Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dad: Let me tell you how awesome my wife is.

The mothering instinct is a very powerful thing. I learned just how powerful last Sunday when I witnessed one of the scariest moments of my entire life.  At around 11:30 a.m. that day, the culmination of a precise string of events came to a head when my wife went unconscious, fell straight backwards and landed head first onto a hard tile floor. We spent the rest of that day and the following night in the hospital as a team of doctors treated her for several broken bones in her skull and a slew of other issues that come along with head trauma.


Ambulances also come along with head trauma.
As you know, healthy adults don’t just keel over at random unless they’re doing something they shouldn’t be, like drinking excess amounts of cough syrup or doing anything in any location with Charlie Sheen. For the record, Mary was doing neither of those things leading up to the incident. What she was doing was fighting a stomach bug that came hand-delivered to our house Friday afternoon, compliments of our 11-month-old daughter, Susan.

Friday morning at daycare, Susan had crazy Willy Wonka Chocolate River diarrhea, and by Saturday afternoon Mary was vomiting her delicious Jason’s Deli BLT along with whatever else she’d eaten two days prior. She felt slightly better Sunday morning, but I convinced her to stay home and rest while I took Susan to urgent care to figure out what was causing her to act like the world’s unhappiest baby. As soon as I got out of the neighborhood, Mary called and asked me to turn around and take her to urgent care to get checked out too. Boy, are we all glad that my mother-in-law convinced her to make that phone call, because if what came next would have happened when she was home alone, I don’t know what I’d be doing right now but it sure wouldn’t be sitting here writing this blog while Mary sleeps.
 
Augustus found out the hard way about the
Oompa Loompa's septic system backup.
 
When we got to urgent care, Mary checked us in while I hauled Susan and all of our belongings to the waiting area. Before you ask why I didn’t stay up there with my ailing wife, I’ll remind you that a) cranky, sick, 25-pound baby in one arm; b) 25 pounds of baby accessories in the other arm; and c) I also had the stomach bug, just not as bad as Mary, apparently.
 
Once Mary got the both of them checked in, she came and sat down next to us. Susan didn’t want to sit still, so I started walking with her around the lobby (oh by the way, she can walk now, both on her own and while holding my finger). While we were doing that, the receptionist called Mary back to the counter to clarify something. After a few minutes, Susan guided us to the counter to see her momma, and there we all stood while Mary handled the check-in business and I tried to keep our daughter from flopping on the floor like a fish and licking the tile like a dog (and from this point on, I’m calling that maneuver “fish-doggin”). When I bent down to pick up Susan, I heard the check-in lady scream “WATCH OUT” and then heard a sickening THUD as something hit the floor behind me. That something turned out to be my wife who had lost consciousness and fallen straight back onto the floor. The back of her head took the brunt of the impact.

I have never in my life looked into somebody’s eyes and seen absolutely no trace of consciousness behind them until that moment. Mary was laying there to my left, wide-eyed but completely absent. Susan was to my right, crying. That was the only sound in the entire lobby. Having absolutely no idea what to do next, I called Mary’s name and tried to help her up, but there was no response. She was completely limp. Saying she was "out of it" would be like saying Lance Armstrong used some supplements.
 
Since you won't be needing it anymore, we could use that helmet.
 
That next ten seconds felt like twenty minutes as a team of nurses swarmed and lifted Mary into a wheelchair. Her head lolled and flopped as they settled her in and wheeled her back to an exam room. I picked up Susan – who stopped crying as soon as the nurses got out there – and followed Mary back to the room. The doctor, an older man with white hair and matching beard, came in immediately. The first thing he told me was that Mary would have to go to the emergency room because she passed out, which is beyond the scope of what they do at urgent care. I could only say ‘OK’ and nod. Then I looked at Mary. She was looking right at me and asked, “What happened?” I told her that she fell and hit her head very hard on the floor. Then she asked me, “I fell?” I said yes, and explained again that she hit her head. Then she said her ear hurt. Then she asked me, “Did I fall?” and I said yes. Then she said her ear hurt. Then she asked, “I fell?” Then she said her ear hurt. That went on for the next twenty minutes, at least. Pardon my language, but when the most brilliant person you know can’t remember what you told her two seconds ago, that is scary as shit.

The doctor examined her and determined pretty quickly that she had a temporal bone fracture. Mary asked me if she fell. She also said her ear hurt. Nurses were in and out of the room. I kept explaining to Mary that, yes you fell, and I know your ear hurts. It hurts because you fell and hit your head, but the doctors are going to make it better (having absolutely no idea if that was true). Then the EMS showed up and put Mary in a neck brace. Then they brought out the back board. And Mary asked me if she fell.

While all this was going on, Susan was on my right arm, dead silent, watching the nurses run in and out and the EMS folks put her mother in a neck brace. Then Susan started crying. And do you know what my concussed wife said? My wife, who lost consciousness for the better part of two minutes, and who couldn’t remember why her head hurt despite being told multiple times that she fell? She heard Susan crying and announced to the room, “There’s a pacey in her diaper bag.” If you would have asked Mary where she was, what month it was, what color her hair was, or even what her favorite movie was (it’s Die Hard, by the way), she would have stared at you blankly and said, “Did I fall?” Instead, deep in the mommy processing unit of her brain, she was able to a) hear a crying baby; b) determine the crying baby was her own; c) remember the quickest way to stop the baby from crying; d) remember where the pacifier was; e) put that into clear enough directions that her (at times aloof) husband could hear it amid the commotion in the exam room.  

So guess what I did? I went to the diaper bag and found, as promised, a pacifier.
 
A diagram of the human brain after becoming a mother.
 
They moved Mary to the ambulance and took her to the hospital. Susan and I followed in my car. Mary’s parents met me at the emergency room to take Susan, and I went back to triage with Mary. It turned out she had fractured the mastoid bone behind her ear along with a few other bones in her head. Her ear hurt because she had blood pooling in her middle ear from the fracture. The doctors believe she fell because she was dehydrated after not being able to keep any food or drink down for 24 hours at the time of the incident.

They kept her overnight at the hospital to make sure her vitals were OK and also to make sure she got rehydrated. She still has some hearing loss and a very bad, persistent headache. The good news is that all of this will heal in time, the hearing loss in a few weeks and the bones a bit longer. The bad news is that there really is no treatment for it, so Mary is at the mercy of her own body as to when she gets better. She will be homebound for at least a week, but the wonderful people at both her office and mine have ensured the both of us that they can cover things in our absence. My awesome in-laws live less than an hour away, so they’re also on call to help with Susan (who on top of all of this, has something called adenovirus which will have to “run its course”).

Mary has been very sleepy and resting most the time since she got home. She is 100% back from the concussion and had to pass some crazy hard high-level cognitive function test before she left the hospital. It was like taking the SAT, but less than 12 hours after suffering a mild head trauma. And, of course, she aced it.

And do you know what I learned out of all this? That I no longer have any excuse to ever EVER ask my wife where the pacifiers are.

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