Last Tuesday I was in my office getting ready for the workday when my phone rang. The number wasn’t familiar, but I still picked up because students often call me from all sorts of strange looking numbers. When I answered the phone, a man on the line said, ” My name is Dr. Holtzman and I am calling from the Emergency Room at Hopkins/Bayview campus. Is this Marie Marcelin’s daughter?” I quickly said, “Excuse me… who is this?” I guess I was in shock. He responded, “this is Dr. Holtzman, is Ms. Marcelin your mother?” I told him she was and he then asked if I knew she was in the ER. Clearly, I didn’t. I proceed to ask him what happened and while he described her symptoms, I immediately asked him if she had a stroke. He wasn’t certain but he wanted me to talk to her so I can tell him how she sounds. He put her on the phone and after she began to speak, my heart began to break. I could barely understand her. Her speech was slurred. A classic stroke symptom.
In that moment I had a flashback to my maternal grandmother who had a stroke when I was in high school. She became permanently paralyzed on her left side, and she lived like that until she passed away in 1999. My uncle died months before my grandmother did from a stroke as well. My aunt also died from a stroke. My brother, only 6 years older then I am, already suffers from hypertension. He is not overweight, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, and is relatively healthy. My family history gave me chills. After all these thoughts rushed through my mind, I told the doctor I was leaving work and I would be there as quickly as I could.
When I arrived to the ER my mother looked happy to see me, but she was emotional as well. I told her to just calm down because I was there and the doctors at Johns Hopkins are good doctors. I spent the day by her side. Aside from her speech, she didn’t seem too bad because she was still able to move both arms and legs, although she complained of weakness. A Cat Scan revealed that she didn’t have an acute stroke, which is apparently a bleed in the brain. However, she would need an MRI to help them determine if she had a stroke that is caused by a blood clot.
The thing about strokes is that if you don’t receive medical attention within a few hours of your first symptom, there isn’t much the doctors can do to reverse the affects. Apparently, my mom missed that small window of opportunity because when I went to see her the next morning her condition had worsened. She was unable to move her right arm and leg, and the muscles on the right side of her face were even more relaxed than the day before. She just kept crying and I tried my best to keep it together for her. That day, an MRI confirmed she did, indeed, have a stroke and that a clot prevented blood flow to a part of her brain. The damage done to the brain is permanent. The good news, however, is that through rehab there is hope that the other parts of her brain will compensate for the damage, enabling her to move her right arm and leg again.
I thank God she was already at John Hopkins for a routine appointment that morning, instead of being home alone. Being there and having her physical therapist (who she routinely sees for pain management) take her to the ER because her speech sounded funny, may have every well saved her life. I saw my mother the day before this happened, and even spoke to her at 10pm t he night before. She seemed fine. She complained of foot pain, but that was not unusual for her. Strokes tend to sneak up on people. No real warning.
It’s been almost a week since this all began. My mother is in a rehab unit, and I am wondering what her life will look like in weeks to come. I am also wondering what my life will look like in weeks to come. My mom was often the person that helped me manage my crazy life. Her health wasn’t great, but she was well enough to play with the kids, fold my laundry, feed my daughter, and just provide support when I needed it. Now, she needs me, more than ever. And, I will be there with her every step of the way. I don’t know where this journey will take us, but I know that we have to travel this path together. That’s what you do when you love someone.
Right now, I am scared. I am scared about my mom’s health, and I am also scared about my ability to give her what she needs, while still being there for my husband and kids. I am scared about how I am going to juggle this situation with my full-time job, and my writing. I am scared about making things work, without putting my own health at risk.
With time and prayer, I know the answers will come. They always do.