It began on December 5, 2022.
I’ve been thinking about this post for more than 6 months, knowing that I have been living a story that I’m meant to tell and believing that I’ve been taught a lesson that I’m meant to share. As my eponymous blog title indicates, I am the Magpie. Mine is the gift of “exhortation”. The magpie is who I am and what I do. I absorb information and when it strikes me and moves me, I am compelled to share it as far and as wide as I can with all of my heart and energy.
The tricky part about this story is that it’s taken quite a long time to unfold and I’ve been a little bit superstitious about telling it before I felt certain it was truly (or mostly) done. Funny to realize that as much as I like telling stories (Exhibit A, the Monique Koehler/ TRF Origin Story), it’s much more challenging to do so as the protagonist. I guess I’m more comfortable as the biographer than the autobiographer. When the story is your story, it’s harder to know when it is over – even when the moral of the story seems really clear from the get-go.
So, all of this is a bit of an apology or explanation for why I’ve waited a while to put these words on “paper”. I simply wanted to be sure the coast was clear and, let’s face it, I wanted to be sure the story had a happy ending. Spoiler alert: It does (as of 6.17.23). I am more grateful than any tidal wave of words can capture – although I’ll surely use a boatload trying.
Lesson 1: If you know it’s wrong (really wrong), it doesn’t matter if it’s not bad
This inelegant phrase is the best I’ve come up with to convey the #1 Lesson of this story. This awkward sentiment is the thing I most sincerely want everyone reading this to understand, to take to heart, and to promise me you’ll remember this because it’s the key to this story’s happy ending. Here goes.
On Monday, December 5th I sat down at my desk in the guest bedroom which has been my office since March 2020. Bobby and I had just returned on Sunday from a fabulous long weekend in Charleston, SC with our friends Augie and Christy. It was trip we’d long awaited, one I’d much needed after some challenging months of turbulence at work, and we had enjoyed every moment of the change of scenery. Rested and refreshed, I was glad to settle back into a new week and hopeful for a good week ahead. I got up early, I spent some time on our rowing machine, I made my coffee and I sent Bobby out into his day with a even-more-chipper-than-usual “let’s go out and make today a GREAT day, honey!”. (Cue the foreshadowing music…)
Seated at my laptop, I dove into my normal routine – creating and responding to email with my fingers flying over my dear little MacBook’s keys. I don’t really remember working on anything specific, just normal stuff, but it was one of those nice “unscheduled” mornings of just doing my thing, with no calls, no zooms, just me and my thoughts and my keyboard. Getting things done! Bobby had taken the car to do some errands (Christmas shopping) and I had made a plan for lunch with my dad. I was out of the starting gate and galloping along nicely. I think it was about 10 or 10:30am when I first realized something was off… everso slightly, sort of like a shadow slowly falling over my desk.
As soon as I tell you what happened, you’re going to know where this is going. But, before I tell you, I want you to think about what you would’ve done if you were me. Looking at the world through our own eyes and hearing thoughts in our own head simply comes across really differently than when you hear them come from someone else.
I started missing keys with my right hand. It was weird.
I picked up my hand to see if I’d just shifted my hand position somehow. You know, that happens. Right? I typed some more. I missed some more. I thought “nah… that didn’t just happen”. I literally thought “wow, I must need more coffee”. I stood up, I walked around my room to be sure I felt OK… I did. I looked in the mirror to see if I looked OK… I did. And about this time, my dad checked in about our lunch and said “I’m here at the triangle for lunch”. I said “Oh dad, I needed you to pick me up because Bobby has the car – have you already gotten a table?”. Since he had, I said “No problem, why don’t you just eat and bring me lunch – I’ll take a shower.”. My thought was I’d just step away from the laptop and this whole weird thing would go away. So I took a shower (and later, realized how glad I was that I did this). I was asking myself… did I feel clumsy? did I drop anything? The answer was mildly negative. I did OK. I even dried my hair. Then, I decided to go back to the laptop to see if the shadow might have gone away. It hadn’t. I couldn’t type my password. I really couldn’t make the fingers on my right had do anything.
Something was really wrong. I was scared.
Lesson 2: When you know something is wrong, call someone who will tell you what you already know and need to hear
I called Bobby. I can’t imagine how scared he must have been, but he stayed calm and said “you need to have your dad take you to urgent care”. I didn’t argue. I told him that Dad was on his way and that I wanted to call our Dr’s office too. I left a message for Dr. Taneja (they were on lunch break) and got myself dressed. When Patty called me back, I had an image of her in the office listening to me say “I am having trouble typing with my right hand”. I wonder if her face fell a little, or if she sort of gritted her teeth, but I know that she simply said “you need to go to the emergency room, right away”. That was a moment I won’t forget. Both Bobby and Patty did just what I needed them to do: to hear me and to tell me – that sounds wrong, that sounds bad, that needs attention. ASAP. They gave me permission to know what I knew and that’s exactly what I needed.
As if we’d planned all of this, Dad arrived in my driveway a few minutes later and I walked out to greet him. Feeling a little shaky, I said “Dad, I know this is weird, but I need you to take me to the ER.” I’m so grateful that he appeared right then and that he didn’t panic. He just said “OK” and drove me to Saratoga Hospital. I must admit, it seemed like he’d never driven so slowly, and I will always remember the trembly feeling I had of trying to stay calm and act normal while we drove down West Ave as I kept hearing Patty’s words echoing in my head. I’m grateful that Dad has a fair amount of experience with ERs (and their usually long waiting times) and that he could see that I really did seem fine. I am grateful that he felt comfortable dropping me off knowing I could call or text him as soon as I had some information about what was going on. He and Linda were leaving for Florida the next day, so he went off to do errands as soon as I had checked in with the triage nurse.
That’s when I started to come unglued. The fear began to overwhelm me. Things got much, much scarier when they called me in two minutes later.
Fast forward through the next three days…
There’s not much to be gained by giving you the blow by blow of the three days I spent in Saratoga Hospital, so I’ll try to stick to the highlights.
- Nothing ever hurt. Nothing ever got worse. I never had any other symptoms beyond my errant fingers on the keyboard. I actually think that by the time I was in the CT Scan, my symptoms may have resolved themselves (hard to know without a keyboard). If I’d been driving to Kentucky that day, I really don’t know if I would have even noticed the “glitch” in my system. This is something I think about a lot.
- The triage team knew I was having a stroke right away, even as they tried to assure me that they hoped I wasn’t. They were great. I was terrified. I could hear the “code alerts” echoing through the triage area and I could sense the speed with which they were expediting my check-in.
- I was incredibly impressed, at every turn, with every single healthcare professional who cared for me over the course of my three days (two nights) at Saratoga Hospital Being there in December 2022, I think I experienced the lagging effects of the last few years plus the “end of the year” crush. I spent my first night in an ER room and there were patients stacked in the hallways, but despite how stretched they were, their care for me was extraordinary.
- My roller coaster included the “faux shame” of first finding that my CT Scans were clear and that perhaps the threat of stroke was a false worry. I suffered through thinking that I’d wasted everyone’s time and energy, and then abruptly learned that my MRI told another story. My images showed what they called “a cloud of microclots” on the left side of my brain and thus, it was confirmed: on December 5th, I had a stroke. Sigh.
- The next 2 days were spent trying to find the cause of this most impossible, inexplicable, incomprehensible fact. The medical team suspected my heart and they dedicated many resources to testing my heart to see where and how it may have caused this “cloud” (20+ micro clots) to go to my brain.
- Possibly the topic for a future blog post, throughout my stay I felt like one of those embedded reporters in the Gulf War. I was the healthy person watching the healthcare machine from the inside. I observed. I appreciated. I was amazed and I developed a fully-formed thesis on the similarity of the experience of a hospital patient with an incarcerated individual: total lack of agency, kept captive unhappily in a place full of misery, surrounded and cared for by people who are well-intended and service-minded, but whose focus on “making you better” far outweighs their focus on “making you comfortable”.
And now, 6 months later, let the next chapter begin!
As I write this today, I am gratefully one week past a Carotid endarterectomy on my left carotid artery on June 9th. Dr. Courtney Warner was my vascular surgeon. She conducted the surgery at Albany Med last Friday. Bobby and my mom were there with me. I spent one night in the hospital (as planned) and, so far so good, all went well. I’m currently taking a few weeks of medical leave from my work at the TRF to ensure that I give myself, and my artery, adequate time to properly and completely heal. My goal is to be rested, recovered and ready for the 2023 Saratoga Summer meet (25 days away). I will most certainly write more about another set of lessons, or at least conclusions/observations, about how the last 6 months have unfolded. But, that’s too tall a task for today.
For now, I’ll say that I am simply, profoundly and overwhelmingly grateful. To every soul who has walked with me on this journey so far. I apologize to the many dear and beloved friends who may not have known about all of this going on. I simply didn’t know how to talk about it without knowing where the story would end up … or whether it was going anywhere at all. Also, as many know, I’ve also been doing my best to manage my way through a host of other weighty and exhausting topics on my heart over the last 10 months. I’ve asked for so much support, patience and encouragement from so many starting last September. This shadowy sort of monster-in-the-background just seemed like “one too many things” to tackle on top of the roller-coaster ride at work, the sadness of nursing and then losing my beloved heart-cat Mookie, and the strain of caring for my beloved Padre. It has simply been a long hard stretch since last September, with this thing lurking in the background, but I can truly see the light at the end of the tunnel now. With extraordinary support of the Maven, Maggie, our families and friends, I feel confident that I’ve made it past the darkest time of a rather long night.
My friend from Oldfields, Beth Toney, shared this quote a few days ago… it really has resonated “When life changes to be harder, change yourself to be stronger.” I guess that about sums it up.
Bring on the dawn!