STROKE!

Sweet Kathy

Sweet Kathy two days after an eternity ago

What the everloving hell? She turned and flopped and flailed her arms. This was crazy. “Honey, what’s the matter?” I pleaded in the dark at 3:00 a.m. No answer. Flop and spin, limbs slapping me all over, no words. Good God. I turned on the light: my honey was contorted, head turned to the right, eyes and mouth wide open. Breathing, couldn’t talk or move her eyes. Holy Mother of God. I wasn’t hysterical, though. This had to be a stroke or snakebite. I grabbed my phone and dialed 911. The EMTs showed up 15 minutes later., two guys wrestled the stretcher through the narrow doorway, scooped her up in the bottom sheet, loaded her in the back, and split. I followed in her car down the dark and empty road. It was freezing cold. The flashing ambulance lights were so bright I had to shield my eyes. They hit 65 mph on the main road heading for the hospital. Until then I’d been all business, only now it slammed me: “KATHY!!! STAY WITH US, HONEY!!!” I yelled, sobbing as I drove. Stupid husband trick, following the ambulance in the dark, all helpless like a fool.

Who knows what the hell they did to her as soon as we arrived. Probably every scan and test you ever heard of. Her mouth stayed open, her eyes began to move a little, and then she moved her arms. I spent the next five hours wrestling with her to keep her from yanking out the tubes and wires. Every 30 minutes a different nurse or doctor came by to tell me they were working on getting her admitted. Someone brought me coffee I didn’t have a chance to drink. I had her purse with me in case they wanted her Medicare number but no one ever asked me anything. Finally they wheeled her into a room on the other side of the building, far away down a forever corridor. There was a motorized recliner for me so I could stay there with her. The door closed, and that was it for us for three whole days except for constant interruptions taking vital signs, blood and urine samples, doctors, nurses, people to “counsel” me and hand me pamphlets that I haven’t even opened five days later. It all went just like that, ka-boom.

She got better, sort of, but was still a wreck. Crying, disoriented, wanting to go home. This became a theme. Her memory was shot. At one point when it wasn’t, she wanted to know just what had happened and I told her. More shock and disbelief before she slipped back into the fog. I fed her half a dozen spoonfuls of her puréed mush three times a day and gave her lemonade and water. A couple times we staggered to the bathroom after midnight with her diaper falling down so she could pee. (I never wiped my wife before but add this to the tricks.) Feeding her was almost holy. When the nurse came in to change her once, I helped to turn her on her side. The skin on her back, her butt, the back of her legs was perfect. Where had all the stretch marks gone or had they ever been there, really? She glowed smoothly like a teenage girl. I thought it was so beautiful. The warmth, the love, the light that shone within.


The next stage needed to be rehab. She sure wasn’t ready to come home, and home was in no shape for her. Piles and clutter wouldn’t do. Medicare would pay for 20 days in the clinic adjacent to the hospital. She’d get four hours a day of speech, physical, and occupational therapy, and maybe I could get the house in order. The people we talked to at the hospital were certain the draconian “no visitors” rules had been relaxed, since all the staff was vaccinated and my wife would be in quarantine for two weeks anyway. I figured I’d be there for several hours a day, watch the therapists, and get an education as her coach. You know where this is going, right?

Five days ago they dropped the bomb on us:

With just one hour’s notice, they told us that she’d be discharged and taken next door to the rehab unit, but I couldn’t come. No visiting hours, ever. Period. The rules in fact had not been changed or relaxed in any way. We were devastated, terrified, in shock. I’d been reassuring her that I’d be there to see her every day, bring her things, and ease the pain of isolation every minute they’d allow me—which turned out to be zero. I watched the nurse wheel her down the hall next door, terrified of how she’d manage.

Not that well so far. The FaceTime visits haven’t really worked, not for someone who’s just had a stroke. This afternoon I found a message from two days ago I’d missed somehow, just her crying in the dark: “I need you, John. John? John???” but there was nothing I could have done. She has to stay, just two more weeks, except I worry that her mind is going, going, wandering like she is, up and down the corridor, the stroke and what that does inside the brain. There’s another issue, too: they found a blood clot in her heart and saw it wasn’t pumping like it should. All this tears at memory and reason. Forty years together and she has to pull out of the fear and madness on her own until she’s here and I can feel her warmth and lie that everything will be okay.

Don’t get sick in a pandemic. Do not, do not ever, ever, ever…

Sunday morning before we knew she’d be discharged on Monday, I looked out the window. It was gray cold spitty day. Suddenly a big brown coyote trotted out of nowhere to sniff around a patch of dry brown grass between our building and the rehab clinic. At that exact moment my wife said that she’d just had the thought that “everything was over…” I thought I heard some irony in how she said it, as if her words were less a statement than a proposition. The coyote was still there like he was listening, maybe 30 feet away, until he turned and vanished in the sagebrush. The goddamn trickster, plain as anything, but where’s the joke? That she was right or she was wrong?

Or that it’s just a big brown dog-thing in the grass?

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John Hamilton Farr lives in Taos, New Mexico, U.S.A. As New York Times best-selling author James C. Moore tells it in a review of John’s first book, Buffalo Lights is the work of a man attuned to the world who sees it differently than you and I and writes about it with a language and a vision of life that is impossible to ignore.” John is the author of BUFFALO LIGHTS, TAOS SOUL, ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE, and THE HELEN CHRONICLES. He has been publishing online since 1996 (Zoo Zone, Farr Site, MacFaust, GRACK!, FarrFeed) and blogs regularly here at JHFARR.COM. His latest endeavor is the aptly-named GODDAMN BUFFALO at Substack. See also → John’s Twitter profile, Amazon Author Page, video channel at YouTube, and website photos at SmugMug. To email John, please see CONTACT INFO on About page.  

  • George March 20, 2021, 10:29 AM

    Holy shit John. I’ve been there but not in a pandemic. I excruciating to imagine losing certain people, but it’s what’s at the end of the road and I’ve been down it. Here’s to a still longer road.

    • JHF March 24, 2021, 5:26 PM

      Thanks, George. We’re not at the “losing certain people” stage yet, and I could die tomorrow! It’s all relative. But the vibes are murderous.

  • MARY VIGDOR March 20, 2021, 10:32 AM

    Hi John and Kathy
    Just wanted to send you light and love from Seattle. Have always been so happy to hear about your wonderful relationship. Please keep us all informed of Kathy’s journey in this challenging time and, John, I hope you will have the time for self maintenance. Living in such a beautiful area just going outside and breathing that air must help a lot!
    With love,
    Mary Vigdor

    • JHF March 24, 2021, 5:31 PM

      Much appreciated. I think things will settle out a little better when she’s back with me. That’s all she wants! Besides a home of our own, of course. The people running the rehab clinic haven’t come to terms with how brutal it is not to allow family members to visit. I realize the restrictions are because of the virus, and I don’t have an answer. Right now I just want to get her the hell out of the Taos Living Center.

  • Victoria March 20, 2021, 10:51 AM

    How terrible! I guess many of us are going through terrible things these days. but your story is heartbreaking. I hope the healing has begun!

    • JHF March 24, 2021, 5:34 PM

      It’s pretty terrible, all right. As noted above, we’re only focusing on getting her home again at this point. I know her body, mind, and spirit. Just being back with me should be therapeutic.

  • JudyinBoston March 20, 2021, 12:05 PM

    I am so, so sorry to hear this. Have followed your adventures, travels, and travails for year. Hoping like hell that your dear sweet wife will recover and play her piano again. They do work miracles in medicine nowadays, so there is always hope.
    Thinking of you.

    • JHF March 24, 2021, 5:36 PM

      One of the first things we’ll do is reunite her with her piano. We shall see, yes? Appreciate any good thoughts you send our way, Judy. Thank you very much.

  • Duncan Nebbe March 20, 2021, 2:23 PM

    Oh John, so sorry about all of this.
    She is really fortunate to have a strong, caring husband as you, and she will be needing that strength going forward.

    She may perhaps not be quite the same as before, but what the heck, neither are you!

    Still, she’s the girl who stokes your fire and that’s what really counts.

    Love her, nurture her and be strong for her. In time all will be well.

    • JHF March 24, 2021, 5:37 PM

      Thanks for your kind and hopeful words. Nurturing will be the theme.

  • Rick March 20, 2021, 3:33 PM

    I was more and more saddened as I read through this posting. I hope your wife does much better going forward.

    • JHF March 24, 2021, 5:39 PM

      That’s certainly understandable. What can I say except I hope so, too. I honestly think we’ll see improvement. I just want to see her smile.

  • Ron Garrett March 22, 2021, 10:42 AM

    So sorry to hear this. Kathy was one of my favorite professors in college, and I still feel her influence more than 45 years later. Here’s wishing her a speedy recovery!

    • JHF March 23, 2021, 10:15 PM

      Hey Ron! I remember you well, and I’ll bet you do still feel her influence. I’ll be sure to tell her I heard from you. We’ll just have to see how it goes now. There are a lot of things in play. Think good thoughts!

  • Karen Smith Streaker March 25, 2021, 4:07 AM

    Johnny,

    My heart goes out to you during this very difficult time. Your strength and enduring love is so important for your wife at this stage of her recovery process and I know you will be able to dig deep to help her on this next journey.

    I know you have it within you to give her all she needs and please enjoy every moment of joy you can muster by just being with her and being her rock.

    Having gone through a very trying period with my third man in my life, I can very well understand the terror it creates in your soul by seeing the decline in your beloved wife. All you can do is love her and continue encouragement for her every day. You will find pleasure in some moments as you continue this journey together.

    Love and strength to you, cousin……

  • William L Masson April 15, 2021, 11:23 AM

    John
    The only words that I can put together at this time after just reading your posts and comments is “I am so sorry”
    Uncle Buddy

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