My husband Mark has literally been in and out of hospitals since October 23, 2009 — primarily for reasons related to his long-time back pain, but also in late November when he had flu, thrush, and the worst case of pneumonia (in both lungs!) his Primary Care Physican has ever seen and was in ICU for several days. It was actually Mark’s stint in the hospital November 3-12 (back pain) that made him change PCPs to this new doc, who we liked so much that we both switched! Anyway, I can’t even count the number of times we’ve taken him to the ER in the past six months. I can’t rehash it all, it’s taken its toll on all of us, but suffice to say: thank God for health insurance!!!
He was admitted January 27, 2009 and the MRIs, of which he had by then had many, finally showed that his L5-S1 disc in his spine had exploded, and surgery was the only option. It was scheduled for February 9, but on February 2 we were told that his insurance company wouldn’t pay for him to stay in the hospital that long and we had to be discharged. The doctor, a neurological surgeon, was horrified and said that he would do the surgery the next night, which is unconventional but there was no way he was letting Mark go home in that condition. By some miracle, the doctor was able to get every single person from his crackerjack regular team together on short notice — they have literally done this surgery thousands of times each year for something like ten years, so he doesn’t have to ask for a scalpel, for example, he just puts his hand out and it’s there.
So the surgery went perfectly, and I didn’t leave the hospital until 3am that night, and blah blah blah, the first week sucked ass, and February 9 he was released. Instead of going to a rehab facility, he went to my parents’ house. His mother and I both work, but my mother works for my father’s in-home business and therefore is home all day, so we thought that was a great solution. My parents are fantastic caregivers, but it’s hard to keep Mark safe when he’s too stubborn to ask for help every time he wants to get up. So he has been back in ERs for falls several times in the past two months, many times due to dizziness (which could very well be caused by his meds concoction.
So that brings me to last Tuesday. Mark had finally come home Friday and was feeling relatively good, and relatively useless, so he decided to clean up the bathroom. He ended up falling and hitting the back of his head on the bathtub. He called me and I “rushed” home from work, but I work an hour from home so it took me a while. When I got home he had not moved, and I called his name six or seven times before he came to. Ended up calling 911 and he was taken by ambulance, on a backboard and with a neck brace, to the hospital. Five hours and several negative-resulting CT scans later, Mark was sent home with a prescription for Dilaudid (a pain pill) and went back to my parents’ house.
Thursday night, still having headaches and dizziness and nausea, Mark fell. Dad helped him up… and he fell again. He said that when he moved his head to either side, it felt like his head was “swimming.” We took him to a hospital near my parents’ house. This doc looked at the CT scan results from the other day but didn’t order anything. He said it sounded like Post-Concussion Syndrome, gave Mark a prescription for a pill to help with the nausea, and said he should be feeling better any day. Saturday, my birthday, Mark seemed to be doing significantly better. Maybe just hiding it from me because he didn’t want to ruin my day.
Then came Sunday. Last night was the scariest trip to the hospital yet. Mark had been dizzy, to the point where I helped him walk to bed at one point. About 45 minutes to an hour later I heard a thud in the bedroom and knew he had fallen again. I ran in and he was lying facedown on the floor, like he had stood up and fallen straight forward on his face. I called his name and asked if he was okay and he wasn’t responding, and I started to cry. Mom and my sister had followed me in. Mom called his name louder a few more times and he grunted. My sister called 911 and they needed to know if he was breathing. It was hard to tell but seemed like he was breathing okay. The ambulance came (and all these times the ambulance comes, it’s usually the ambulance plus police car plus sometimes a fire department car) and he went to a different hospital than Thursday, because they specialize in trauma.
In the ambulance on the way over, Mark was telling the EMT that it was Tuesday, and that he can’t believe I was called to leave work, and that he’s 30, all of which is NOT true. He was very confused, and we had to tell him multiple times the correct information. He kept forgetting, and it was so hard for me. And then it got worse. He said something about Gizzy, and how he wanted to spend the night petting Gizzy. Well, Gizzy was our old German Shepherd who got very sick and had to be put to sleep May 5, 2009 (at age 15). He didn’t remember Dutch, the little white puppy my Mom got in the beginning of November.
It was heartbreaking for me, but I felt at the time that the worst thing I could have done was to tell him the truth, it would have broken his heart, so I let him believe Gizzy was still alive. I told him that I knew he was scared but to focus on petting Gizzy because that would keep him happy. I asked what kind of treat he was going to give him, and said that Gizzy was gonna be so happy when Mark came home from the hospital. Mark said he missed Gizzy, thinking he’d seen him a few hours ago, and I tried my best to hold back tears saying that I missed him too, knowing it’s been almost a year since his death.
Another point, Mark was talking about his old job as if he still worked there, worried that they needed help without him there and asking if anybody had called (insert coworker’s name here). I lied and said I had already called and spoken to her, and that everything was under control. I said they were worried and just wanted him to get better. When he started to panic about not being there, I said, “Mark, it’s Sunday, remember? You don’t usually work on Sundays anyway, right?” He agreed and dropped it, and that was the only one time he mentioned the job.
He was taken for CT scans, and when he got back and I asked how he did, he said he was still thinking about playing with Gizzy later because that was keeping him calm. It was really rough. The ER doctor was fantastic, and really listened to what we were all saying about his symptoms, and Mom had mentioned the selective amnesia to him. He gave us all his thoughts (that the falling is because of the medications, that Mark might benefit from going to a rehab facility for a while, that concussions heal on a steady course and not with ups and downs, that everything could easily be due to the pain and therefore he shouldn’t be trying to get off the meds when clearly he still needs them)… and then I mentioned the amnesia. He asked Mark if he remembered the dog, and asked, “What is your current dog’s name?” Mark said, of course, “Gizzy.” The doctor looked at the rest of us and asked, “And that’s not true?” Mark started panicking, and asking what happened to Gizzy, and we knew it was time to tell him the truth. All I will say about it is that it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, even harder than the night Gizzy was put to sleep. Mark’s grieving process started all over, with added feelings that he didn’t get to say goodbye and it was all very sudden. I showed him a photo of Gizzy on my phone, and Mom showed him a photo of Dutch and asked if he remembered him, and Mark didn’t.
Luckily by the time we left the hospital, Mark’s memory had gotten back to normal. With the exception that he still didn’t remember falling, or how he got to the hospital, but I think that his short-term memory was gone in that time anyway, so I don’t expect him to remember it later. But it was just so hard. And now we have to wait until he sees his doctors tomorrow (three appointments) and see what they all have to say about everything.