Gretchen and I were both a bit stressed because our realtor had scheduled a showing for the next day, and the house was a mess. A painter had been there all day, and I was leaving for golf first thing in the morning. So much to do! About 5:00 pm I was in the basement putting paint cans away when I heard Gretchen coming down the stairs. Then I heard her fall. I rushed to her as she landed motionless on the concrete at the bottom of the stairs, her right face pressed to the floor. I shouted her name repeatedly, but she was unresponsive. I immediately called 911. I was consumed with fear. After a couple of minutes, she began to move...the longest couple of minutes of my life.
When the EMTs arrived, she came around and it seemed like maybe she was OK, but over her protestations, we insisted that the ambulance take her to Anna Jaques hospital in Newburyport for observation. There, a CT scan revealed the bad news: she had an epidural hematoma, an arterial hemorrhage in the brain. To make things worse, the scan showed a midline shift of the brain, indicating a rather traumatic accumulation of blood compressing her brain, not to mention some skull fractures. That's when they called for a helicopter to get her to a neurosurgeon in Boston ASAP. This was now a race against time to save her life! An excruciating hour later, the Life Flight chopper finally arrived, and they whisked her off to Beth Israel Hospital.
|Gretchen boarding helicopter|
I tried not to think the worst as I drove to Boston. I tried desperately to cling to hope. By then, I had read up a little on the Internet about this, and it was not very reassuring, especially the midline shift part. I had to inform the family. I most dreaded the call to Holly in San Francisco, as I knew how devastated she would be. The family gathering began, and we set up a vigil in the OR waiting room. Gretchen had been whisked immediately to surgery upon her arrival around 8:00. The hours ticked away excruciatingly until finally, at midnight, Dr. Alterman, the neurosurgeon, came in to report that she was out of OR and that he had been able to mostly stop the bleeding. He had to remove a large part of her right skull to remove the clot. Because of the fracture, it broke apart and he had to replace it in two pieces. Yikes!
The next 8 hours were fraught with worry and uncertainty as Gretchen struggled to recover. We watched anxiously in the SICU as they checked her responsiveness through the night. She had limited movement on her left side, due to her right brain trauma, but by morning, responsiveness had returned, to the glee of the nurses and us. They finally took her breathing tube out which had kept her from speaking, and one of her first comments was, "I hated that fucking thing". That's when I really felt optimistic about her recovery. Yes, Gretchen was back.
To make a long story short, she is now out of the SICU into a step-down unit, preparing to come home in a few days. Hopefully, she will fully recover. It was a whisker close call. Dr. Alterman told me this morning that she almost died. Only today did I discover that he is the Chief of Neurosurgery at Beth Israel and a world renowned neurosurgeon. How fortunate that he happened to be there that night and that she was able to get there in time for him to save my wife's life!
It's been a hell of a couple of days, but tonight I relaxed and shared Chinese food with Holly and her boyfriend, Ryan. I take some solace from the message in my fortune cookie, which said, "Don't panic". I guess that means it's going to turn out all right. All I can say is, "Wow"!