The seizure

Sorry Razor fans for being a bit remote this week. Life has taken me places I didn’t want to go, like Bay 18 at Fairfax Hospital’s emergency room and subsequently room T275 Bed 2. The only good part of this story is that it wasn’t me in that hospital bed. It was my wife Terri. Last Saturday around 3:30 p.m. she had a seizure.

I was down in the basement putting a second coat of paint on the walls of our rec room. I was subliminally aware of my wife upstairs from her humming and the sound of her pushing one of those Swiffer cleaner mops across our kitchen floor. Then abruptly I heard the loud sound of a bellowing seal, or so it sounded. “Whoop, whoop, whoop,” was the only way to describe it, sounds of a body parts hitting solid walls, then a huge thunk as she hit the floor. I dashed upstairs to find the door barred by her body. With considerable force I pushed her body out of the way and wedged myself between the door and the wall. I found her face down on the floor, twitching, something like bile coming out of her mouth and incontinent. She was bleeding from a cut above her left eye, and the swelling was rapidly turning her forehead into a grapefruit. If I hadn’t been on heart medicines, I might have joined her on the floor myself from the shock.

I remembered some advice to take deep breaths, then quickly reached for the phone and dialed 911. Did she have a heart attack? She was breathing, sort of, through a small opening in her mouth obstructed by her tongue. Her face was turning gray. The operator had me turn her on her back, not an easy maneuver in so small a space. To facilitate her breathing, I found I had to wedge some fingers into her mouth. She was getting grayer and her forehead was growing larger.

Amazingly, within five minutes two ambulances and a fire truck were at our door and a squad of EMTs was in the house. They asked questions about her medical history (no previous history of seizures), medications she was on (I babbled some of the few I remembered, but she is on about a dozen), her conditions (quite a few there too) while they stuck things into her arms, put an oxygen mask over her face and tried fruitlessly to bring her to consciousness.

“Take her to Fair Oaks Hospital and I’ll follow,” I said knowing she preferred it to Reston Hospital. She stabilized a bit. I gathered her stuff, failed to find her list of prescriptions, grabbed my cell phone and began a comedy of errors. I followed the wrong ambulance down the parkway, which abruptly turned around. Ohmigod, I thought, they must be taking her to Reston Hospital because they can better treat something that had just developed. I did a U turn with the ambulance which cleared all the lights while I waited at them. At Reston Hospital’s emergency room, I found an ambulance parked outside but they had no record of her. I ran back to my car and drove as fast as I could back down the parkway to Fair Oaks Hospital’s Emergency Room. No, she hadn’t come in there but since it was in the Inova network they checked Inova’s other hospitals. The ambulance had delivered her to Fairfax Hospital fifteen miles away, Bay 18. The EMTs could not reach me because neither of us had thought to provide my cell phone number. Despite the heart medicines my heart was racing, but the traffic wasn’t. I was stuck in stop and go traffic on I-66, finally showing up at Fairfax Hospital’s emergency room around 5 PM, three emergency rooms and ninety minutes or so after the incident. Some pissed off looking employee at the emergency room desk finally gave me a sticker to go into the emergency room, perhaps because I knew her room number.

She was groggy but conscious and tethered to the usual medical equipment. What the hell had happened? There were no obvious answers. She just remembers waking up in the ambulance and had no memory of the incident itself. The important thing was that she was alive and seemingly stable for the moment. The nurses were working on other cases, but I did meet the EMT who explained why they took her to Fairfax Hospital (better heart care). Nurse Kelly came in occasionally, and eventually we met the emergency room physician. The doctor agreed with my diagnosis (she had a seizure) but we had no idea what caused it or if it might recur.

Six hours in the emergency bay eventually landed her in a bed in a hospital room on the second floor of the main hospital, where other people with swollen eyes seem to congregate. The swollen eye was a red flag to the emergency room personnel: had I been beating her up? She was asked this repeatedly. (“It’s okay to tell us. You will be safe.”) They even asked her again while I was in the room. It must happen so often that is it unusual to come in with a black eye from a simple fall.

Two nights in the hospital, lots of expensive tests, scans and blood draws. No concussion, no blood on the brain. That was good. Concerned phone calls and emails to and from family, including our daughter in Richmond who came up Monday after getting a pass from her professors. Getting lost in hospital corridors and in the parking garage and getting dinner from a vending machine. Arriving home around midnight to a freaked out cat, but at least one who had been fed. Our friend Mary came over, cleaned up the mess and put things away. The force of my wife’s impact on the floor dislodged a light globe in the basement. Sunday involved trips to and from the hospital, phone calls and emails, and eventually flowers and cards. My iPad let her communicate with far-flung family and friends.

She was released Monday afternoon and since then it has been mostly a round of doctor visits and more tests. She was told not to drive, feels reasonably weak but otherwise seems normal, just with a face that looks like Elphaba Thropp from Wicked plus a black eye that would make a prizefighter proud. And so it will go for most of next week or two. She did make it to work for a few hours on Thursday only to discover that she really wasn’t well enough to be very productive at work.

There are no answers so far, and there may never be any. We are not sure when or if she can drive a car again, or if her life will be fundamentally changed from now on.

I am grateful to have my daughter home for a bit. She ferried my wife around to most of her appointments, which let me get to work and try to keep up on my busy agenda there.

Life feels more fragile, more ephemeral, more due to the whimsy of an unseen god that is toying with us. This is an incident we hope will work itself out in time and normal life may then resume again. Or not.

No answers. Just ambiguity.

3 responses to “The seizure”

  1. First may I say how sorry that you & your wife (& daughter & cat) have had to go thru’ this. It is terribly frightening when one minute your life is this mundane thing which no one will make a reality show out of & the next minute it’s like an overachieving hospital drama! You never again feel 100% confident that all is well…you are, as you have discovered, Vulnerable with a capital V!
    12 years ago I found this out too. Who knew that health & exercise freak me would be bothered by anything! But I was to find out while out doing some tidying of our foundation plants. One minute standing upright, then excruciating pain, then nothing. The next memory I have is being hooked up to everything the hospital could throw at me & 7 weeks had passed. A brain aneurism had ruptured & they had induced a coma which kept me stable until things started to heal.
    I was lucky. Our couple living next door were both doctors & both outside doing the same thing I was. They made a quick assessment & called they to fly me downtown!
    It does change your life even if you come out of it physically unscathed. The trick now is to not allow it to change the good things in your life to accommodate the fear of it happening again.
    My very best wishes to you both.


  2. Mark, my feelings and heart goes out to your family. All of you will be in my prayers until your wife is in the clear.

    God Bless,



  3. Yikes, what a terrifying scene to stumble into, I would have been shaking so hard it’d be hard to drive the car. I’m so glad she’s okay (good thing you even had the presence of mind to call 911 first!) and that you’re both back home. Hope that you can find out what caused it and that it never happens again. Your reminder of the fragility of life is echoing loud and clear out here. May we all kiss the ones we love a little more tenderly tonight.


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