Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Lacuna





                I find it hard to write my words of encouragement this month. 
                My best friend and constant companion (and husband) Jerry had a lacunar stroke on March 28. It's so named from the lacuna or "hole" marking the damage to his brain. It happened quickly on a Monday morning with his legs not working and then he began to slur his words. We were 10 minutes from the 911 call that started him on IV fluids and took him to the ER, another 15 minutes away.
                We spent the day in emergency as they assessed, looking for some reason for his symptoms. His vital signs were good.  Maybe early flu symptoms could explain his weakness and difficulty talking.  He could still do those things but with effort. At the end of the day after all the blood and urine tests came up normal they did an MRI, had it read, and sent us home knowing we were scheduled to his family doctor the next day.
                But early the next morning the Emergency Room doctor of the day before called and said she'd asked another radiologist who specializes in strokes to read the MRI and he felt that yes, there'd been a stroke and they'd scheduled Jerry to see a neurologist that afternoon. 
                There, we were given a picture of the lacuna, a small white dot in the image of his brain and we began to learn what is ahead.
                Earlier this year I'd read Barbara Kingsolver's novel Lacuna, a brilliant piece of writing that is both historical novel, cultural  and political exploration of the early 1920s and beyond; art history, and deep and clarifying story. It was the first time I'd heard of the word lacuna a word with great meaning for the character in her book.
                Now lacuna has great meaning for us.
                Lacunar strokes are caused mainly by hypertension which Jerry was being treated for and aging. He's remained active and never looked his age but we never know what's going on inside of us.
                Compared to many stroke victims I've known and loved -- my mom died of complications of congestive heart failure and a stroke six years ago -- Jerry looks good. He has strength in his hands. He can dress himself, walk (though very unstable right now). He can talk with effort.  He never looked like a man in his 80s and the few days before his stroke he was at the ranch working (as his bad back allowed) with his son on a hay bailer, getting it ready to sell.  He didn't feel well on Saturday but drove home. He was very tired, but since he is often tired due to chronic back pain, I didn't worry. But on Sunday the fatigue seemed worse and even attending a concert in Redmond didn't seem to cheer him as it might. So on Monday morning I called to get him in to see the doctor the next day worried about the tiredness, a chronic cough and small weight loss.
                 An hour later there were EMTs in the bedroom getting him settled on the gurney and off to the hospital.
                To others who never knew him before the stroke, he looks good for 80 and someone who just had a stroke. But to me, there's a lacuna in his eyes, a distance deep I've never seen not even when he had cancer or his colon erupted or he had complications from his gall bladder surgery or the airplane accident with its many bone injuries. He recovered from all of those and all the specialists are hopeful that with physical therapy and speech therapy which he begins soon he will recover the motor functions lost from this lacuna stroke.
                 But what of the haunted look, the lacuna in his eyes?  Will that go away? Is it trauma, brain swelling? Is this in some small portion what wives and husbands see when their soldier-spouse returns from combat?
                Today I am so grateful we were here, close to medical care, a reason I had wanted to move but one I hoped would never be experienced.  All that happened to get us here last year was Providential, I see that now.  
              What I can read about such strokes says the sooner treatment is begun the better and the doctor yesterday said we likely caught it as it was happening  being alerted quickly to the symptoms of something going wrong. We had a persistent and competent ER doctor who went the next step in getting us seen quickly and referring us to good care. We have family and old friends here, looking after us. Our new neighbors across the street have been wonderful taking Bo for a long walk, bringing flowers and gluten-free food, just sitting and talking with Jerry.  Jerry's son and daughter in law will stay here next week while I'm traveling and his daughter will come from Florida the next two weeks and then we'll see how to manage our lives with Jerry not able to drive and me still "working."
                But I realize more than ever that as I enter this time of book promotion with my latest coming out next week, that this fun part of meeting people, sharing stories, encouraging others in their daily walk, will be different this year.  Jerry's heard me speak hundreds of times and he says it's always new to him. I see him in the back of the room, his smile assuring me that all is well. Afterwards it's Jerry who tells me to relax, reminds me of the stories of people I spoke with, shares what others tell him about what the books have meant to them. If we have the dogs along, we share tending them. Ours is a team of nearly 35 years.
                All that will not be in this season of promotion. I have commitments to keep made with the joy of sharing travel time with Jerry in mind. There are those who will be with him here, keeping him safe while I'm on the road. We pray for his full recovery and that the haunting look will be replaced in this next year by that twinkle just before he corrected something I said -- it was our practice to keep each other "right" though we frequently decided to be happy rather than being right.
                If you come to an event for The Daughter's Walk  or any other's scheduled this spring and summer, know that I will be ever grateful to meet and see you, thankful for your interest in my stories.  But in this season of travel and presentations, there will be a lacuna in the back of the room where Jerry used to sit, smiling; and a lacuna in my heart.

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