The year 2013 was full of highs and lows for Redditor ‘wellyjup’ and her husband.
‘wellyjup’ shared what happened:
Full story: we met, and it was that magic thing where you just know. We moved in, adopted cats, and built a life together. His synethesisers and video games intermingled with my law books and we were happy. He was and is the best person I’ve ever met.
That day was sticky Melbourne summer and we decided to have some pre-dinner fun. After he finished, he clutched his head and said that he had the worst headache ever. He fell off the bed onto the floor and start to convulse and vomit. He was unconscious for about a minute, and then when he came to he couldn’t stand. I asked him if he was ok, and his words came out a slur, like someone who’d been drinking for days. Turns out he’d had a stroke with the initial bleed.
I knew something was very, very wrong, and decided to drive him to hospital. He was totally naked and covered in vomit, and dressing him was fairly impossible- in retrospect it seems so funny. I’m not sure why I didn’t call an ambulance- the thought didn’t cross my mind. He was fighting me, telling me in his terrible slur that all he wanted to do was sleep. On the drive to the hospital I told myself it was bad food poisoning or a migraine. He retched and dozed next to me. He had no colour in his lips.
When we got to emergency I expected to wait for hours, but the triage nurse only took a moment before we were rushed in. They whisked him away for a scan, and a doctor came to me and said I needed to contact his parents. He’d had a bleed in his brain, they explained, and he needed to move to ICU to be monitored. My best friend is a doctor at the hospital we went to, and I called her. She came quickly. I was grateful for the honesty that no-one in emergency could give me. A brain hemorrhage and young people don’t bode well. It was possible that he would die. She later told me that she felt sure that he would. Unbeknownst to me, my friends prepared a plan in those first few weeks to take care of me if he died.
His parents live interstate and they both got on the first flights. He was the only person in ICU who wouldn’t have qualified for a pensioner’s card. At 3 in the morning, the tiny Vietnamese nurse caring for him told me I needed to sleep, and that it was going to be a long time before he could leave. I remember at that point being bewildered by the shoes I’d slipped on in our rush to leave the house. They were my oldest, grubbiest sneakers, splashed with his vomit.
The lovely nurse showed me the waiting room and got me a blanket. I’d just started nodding off when a doctor shook me awake. The words were a mess and I couldn’t make sense of them. He’d stopped responding, and then he’d struggled to breathe. They needed to do emergency surgery because he’d developed hydrocephalus after a second, bigger bleed. There was a high chance he’d die during surgery. A chance he’d be paralysed. He’d die without it. I consented.
It was morning and he still hadn’t emerged from surgery. His parents were close. Our friends started to stream into ICU. Finally, someone came out to see me. They’d drilled holes into his skull and inserted tubes that were pumping out fluid and blood from his brain cavity. Those little tubes would drain into a bag beside him for a while. He was in an induced coma. They couldn’t tell us how he’d wake up.
We all took turns by his bed- he was all puffed up on IV fluids and the tube in his mouth gave him a funny half smile. They’d shaved off his beard so that they could tape the breathing tube to his mouth. He looked foreign and young.
A few days later, they woke him up. He panicked and tugged on the tube, and the nurse with him told him not to touch it. He flipped her the bird. That rude little gesture was totally joyful. He was functioning. They moved him up to neuro, and I never loved someone so enormously.
The next few weeks sucked. He had good days followed by strings of bad ones. They tried angiograms to stop the site of the bleeding, but none worked. The bag of fluid with the drain of his brain dripped heavy and red. He got infections in the burrs in his head, and he seemed smaller every day. We discovered the extent of the damage to his speech. His writing was illegible. But we were lucky. He shared a room with three other people- one, a man ten years older, had no higher brain function and could only breathe through a tube in his throat. His three young daughters hovered around his bed. In front of us was a man who spoke in varying accents and would intermittently undress, exposing his catheterised penis to the entire ward. He told us that it was 1974, and that he was waiting for a train in London. The man diagonally across from us was in his sixties, and his brain bleed had somehow stopped his stomach from functioning. A bag of dark green goo poured from a thick tube from his belly. One day he pointed at the bag and asked the nurse: ‘Can I eat this?’
They decided that my favourite person needed open brain surgery. The bleed was near his brain stem, and they needed to seal off the area. It was a dodgy connection between an artery and a vein. It was something he was born with- something that was waiting to happen. It could have been a coughing fit, or intense exercise. The running joke was that I’d f*cked his brains out. Even his mum managed an awkward laugh.
They cut around his right ear, and peeled it back. They sawed open his brain, and sealed off the tiny area that had caused us so much trouble. The surgeons at the hospital were remarkable. When he came back from surgery his head looked mummified. He slept for a few days. I played Plants vs Zombies between staring at him for hours.
They wanted him to try to walk. He struggled. His legs wouldn’t work, and his balance was tricking him. Little by little, with the help of physiotherapists and a walking frame, he learned to steady himself. Speech therapy slowly allowed him intelligible sentences. We practised drawing clocks and cubes, and saying tongue twisters slowly. On one wonderful day, we figured out that if I very gently lay down on his left hand side, we could cuddle each other.
One morning I came in and his tubes were gone. A few days later, he surprised us all by walking without a walker. He was proud and shaky as a toddler. The next week, nearly two months after the first bleed, they sent him home.
The next few months were hard- he was exhausted and limited, and still coming to terms with what had happened to him. Gradually, he eased back to himself, and was able to return to work. He won’t ever be the same- his speech is still affected, and he gets tired and headachey easily. Compared to what it could have been, this is remarkable. We are so fortunate for the public healthcare system in Australia- the nurses and doctors were remarkable. They saved his life.
We got married in December, and mini-us arrives in May. She has a remarkable Daddy. We’re ridiculously lucky.