My 29 Year Old Wife Had a Stroke

Sofia helped orchestrate a weekend getaway for me in exchange for her going to a two day concert.  I was going to have a full weekend away in Seattle–I would get to be alone, explore the city, and reflect on everything that had happened since we moved to Washington.  It started off so well.  I took public transit up to the city, had an incredible meal at a Vietnamese restaurant, then hung out at a brewery in an alley.  

After a restful night where I didn’t have to wake up to toddlers crying, I walked over to a fancy coffee shop.  I spent a couple hours at a coffee shop writting and researching public transit and adjusting to the new world that I found myself in. I wrote about the future—and the promise it seemed to hold with all the recent changes.  The move.  The promotion.  The house.  When I wrapped up, I dropped off my laptop at the friends’ house I was staying at and wandered to brunch.  

It had been so long since I ate alone at a restaurant.  It was amazing.  This brunch location was filled with millennials late on the Saturday morning.  Sitting alone I was able to skip the line and sit at the bar.  I drank a hard cider and watched the cooks do their thing as I ate.  It was a great meal.  I paid by scanning a QR code and paying online–something that seems to be going mainstream in the pandemic but the first time I ever did it.  When I left, I started back toward my friends’ house with a full belly.  I was thinking about taking a nap before heading to the Link and going downtown in the afternoon to seek out authentic Chinese food and fulfill a fancy bar recommendation I had received years ago..

I put in my earbuds, turned on some ambient music, and walked back.  The music cut out two blocks out from the house.  I was getting a call.  I pulled out my phone and saw that it was my wife.  I assumed she just put the kids down for a nap and wanted to talk.  I answered.  And, honestly, that is the last moment that I felt normal.  That I didn’t feel scared.

As I listened to her fumble through incoherent words, then nearly scream “I DON KNEW WATS APPENIN,” my world broke. I got her to mumble a few words that made it sound like she couldn’t feel her right arm.   I know the signs of a stroke—I’ve had enough cholesterol issues myself to learn what to look out for.  I told her to hang up and dial 911.  I immediately realized she would struggle to talk with the operator. So I dialed as well.  Seattle dispatch quickly sent me down to Tacoma dispatch.  Once I described what was happening, I was told that my wife was on the line of the woman next to my operator.  I clarified everything and they disconnected telling me dispatch was on their way.

I was back at the house when they disconnected.  Suddenly I realized how isolated I was.  I had taken public transit up.  No one was home.  I was an hour out–if I had a car.  I called Sarah.  No answer.  I called Kristen.  No answer.  I called Paul.  He answered, confused.  I choked out the words that I never imagined I would have to say: “Sofie’s having a stroke.  I need help.”  He told me he would figure it out and call me back.  I packed my bag as quickly as I could, filled my water bottle, and tried to make myself puke so I wouldn’t puke in someone’s car.  It didn’t work.

Paul called me back.  He said his wife would be there within ten minutes to pick me up and that Meg, a friend much closer to our house, was en route to be with Sofia.  I thanked him, hung up, and called Sofia.  The paramedics were with her.  I heard them kind of annoyed, telling me they were trying to get her to calm down.  Not wanting to make the situation worse, I told her what was happening, told her that I loved her, and told her I’d be there soon.

Kristen arrived much faster than expected.  She flew down I-5.  She was amazing at getting me to calm down.  I called my dad on the way down as well.  Between the two of them, I was able to center myself and prepare for what was ahead.  When we got close, we heard that the paramedics had not taken her–they called it a panic attack and left.  I’ll never forgive those faceless paramedics.  My wife had a phantom right arm and speech dispashia and they thought it was a fucking panic attack?! Fuck you.  I don’t care that she is 29–those are stroke symptoms and you don’t take chances with that.

She was taking a shower when we arrived.  We hugged for a very long time.  She tried to talk to me.  If she focused really hard, she could get some words out, but they were heavily slurred.  She often burst into tears when she couldn’t get a word out or couldn’t get her point across.  After less than a minute with her, I walked back into the living room and told Kristen that I would need her to help watch the kids–I had to take Sofia to the ER.  She expected it and was ready.  She was amazing.  And when Sofia came out, she got to see how bad it was.

We went to the urgent care next to the hospital.  I explained what happened to the woman at the front desk.  She immediately called a nurse over for triage.  When I told her what was going on, they told us to go across the street to the emergency room.  We crossed the street and checked in.  We were pulled back into the ER within minutes.  I was able to get past the “COVID No Visitors” rule by telling them she needed someone to help her communicate with nurses and doctors.  

The next four hours were a flurry of nurses, doctors, blood tests, CT Scans, and an MRI.  At the end, the doctor confirmed that my wife, at 29, had a stroke.  No matter how minor, the reality that something like that could happen was terrifying.  As they prepared a room for Sofia, I had to leave–the no visitors rule was much stricter outside the ER.  

I went home, relieved Kristen, put the kids to sleep, and started making calls and texts.  I updated everyone.  I updated the friends who helped me in my time of need.  I called my sister and my parents.   Then, knowing that I had put it off too long, I took a deep breath and called Sofia’s family.  That was probably the most difficult phone call I ever had to make.  They were all sitting together when I called.  I did my best to explain the severity of what had happened but also explain that she was okay.  Being able to tell them that her speech was normalizing helped soften to the blow—for them.

It didn’t for me.  In hours since she called, I had played out a hundred versions in my mind.  Ones where she was gone and I had two boys who have never been to daycare.  Ones where she spent months in rehab.  Ones where she was paralyzed.  And it wasn’t stopping.  As the calls ended and I was finally alone, the thoughts of her having a secondary stroke overnight hit me hard.  I put my phone on as loud as I could before I went to bed.

Sunday was strange.  Just me and the boys.  All day.  Mommy in the hospital down the street–except neither of them could understand that.  It was so lonely.  All I had to do was hold it together.  And I did. I walked the boys around in their stroller.  We went to the coffee shop with the kid section.  We walked by the hospital and waved to mommy through a window that we couldn’t see through—but at least she saw us.

She got out on Monday–after 48 hours in the hospital.  Our routine went back to normal.  We made dinner together.  We went for walks together.  But there are small things.  She had to wear a heart monitor for two weeks.  She questions herself when she stumbles over a word.  Her right hand gets tired far easier than ever before.  And I am still holding it together–frozen by the fear of losing her.

I am just so relieved that I didn’t lose her.

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