This is part of a series that looks at extraordinary experiences in personal health. Share yours at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm sleeping – that lovely half-conscious doze that glides slowly upward into the morning. Next to me, my wife is sitting in the bed, already showered, and reading with her morning cup of tea. Except she's not. She's slumped back on the pillow, glasses askew, mouth slack, and making guttural zombie snoring noises. Now I'm awake, brain in two parts. One part, Call her name, make sure she's breathing, make sure she's not swallowing her tongue, call an ambulance. The other, Don't think about what could be happening to her.
I'm charging around the small bedroom – naked, because that's how I sleep. Where are my glasses, where the **** is my cellphone? The 911 dispatcher gently but firmly reins me in. Later, I will leave an emotional thank-you note at the dispatch office, for the calmness she instills in me. "Get her off the bed onto the floor. Lay her on her side and make sure she's still breathing." That makes for the most inelegant tango, but I manage it. My wife is breathing, and I hear sirens in the distance. Clothes, don't forget clothes.
I'm observing a collage of surreal events. The EMT techs do their jobs, one checking vitals, the other making contact: "Can you hear me? What is your name? Do you know where you are?" Just coming back to consciousness, my wife replies with name and place and her usual sardonic humour, "My head hurts, my head hurts. If this is a stroke, just kill me now." The tech gives it right back, "I'm sorry but we are not allowed to do that. But it's not a stroke if you can joke." The attending firefighters all chuckle sympathetically.
I'm looking at their half-crouching backs as they focus on my wife, shepherds and wise men in some bizarre take on a nativity scene. One of the policemen chats with me. Yes, there are police there, too, making at least eight people altogether – five of them pushing 6-foot-4 – all tucked under the sloping roof of our small bedroom. What is the young policeman saying? "I looked at this place when it was for sale. You have done it up really well." Then, in a flurry, they are all gone.
I'm driving – literally ambulance chasing as we speed off to the local hospital. I get out of the car and walk as casually as I can into Emergency, to prove to myself that I've got it under control. It is six hours later when I get back to the parking lot, to find the car still running with the doors unlocked.
I'm driving again – now chasing the ORNGE helicopter airlifting my wife to London. First, I go to my stalwart brother-in-law's house, and he drives the rest of the way. We're moving into a different phase now, slower, mostly less intense, but no less worrying. In various forms, interspersed with some moments of panic, it will last the whole month my wife is in hospital.
I'm crying – the neurosurgeon has just given us the diagnosis and treatment plan: ruptured cerebral aneurysm, to be rescued with coils that seal off the blood seeping into her brain. He is very matter of fact, answering all of our questions, and is even sort of encouraging. Apparently, the fact that she did not die in the ambulance indicates a good chance of survival and recovery. I dry my tears, but they are never far away for some time. Calling the kids brought them back in force.
I'm asleep – or trying to convince my brain to shut off and let me sleep. I'm in a hotel near the hospital. I've left my laptop on and plugged in – I forget why. The screen casts a glow into a corner of the room, where an image of my wife appears, to say "Goodbye." This is purely in my rampant imagination, but it gets me all worked up.
So I walk to the hospital at 3 a.m. The security guard calls up to the ward, and sends me up, where the night nurse lets me sit with my wife for a few minutes. No questions asked, no fuss made. I go back to the hotel, turn the laptop off, and sleep until checkout time.
I'm asleep once more – that lovely half-conscious doze. Next to me, my wife is sitting in the bed, reading with her morning cup of tea. This time there are no nasty surprises. It is now eight months after "the event," and we are getting used to the new normal. Because she lived, because she is recovering so amazingly well, it seems deceptively like the old normal. But it is not, and we take much less for granted, least of all each other.
On that score, I am not convinced that we really needed a wake-up call and it certainly did not need to be so extreme.
Jeff Thomason lives in Guelph, Ont.