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Monday, February 25, 2013

Near Tragedy

On Friday, I composed a new post discussing my latest lab results, my lunch with fellow MM patient Mike, the recent FDA approval of pomalidomide, and my forthcoming golf vacation.  I was about to publish it, but then decided to hold off for a while and come back later to edit it.  However, as the saying goes, life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. 

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"!


  1. Well, I'm a little late, but reading this blog made me feel like I was living through Gretchen's accident and surgery right now myself! Thank God she is all right. I will continue to pull for her complete recovery!

  2. OMG, that is so awful, what a close call, I'm truly relieved she is ok. What an ordeal for her and of course you having to wait thru surgery . My thoughts are with you both, hope she makes a speedy recovery,
    Take care.

  3. I'm so glad you are moving. Those fucking stairs have been out to get her since you moved in. Love you all.

  4. Bill,

    I am so sorry to hear this news, how terrifying. I am thinking of you and your family. My thoughts and prayers are with you, truly.

    Take care,

  5. I was happy to hear from Barbara that Bill reported that she will be moved to Rehap in Portsmouth, NH today 2/26.

  6. I'm glad things are turning out okay. We lost a bedroom, but moved the laundry upstairs to avoid having such a thing happen here.

  7. Dear Bill, My heart goes out to you & Gretchen as I read over and over your terrifying experience. You write so soulfully that tears come immediately. Thank you for putting the details in writing so we can be there with you in spirit. Glad to hear Gretchen is now comfortably in rehab. Look forward to seeing you all when the time is right for visitors. Lots of Love, Hugs and Purrs from Michelle, Nick & the kitties.

    1. Hi Bill, Thank you so much for the explicit info
      that you've provided about Gretchen's fall and
      thank goodness the successful surgery. I'm very
      sorry for what you and Gretchen have been though. I spoke with her briefly this morning and
      I will call you soon.
      Very best of wishes and love,
      Chris and Roger

  8. Hi Bill,
    Thank you for the explicit info that you've provided. I spoke briefly to Gretchen this morning and I'm so glad that
    she made out. I'm very sorry for what happened and for what
    you and Gretchen went through. If there's anything at all
    that Roger and I can do please let us know.
    I'll call you soon.
    Very Best of wishes love,
    Chris and Roger

  9. Thank you for your post, Bill.
    My thoughts are with you and Gretchen and
    I'm sending best wishes for a full recovery from such a harrowing ordeal.
    Love to you both,
    Rebecca I.

  10. Hi Bill,
    What frightful event, thank you for sharing, it is a great way to allow us all to send some love to you and Gretchen. Your heart wrenching account makes me feel like I am watching it happen. I am so glad Gretchen is comfortable where she is recovering and please send a big hug and kiss from us.
    Fucking stairs...I hate them too(and matter where they put them)
    XO Briget and Chris

  11. Thanks, Bill, for letting us know. Gretchen was certainly fortunate to have been treated by such a highly skilled surgeon. Much love.
    Peter Cain

  12. Hi Bill,
    I appreciate the thoughtful way you put together this very traumatic experience for both Gretchen and yourself, my heart was beating very fast as I read it. It goes to show us that none of us know what is around the corner when it comes to our lives, and how precious living truly is. Sounds to me that you and Gretchen handled it the very best you possibly could, and what great luck to have the best neurosurgeon at Beth Isreal. I wish Gretchen the speediest recovery and calm and peace for both of you during her recovery. Warmly, Rose McDaid and Peter Callas