A Miracle Occurs: We’re Home

A miracle occurred over the weekend: Richard’s neurology team at the Denver VA Medical Center moved Heaven and Earth–or at least a lumbering but well-meaning bureaucracy–to get him released this afternoon. So instead of spending the next ten days in the hospital, he’ll continue his treatment via thrice-daily IV infusions at home. In our own house, which means we can sleep–together–in our own bed, eat our own simple meals; we can harvest the squash that got way too big in the garden while we were away, along with the strawberries and tomatoes and greens. We can recuperate in peace and quiet, breathe in fresh air, track the change from green to gold in the aspens splotching the mountainsides above town while the last few migrating hummingbirds zip around feeding in the yard, hold hands and talk about nothing in particular, do yoga and watch the dawn light color the peaks, and lie in bed tracing the nighttime patterns of the stars.

Salad  

Home seemed much farther than 130 miles away last week as we did our best to keep afloat in the waves created by the storm in Richard’s brain. We might not have made it without the care and kindness of his neurology team at the Denver VA Medical Center. So here’s a shout out to Drs. Tyler, Filley, Anderson, Allen, and Kuykendall, plus med student Dave Otten, who acted as our patient rep (and yes, I mean both senses of the word “patient”–Dave was patient and caring even when things got scary, and he was my personal link to the neurology team). 

Thanks to their devotion to turning over every rock and figuring out what went wrong in Richard’s brain (no snickering out there!), he’s alive and has recovered. Mostly. The remaining recovery will take time and patience and rest. What happened? We may never know. The most likely cause? A viral infection in his right front temporal lobe that caused it to swell, resulting in his fascinating and disconcerting array of visual abnormalities.

The thing about viral infections, we learned, is that they can come up gradually, peak, and vanish fairly quickly, leaving precious little behind to track. So they’re tough to verify. And they can have some pretty grim consequences if not treated promptly: People die from them. Or end up with permanent brain damage. Hence his two-week treatment with heavy-duty anti-viral drugs, via IV, so that the drugs have the best chance of making it through the blood-brain barrier and controlling the viruses. 

Richard rebounded pretty quickly thanks to the attention of his neurology team, and to the caring nursing staff on the Fifth Floor of the VA Medical Center. His swift improvement is what made the miracle possible, along with the herculean efforts of Dr. Sarah Kuykendall, who carefully documented his recovery and tirelessly advocated for his release to home health care, even though we live way beyond immediate oversight. We’re so far away that we can’t even see Denver sky glow from here, much less get to the ER quickly. So home we (I) drove this afternoon, bearing a box of supplies for the thrice-daily infusions, which I’ll be administering under the supervision of a visiting nurse. On the drive we saw not one, but two rainbows. I take that for a very good sign.

Rainbow

Did we figure out how to have a residency in our six-day hospital experience? Sort of. Practicing mindfulness in the face of a health crisis didn’t always go smoothly but did bring us some unexpected gifts.

One was not allowing an incredibly stressful situation to interfere with thoroughly enjoying every moment of a visit from our daughter, Molly, who flew in Friday from San Francisco for the weekend. Her company turned the regime of spending twelve hours a day in the hospital into precious time to just be together. Her company lifted her daddy’s spirits enormously and helped me make it through the long days. (That’s a photo of the two of them on an outing to use the wireless internet at the hospital across the street.)

Mollyrichard

Another gift was the experience of receiving quality health care from a government-run system. No death panels, no rationing, no hint that anyone was considering anything other than figuring out what was wrong and treating it. I wish I qualified for the VA system. What a relief it would be to simply be cared for without argument or being drowned in a sea of paperwork.

Perhaps the best gift though was the experience of living through a crisis with eyes, mind, and heart wide open. It’s hard to be mindful when you’re scared, exhausted, and sick. But it does help. Being mindful in such a situation doesn’t make you less scared, exhausted, or sick; it allows you to be those things and not let them be you. It means you swim–or at least float–when you might otherwise sink.

For tonight though, it’s enough that Richard and I are home, that we can recognize each other, and we that get to sleep–together–in our own bed, under a skylight that lets us watch the turning of the stars.

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