“In prosperity our friends know us. In adversity, we know our friends,” my wife read the aphorism inside the fortune cookie. I looked at her. Our eyes met and we smiled. What an adorable saying.
We live in the suburbs of Philadelphia surrounded by friends and even a few relatives. We had parties, picnics, and went for movies together. We went out for lunch on Fridays, talked about politics and cricket in the office kitchen while filling our coffee mugs and shared humorous anecdotes on Whatsapp. We were very proud of our culture and heritage.
Life went on like a well-oiled machine. Until one fine day when it came to a grinding halt when, I ended up in the ICU of Paoli Memorial Hospital.
Let me rewind a little. My name is Pratheep. I have a wife and a son. I am forty seven years young. We live in the Philadelphia suburbs. Wait a second. Didn’t I say that already?
It was January of 2014. To be precise January 13, 2014. I was attending a training in Wilmington Delaware. While driving back home in the evening, my head started to ache. That was something new. I never used to get headaches. But I thought it was just another sign of aging. I have heard about my colleagues complaining about midlife crisis. The nuances of aging. Parts of your bodies start aching and not a day goes without ibuprofen.
But my headache wouldn’t stop. I increased the dosage of Advil and even tried some stronger pain killer my doctor had prescribed for my shoulder pain a year ago. I felt little relived and was certain that I was on the path to recovery.
A few days later, while climbing the stairs at work, my right leg felt little weaker. When I got back to my desk, I couldn’t type accurately. I made too many mistakes. I was using the backspace key more than any other keys. My handwriting, which used to be really good, turned sloppy. I felt as if my right hand and leg were a little numb. I called my doctor on a Thursday and got an appointment for the following Monday. The shrink in me convinced me that I was just making things up and there was nothing wrong with me.
Monday was Martin Luther king’s day. I took the day off since there was no school for my son. At the doctor’s office, my neurological reflexes seemed alright. But the doctor was concerned about the numbness in my arm and leg. He told me to continue to take Ibuprofen and advised me get a MRI done.
When I called the Main Line Health MRI helpline for appointment, I wasn’t very coherent. My responses frustrated the lady on the phone. I got an appointment for Friday at 7:30 AM. It was forecasted to snow the next day. Since I was on blood pressure medication, I had to go through some kind of pretest for the MRI. I got it done early morning before the snow arrived. For the next two days, my son and I stayed home snowed in. I went to work on Thursday. It was an uneventful day.
Friday morning, route 202 north was unusually crowded and I reached the radiology center late. The technician had already started to work on the next patient and rescheduled my appointment to 3:30 PM. I went back to work. At the office, I realized that I had forgotten my cellphone at home. While driving, my right leg did not listen to my brain. At least twice I pressed the gas instead of the brake.
In the evening, around 4 PM, as soon as the MRI was completed, the technician told me that the radiologist wanted to review the result with the neurologist and that I had to be transferred to the emergency room. She brought a wheelchair and told me to sit on it. I felt so awkward. She wouldn’t tell me anything more. Since I didn’t have my cellphone with me, I called my wife from the hospital phone. She was driving my son to his piano class and she missed the call.
I called my wife from the ER again. Since she didn’t recognize the number, she ignored the call. She took it for some annoying marketing call. After several tries, I was finally able to talk to my wife. I told her what I knew. That I was in the ER for additional tests. After an hour or so, the male nurse who came to connect an IV, told me what was going on – the radiologist had noticed a shadow in my MRI image that looked like a blood clot. My wife came. I was moved to the ICU.
I was running around until a few hours ago. Now nobody would let me even walk. The nurses wondered what a perfectly looking guy like me was doing in the ICU. I was surrounded by monitors of all sizes and shapes. In less than two hours, from a perfectly healthy individual, I became an immobile, terminally ill patient.
My wife had to leave since my son was with our neighbor. Later that night, the duty surgeon informed me that I would have to go through a CT scan in the morning and if there was no increase in size of the bleeding, there was a good chance that I would be discharged. I was happy. I felt happier the next morning when the CT scan confirmed that the bleeding was not growing. However, the neurosurgeon came to my room in the afternoon and delivered me the bad news – though there was no active bleeding, it had to be drained. He told me that it wasn’t life threatening that I had to go through an emergency surgery; but the amount of blood was so enormous that he did not want to take any risks. He wanted me to be under monitoring until the blood was drained. A craniotomy was scheduled in two days.
I didn’t have any restrictions. I was allowed watch TV and even work on my computer. Over the next two days, I learned that my condition was called subdural hematoma. According to Wikipedia, it is a type of hematoma, usually associated with traumatic brain injury. Blood gathers between the dura mater, and the brain. Usually resulting from tears in bridging veins which cross the subdural space, subdural hemorrhages may cause an increase in intracranial pressure (ICP), which can cause compression of and damage to delicate brain tissue. Subdural hematomas are often life-threatening when acute. Chronic subdural hematomas, however, have a better prognosis if properly managed. According to the clinical notes, mine was categorized as subacute. I was relieved by the sub prefix. One website said that the survival rate was very low and those who survived suffered permanent brain damage. I sent a status email to my team on the work I was doing. I also sent an email to my manager and few others that I was admitted in the hospital and I had a blood clot. I didn’t tell them where the clot was. Some of my colleagues who knew about my MRI appointment, connected the dots and guessed that the blood clot was in the brain. The news spread. Text messages started to come in. Flowers, greeting cards and balloons followed.
To be contd…