The Night That Lasted 16 Years


“Lois,” I heard faintly, as I was roused from my cozy sleep, “I think I’m having a stroke.” Lionel, my then 51-year-old husband was standing at the foot of our double bed. It wasn’t at all unusual for him to be up at 4:35 AM as he was habitually a nocturnal person. Before he eerily melted in front of me, his final words were “You’ll have to take charge now.” He lapsed in unconsciousness never to talk a sentence again.

“Girls,” I shouted upstairs, “Dad has fainted; “I need help!” Luckily, at that time, December 2, 1981 both of our college-age daughters, Lisa and Mara were living at home. They anxiously watched over their Dad while I called the paramedics.

In came the “neighbor’s” cat that spent most of the time at our house. He sauntered over to where Lionel was lying on the floor and gently licked his face. I’d like to think this caused a slight smile but I won’t deny it happened either.

Soon, 8 minutes to be exact, there were eight men and two units that responded to my frantic call. “Ma’am, his blood pressure is 260 – we have to get him to the hospital right now”.

I went in the ambulance with him while our daughters closed up the house and followed in one of their cars. Although he was holding his own on the ride, according to the medics, it seemed to me to be interminably l-o-n-g.

By the time we got to the hospital Dr. Weinburg, who later talked to the 3 of us, had called in a neurosurgeon, Dr. Mark Anderson. My inner resolve broke when he informed us that surgery, a craniotomy, was necessary. In his dry, straight forward manor he intoned “The only thing he has going for him is his age.”

Surgery was to be over in 4 hours and hallelujah, it was! For the first time Dr. Anderson seemed to be mildly elated. “All went well and when we went in we did so with the idea of preserving his speech.” Later this was clarified and it provided a moment of comic relief for me. Looking at the admission form they saw he was a psychologist. They didn’t realize he was in R & D, not private practice.

“He is a very injured man,” Dr. Hornstein said seriously. I immediately bonded with this caring neurologist who took the time to inform me of exactly what had happened to my 6 foot husband. Because Lionel’s older brother had had a triple bypass I informed myself through a hospital class all about the warning signs for a heart attack. I knew from nothing about strokes. Wasn’t that an old person’s disease?

As so often happens with emergency post-surgery pneumonia set in. The list of doctors I had to interface with was growing. Dr. Eilbert, Dr. Singh. Then on the weekends there were others. It was as though Pandora’s Box had opened. I was becoming overwhelmed. “Neurologically, he is better” one said. Another offered,” He has turned the corner.” “Lionel is a hard-core diabetic and will be insulin dependent for the rest of his life.” “There is a possibility of removing a kidney.” Help, Lionel told me I was to take charge now. Was I? Being on overload it was difficult for me to be objective. Stoicism, a result of my 100% Norwegian heritage helped.

The 3 of us were a team as far as taking care of all the phone calls from concerned friends, relatives, co-workers at home and visiting the ICU. I truly felt the love and concern that so many articulated. Personally, I appreciated my principal from my school in Hawthorne who came to sit with us during his surgery. The nurses also were so kind to us and answered our constant questions.

Emotionally, it is tough to walk in and see your beloved with tubes, machines, lip separator, IV’s and an ice blanket over him. It is also strange to see him without his usual bold, black glasses on. Add to this they had to shave his hair for the surgery which necessitated removing the bone plate from the left side of his head. I was given the scalp. What next? I ached, in private for the Lionel that used to be,

Next was another type of pneumonia, a molar abscess, then a tracheotomy , more CAT scans, hands swollen from IV’s, then opening a central area vein as his leg veins weren’t going to last. Would normalcy ever prevail, I wondered? Now a nephrologist was called in. It was decided not to take a kidney as he needs both even though they are damaged.

Why was I so guarded in using the word “stroke” with his Xerox friends? They kept pressuring for a diagnosis but I was afraid to say exactly what had happened. Was I really afraid to face the horrible, undeniably truth? When they came to visit, of course, they saw for themselves .At least signing up for long term disability made me feel better financially.

Day 8 brought some miraculous improvement Mara and I thought. He moved his head, held eyes open for long periods and massaged our hands with his thumb. Pure joy!

Now it is hiccups. Every new medical situation calls for more meds. Sometimes I feel he is a human guinea pig and they are trying any and all treatments. Dialysis was started and a new type of bed was ordered. I was thrilled to hear a Dr. say,” The numbers are stacking up in his favor.”

It’s like I’m in a 3 ring circus: home, hospital and school. If that isn’t enough it is Christmas time and I have a program to do at school, decorating in and out, baking and cooking at home plus getting ready for my mother and father to visit for 10 days. What a merry-go-round!

After 6 weeks Lionel was moved to St. Mary’s in Long Beach where he stayed until May 24, 1984 –a total of 2 ½ years of hospitalization.

Even though this happened in December of 1981, and Lionel lived until November of 1997, to this day whenever I hear or see an ambulance with its siren on I say a silent prayer for that person.

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