Before I left for work last Wednesday morning, I lingered over goodbyes to my wife, Susan, and our Boston terrier, Lilly. Susan and I wrapped each other in a full frontal embrace while Lilly jumped up on her hind legs and stretched her front paws onto our knees as if to say, “Me, too!” That morning, I was particularly reluctant to leave either of them.
Just after lunch, my boss and I were discussing a new patient transportation protocol. I was about to speak when I felt a pop inside my brain just above the left ear followed by a blinding surge of pain that warbled for about 30 seconds before fading away.
In the throes of pain, I winced hard and rubbed my temple. My boss asked me if I was alright and I said yes. I sloughed it off as a possible migraine which I’d been plagued with years ago.
Five minutes later, I was sitting in the radiology suite speaking with our clinical fellow. Snap! There it was again, in the exact same area above the left ear. It was as if someone was blowing bubble gum inside my brain to the point of exploding. This time, the sensation was followed by tingly, electrical “fingers” fanning upward toward the center of my brain and outward over my left temple and onto the left side of my face.
Our clinical fellow asked if I was okay. This time, I said no. She walked me down to the clinic where I told my boss I would need coverage for swallow studies while I went to the ER. My speech was not slurred and my face symmetrical which was of some comfort. A colleague asked if I needed help getting to the ER. I initially said no thank you. Taking the first step, my left ankle buckled and I changed my mind.
My sweet and attentive colleague delivered me to the ER where I explained what happened to the attending physicians. I was then ushered into a private room. My colleague asked if there was anything she could do. I asked for a hug, again lingering as if I were departing on a long journey with an uncertain return. I cried and so did my colleague who later called my wife.
Sitting in bed, the electrical “fingers” held their grip on the left side of my head and face. Though I was not exhibiting other signs, I was convinced I was having a stroke. It was just a matter of time, I believed, until the other symptoms cascaded over me and the slate of my brain was wiped clean. I was simply waiting in that dubious vestibule joining the worlds of vitality and incapacity. Strangely, I was savoring my ability to process my own fear, possibly for the last time. But there were far more important things to savor.
I was grateful beyond description that I followed my impulse to hug my wife tighter than ever before and to drop to my knees and receive big, wet kisses from our doggie daughter who never has a shortage kisses to offer. As I was being wheeled away for thorough brain imaging, I wondered how far - or even if - my arms and lips would move again.
Fortunately, my internal propagandist was just spreading evil rumors. After about three hours, the electrical grip on my head receded. My brain imaging was clean, but the diagnosis vague: atypical paresthesias secondary to migraine. All I knew — sitting there with my lovely wife who rushed to my side — was that I could walk and talk and think and love. I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.
Last Wednesday I learned that, unlike interest on investments, gratitude does not compound when held in reserve. It must be completely spent everyday on our two and four legged loves. Only then do we discover that we have an unending supply.