THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
As I mentioned last week, Gwen the Beautiful and I went to St. Louis recently, and although we did some tourist things our visit had a serious purpose.
In December of 2003, at the age of 48, Gwen suffered a major stroke. We were settling in to watch the debut of Angels In America on HBO when, Wham! she fell to the floor with an excruciating pain in the back of her head. At the same time, her world turned black. She couldn’t see.
I was an idiot and didn’t know what was going on. After about half an hour, when neither the pain nor the darkness had gone, we headed for the nearest hospital. Baxter Regional, 45 minutes away.
The E.R. was empty, and the staff went right to work. Within two hours we knew that Gwen had had a blood clot in her brain and that the clot had cleared up by the time we reached the hospital.
But loss of oxygen had taken out part of the brain where signals sent by her eyes are processed. Bottom line: Her eyes work just great. But everything seen by the right half of each eye no longer computes. Picture two circles on a piece of paper, half of each of them blacked out. That’s Gwen’s vision as of that night. And now.
Since then we’ve spent a great deal of time and money in doctors’ offices, trying to find out what caused the stroke. We want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And we want to find out what we can do to help her regain her full sight.
The consensus of the doctors we’d seen up to last week was, “Sorry, but we’re clueless about what happened here. None of the usual culprits seems to be involved,” and, “There’s not much hope of your vision improving.”
In a sense, our trip to the Neurology Department of Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis was our last hope. In the language of the medical profession, Barnes is a “tertiary care center.” Translation: “The hospital of last resort.”
At Barnes leading specialist Dr. Sylvia Awadallah looked over all of Gwen’s records and tests. Sylvia asked a lot of questions, examined Gwen thoroughly, and acknowledged that, “So far we’re clueless about what happened here,” and, “There’s not much hope of your vision improving.”
But then Sylvia suggested a test other doctors had decided against, and another no one else had considered.
The first test is a spinal tap, to see if anything in Gwen’s spinal fluid can shed light on the mystery.
The second is an angiogram of her brain’s circulation. Sylvia doesn’t know what she’s looking for, but these are the last two places to look.
We scheduled the tests for later this summer, and the next day as we drove home we talked about everything Gwen’s been through since that December night. She’s an artist. Folk paintings. Hasn’t done much of it lately.
Hasn’t done any driving since the stroke either – can’t see anything coming on the right. Has a mess of trouble reading or watching TV. A big movie screen is overwhelming.
Real life is overwhelming for Gwen too.
It’s easier for her to see in the city than in the country because city vistas are smaller and more crowded together, but from her perspective all new places are incomplete and filled with shadows where anything can lurk.
She makes herself go out. But the fear is there.
The fear that comes when doctors look at your test results and say, “Whoa! That’s not how the brain of a 49 year old woman should look!”
The fear that comes from not being able to believe that the precautions she’s taking against another stroke are going to mean a thing.
As we left the St. Louis area we saw a billboard asking drivers to become organ donors. It was a reminder that “Your organs can save others’ lives.”
Gwen looked over at me.
“I’ve already set that up,” she said. “My eyes are fine. They’ll help somebody someday.”
All I could do was nod. Gwen snuggled closer.
I drove on. I held the woman I love more than anything in the world as tightly as I could while we both cried.
It wasn’t the first time we’ve cried together about what’s happened, and it won’t be the last.