A stroke of luck

I’m writing this column not long after Cathy wrapped up the longest hospital stay either of us has had in our nearly 10-year marriage, and one of the longest either of us has experienced in our entire lives.

But we look beyond her five-night stay on the stroke floor at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital, we’re both aware that we have a lot to celebrate about the events of the previous week.

Now, I’ll cut to the chase: Cathy did indeed have a stroke, in two different parts of her brain, at some point in late March or early April.

The likeliest scenario is that it happened on the evening of Good Friday, when she and some friends were in the audience at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Judique for the fundraising theatrical event The Passion, which included me among its cast.

Cathy enjoyed the first show and was going to stay for the second and go home with me, but suddenly she experienced extreme dizziness and opted to go home with our friends from Port Hawkesbury. She also says she experienced some difficulty in talking on this night, although our friends later told us that they didn’t hear any slurred speech, a common sign of stroke.

Feeling better when I got home that evening but still having waves of dizziness and fatigue over the following 24 hours, Cathy knew something was up and we headed to the Strait-Richmond Hospital in Evanston on the last Saturday afternoon in March. We were treated well by the nursing staff and the attending ER physician, Dr. Mark Sampson, who gave a reasoned and easily-understandable run-down of potential outcomes and connected with the folks at St. Martha’s to set up a CT scan and a chest X-ray for Cathy that evening.

We arrived in Antigonish just in time for all of that to take place, and were then told that Cathy would have to be admitted to St. Martha’s stroke wing for three nights, as the MRI that would tell the tale of her condition wouldn’t be available until the Tuesday after Easter and she would have to wait for weeks, potentially months, to have that brain scan completed if we went home immediately.

Having seen both the advantages and complexities of Nova Scotia’s health care system in a matter of hours but knowing that our situation was not nearly as complicated as those faced by many others in the same wing, we agreed to get Cathy settled into her third-floor bed and took it from there.

Finally, after 60 hours of uncertainty, we got the news that Cathy would indeed get her MRI at noon on the first Tuesday in April. More astounding – and sobering – news came later that day, as Cathy’s attending physician confirmed that she had indeed experienced a stroke but that the medical team was pleased with her progress and expected to be able to release her after a final round of tests over the following days.

And yet, as we both look back on it all and greet the aftermath of a serious cardiac issue, Cathy and I know that we can count ourselves lucky.

First, and most importantly: It was frightening, to say the least, but this stroke didn’t carry the debilitating effects that usually accompany such a life-changing development. Cathy won’t be able to drive for a month, is now on a number of medications to deal with her blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and will have to make some difficult lifestyle choices – as will I – to deal with the “new normal” that comes with the period following an event like this. But we’re embracing that together and, above all else, she is still the Cathy that I know and love. And she would have been that Cathy even if things had gone completely southward with this development.

We received nothing but the highest quality of care at both the Strait-Richmond and St. Martha’s, and while we always knew we had no reason to view either facility negatively, we have a heightened respect for these hardworking people and all they experience on a regular basis. We’re also grateful to our family, friends, and even casual acquaintances and complete strangers that have reached out to us and made this a little easier for us.

No, we’re not happy that this happened. But we feel that it happened in the right part of the world, with the right people around us, and possibly even at the right time in our lives. A lot of people aren’t so fortunate, so we have many reasons to thank God for the circumstances He has presented to us in the first few weeks of this eventful spring of 2018.