed something to get my attention. I may not get the whole cake, but I would savor this piece. I may not get the international readership that I craved, but I would rock this little part of my world and blog my heart out. I may never become a Poet Laureate, read for heads of state, or become a writer in residence for a university or anything like that but thank God, my hands still work, my brain is still strong and my wit is still sharp. No, you can’t always get what you want…
The Teenage Wonder stopped by my bedroom, my self-appointed nursemaid – with a glass of water for my meds. He grins at the black eye patch I have been relegated to wearing – albeit temporarily – when not working. I wave sheepishly in his direction.
“I’m still here,” I teased him. He gives me the water. “You’d better be.” He tapped me on my numbed forehead. “Matey.”
I pinched him on his way out. The Gospel According to Mick, you don’t always get what you want, but you do, if you’re lucky, get what you need.
Thanks Brother Mick for the insight.