One of my favorite things about our home is that we have our own little beach at the end of the street. Marsh might be a better word for it. It used to be a mud flat, but the last few years a combination of mysteriously appearing sand and an increase of marsh grass has made it much more beach-like.
We are the only ones willing to tromp across the marsh grass to get to this particular section of beach, so it feels like our own private playground. T has proven himself a very effective construction foreman, ordering Dave and I to help dig a hole complete with a trench that extends down the beach, allowing his hole to fill up before the tide is fully high. He thinks of it as his safe space. It’s there that he swims, catches minnows, and digs up clams and oysters.
Until recently, I thought it was our safe space too. Dave grew up there. I go there when I can’t handle life anymore. It’s the scene of some of our best family memories.
October 29th, 2016. After a morning of trout fishing Dave and T still hadn’t got the fishing bug out of their systems, so they went down to the marsh to scoop up some minnows while I put Gabby down for a nap.
About an hour later, the doorbell rang. I answered the door to find a girl I’d never met before asking if I was Dave’s wife and could I come now? David was stumbling around on the beach, he looked very pale, and she thought he might vomit. I threw on shoes and ran to the beach.
I found him carrying a bucket of minnows toward me across the marsh grass as a neighbor I only know by sight carried T and the fishing poles behind him. David always carries the fishing poles.
As I got closer, he looked like he might fall over at any moment. I put his free arm across my shoulder and we hobbled up the street.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I don’t know. My back hurts”. He leaned heavier on me with every step.
“I’m taking you to the ER. Let’s get straight in the Jeep”.
He didn’t argue. He didn’t say he’ll drive.
That’s when my stomach dropped. He NEVER let’s me drive when we’re together. He drove himself to and from the ER even when he had chest pain that was tentatively diagnosed as pericarditis. There’s an extensive list of ER visits that he did not let me drive him to.
I loaded the boys in the car, grabbed Gabby from in the house and we left.
The drive to West Roxbury had never been longer. David couldn’t remember the date. Or what we did that morning. Or that he he’d just caught the biggest rainbow trout of his life. I don’t think he even remembered that T had been at the beach with him. We had the same conversations over and over again. He cried. I tried not to show how scared I was. The kids were very quiet in the back seat.
By the time we got to the hospital, he couldn’t lift his legs or feel his toes. For once, we barely had to wait. They got an IV in and took what looked like a pint of blood. They asked a million questions that he couldn’t answer. He’d look at me, and I’d ask if they were testing his memory or if they really wanted to know. Gabby colored in a chair and contemplated sliding across the tile in her socked feet. I forgot to grab her shoes. T watched every little detail and stayed very, very quiet.
When they asked what happened, all I could say was that the neighbors saw him stumbling around and came to check on him. They found him trying to get up off the ground. T is the only one who was there.
“T, can you tell me what happened to daddy at the beach?”
“He was just on the sand. I was just playing. I didn’t know anything was wrong.” He’s using his little man voice.
“Can you tell me, did he lay down or fall down?”
“Did he talk to you when he was laying down?” The doctor was chiming in now.
“No” His little man voice disappears when the doctors are asking.
“Were his eyes closed?”
“Yes, but he wasn’t sleeping”. He hid his face in my leg.
“Was he moving when he was laying down?”
And that’s all he said. My saint of a sister in law picked up the kids after that, so I could focus on Dave.
Almost as soon as the doctors left, Dave fell asleep. I sat next to his bed, looking between his pale face (that I didn’t even know could be pale) and the monitor displaying his vital signs.
Everything after that is a bit of a blur. The nurse took him to get an MRI that took 2 1/2 hours. He slept more. A neurologist visited. Around midnight they admitted him to a med surge unit. I talked with the Neurologist one more time and went home so I could be there when our kids woke up.
That was probably the scariest day of our 6 year marriage. On the flip side, that means every day since has been a little better. The next morning I didn’t go straight to David because we had agreed the night before that the kids shouldn’t come to the hospital and I didn’t have a sitter. I got the kids ready for church because I didn’t know what else to do. It turns out, that was the best thing I could have done.
From the moment we arrived, I was swooped up by people who had heard via the primary president what had happened. I had text her the night before, asking her to find a sub for my class just in case I couldn’t come to church. Every organization in the ward reached out to see how they could help. We had offers for food, visits, blessings, and most appreciated of all, babysitting.
I had always taken pride in the fact that our church has possibly the most amazing emergency reaction system in the world. The LDS church has a reputation for being the first on scene after natural disasters all over the world. I must admit, I had forgotten how well suited the church is to responding to life’s individual catastrophes. It has never been clearer to me that this church is organized as it is by inspiration. Chance could never produce something so effective.
That Sunday G went home with a dear friend, while T and I went to see daddy at the hospital. I had intended to leave T too but when the parting came I could see how scared he was for David. I didn’t really believe he had told us the whole story of what happened on the beach, and I knew he wasn’t going to be able go pretend everything was ok at someone else’s house.
We were met at the hospital with good news. Dave was walking! It was a slow, lopsided walk staggered with back spasms, but it was a huge improvement after the paralysis of the night before. And equally amazing, there was talk of sending him home that day! We decided that T and I would stay until they decided to keep him or said he could come home.
Not long after receiving the good news, our bishop paid us a surprise visit. He brought with him the young men’s president and one of the priests to administer the sacrament. For the first time, I witnessed the sacrament being administered to one. These three priesthood holders drove almost an hour one way to perform this short ordinance for David alone. Our bishop visited the two other patients in the room, asking them to turn down their football game for a moment while the sacred ordinance was administered. They gladly complied, and reverence filled our curtained, private corner of the room as the men blessed and passed one cracker and one tiny sacrament cup of water.
I cannot say how grateful I am that T was there to witness that moment, for it truly was an outpouring of the savior’s love. I hope that he treasures it up in his heart and holds it as his example of how to use the priesthood when it is his turn. It really is there to bless and uplift the one.
David was sent home that evening. We still don’t know what caused the “episode”, as the doctors call it, and there are still some lingering effects. Dave’s memory experienced large gaps his first week home. Though there has been improvement, he still has a hard time remembering things and experiences occasional vertigo. The doctors are still looking for answers. We don’t know why he hasn’t fully recovered or if it may happen again.
We do know that God’s hand has been heavily involved in this experience. He was there when our neighbor glanced out the window and decided to see if everything was alright. He was driving us when I was in shock on the way to the ER. He was there as I drove home from the hospital after being awake for 20 hours with my gas tank on empty. He rallied the ward when I needed support so I could be there for my husband. He was there when David pulled a 98% on a test he couldn’t remember studying for 3 days after his episode. I know everything is going to be ok because God’s hand is in this. No matter how scary things seem, he’s got us.
I write this during an upswing when David appears relatively stable, but I also write this facing the unknown. This episode came at a time when we thought he was perfectly healthy. I feel myself relaxing the more normal he seems, and yet I know that it could happen again when he’s fishing on some lonely dock one night and he’d be gone. I’d be a widow and single mother. But as David says, we can’t stop living because we’re afraid it might happen again. I trust him. And I trust God, even if the worst happens, because I know he’s got us.