On the Stroke of Seven

I’d been in Puyallup, Washington attending the annual Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church for two days. Today, Sunday, was the third and last day, one I was hoping would turn into a decision-making day regarding the church’s future. I knew where I stood on the matter and wanted to cast my vote. As it turned out, I never made it to the meeting. Instead I ended up in the hospital.

My room at the Puyallup Motel was small but serviceable. I’d done some early morning reading, showered, dressed and packed my bag and was ready to head for breakfast at Jason’s restaurant with Marcella, the pastor at my church and a good friend. Just as I leaned over to put on my shoes, I was hit by a wave of dizziness that swept over me from head to toe. The dizziness was followed by a penetrating power that I felt was gripping my right shoulder and arm. I was startled by the sensation and wondered right then whether I was going to black out and if so whether I would wake up again. It all happened too quickly for me to register any regret or fear. And then it was over. I didn’t return to normal, exactly, because my shoulder and arm still felt a little strange. I moved over to the bed and sat there quietly for a few minutes, my back against the pillows, calming myself and listening for any new sensations. Feeling none, I was about to conclude that this was but another one of those physical aberrations that occur every so often but never amount to anything. It was my right side after all, not the telltale left side. Suddenly, a second wave of dizziness caught me, as did the gripping sensation of my right shoulder and arm. This time I was alarmed. This was a definite message. Get to the hospital right now! No second guessing!

Not being able to reach Marcella by phone, I walked down the sidewalk and knocked on her door, telling her I needed to get to the hospital right away. To Marcella’s credit, she didn’t need an explanation. That I needed to get there was good enough for her. Within minutes we were heading for the Good Samaritan Hospital which was located across the street and up the hill from the motel. You couldn’t miss its presence, a high, imposing tower, its name spelled-out in large block letters on the side facing us. As if by pre-arrangement, an ambulance turned the corner in front of Marcella’s car and led us directly to the Emergency Entrance. Upon stopping in front, Marcella grabbed a wheel-chair and headed me toward the front desk while she parked the car. When the nurse learned I was possibly experiencing a stroke, she hurriedly processed me and gave me over to a competent emergency team that hooked me up to the various monitors and began testing. The first reading measured my blood pressure: 197/102! Several other tests followed including a CT Scan. I’d had a stroke alright, a mild one the  Emergency Room doctor surmised, based on the preliminary tests. Later on after further testing, that diagnosis was changed to a full stroke with congestive heart failure. At the time, though, I felt strong enough and confident enough, to have Marcella drive me from Puyallup directly to Island Hospital in Anacortes which she did that afternoon once the Conference had concluded.

By the way, the Sunday morning meeting at the Conference’s conclusion turned out to be as important as I had imagined it would be. All but a handful of delegates voted to authorize the Bishop to organize a task force to study and come up with a step-by-step plan to create a New Methodism based on progressive Wesleyan principles of tolerance and inclusion. I had so wanted to be part of that vote!

Astonished and disappointed as I was by this radical change in my life, nothing was quite as surprising and welcoming as having my life-partner there at Island Hospital soon after my arrival. I hadn’t seen her since her departure for Jordan eleven days earlier. And yet there she was, right off the plane, completely exhausted after the long trip, but wanting to be by my side to face together whatever was in store. Until I was discharged, that’s what she did, staying with me in my hospital room around the clock for three days. I continue to see those three days together, her adamant insistence on staying with me night and day, as the clearest statement possible of the nature of our relationship, a total commitment to one another.

I was discharged from the hospital on Wednesday afternoon, June 12, loaded down with information on my illness and how to deal with it. The original guess was confirmed. I had experienced a stroke alright. That my heart was irreparably damaged functioning at only half capacity was harder to take. Under the circumstances I ultimately accepted the Hospitalist’s daily recommendations: one plavix pill (75 mg) in combination with one low-dose aspirin to reduce chance of blood clot;  one metoprolol pill (25 mg) , a beta-blocker designed to slow-heart rate, relax blood vessels and reduce blood pressure;  one atorvastatin pill (10 mg) to reduce production of bad cholesterol (LPL) and increase production of good cholesterol (HPL)..The statin’s impact on my liver will be monitored on a monthly basis. I’m already taking losartan for blood pressure and tamsolusin for  my prostate. I agreed to new drugs because my condition seemed to call for it. I will be alert to, watching for, any damaging side affects.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot I can do to offset my condition. The chief thing is not to see myself as a stroke “victim”, limited now in my movement and outlook by my “failing” heart. My heart, though compromised, is still functioning, not failing and doctors tell me the level of efficiency can be improved which is what I now envision and intend. Instead of a “failed heart”, I have a “ reviving heart”, a heart that can improve its pumping action, moving the blood through my body with less pooling and therefore less chance of a blood clot. The other thing I am doing initially to leave behind any thought of victimhood is to live every moment without fear. It’s so easy now to become too cautious, to want help close by should I need it. Sherry, my beloved, in whose home I’m staying temporarily, resists the idea, wanting someone nearby when she can’t be.  I want both of us to live fearlessly. We’ll get there eventually as we get accustomed to this new reality, moving it from a downstroke to an upstroke, from a stroke of bad luck to a stroke of good.