Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Blessings in Disguise

November 17th, 2014 is a day that will forever be etched in my memory.  Kevin and I were home.  He was going to go for a run, but it was raining outside.  So instead he was messing around on the computer in our home office, while I was on the couch watching TV.  It was around 7:10PM.  He comes and sits next to me and says, "Jen, I feel weird.  I have a really bad headache just on my left side, and the left side of my face and my left arm is all tingly and numb."  Hmm...the first thing I think is stroke, but no way could my 35 year old husband be having a stroke.  Just to be safe, I do a super quick neuro check.  I have him smile...his face looks symmetric.  Then I have him hold his arms out in front of him and close his eyes...no drifting of his arms.  "OK I just ruled out a stroke.  I don't know, maybe you're having a migraine.  Take some Motrin."  Kevin says he already took some and is looking real worried, so I say "Do you need to go to the hospital?  I can't diagnose you."  He says no and wants to wait to see if it gets any better.  So he tries to stand up, but stumbles as he walks back to the office.  I think...shit that's not good.  A few minutes later he comes back sits on the couch and tells me it's not any better.  Then he tries to stand up again, looks as if he's about to fall, so I help him to the floor.  He proceeds to throw up, keeps leaning to his left side, and tells me the room is spinning and he can't stand up.  Now it's about 7:30pm.  I'm really worried at this point and call an ambulance.  I tell the operator what's happening, but she can't understand me when I give her our address (apparently my pronunciation is all wrong).  I'm keeping calm on the outside, but inside I'm panicking.  Why can't this woman find our address?  Finally what seems like an eternity she understands me and says an ambulance is on its way.  Kevin continues to vomit and still can't stand up.  I'm thinking maybe he has meningitis.  I take his temperature, but he has no fever.  I have no frickin' clue what's going on, and the ambulance seems to be taking forever to get here.  Finally, again after what seems like an eternity I see the ambulance through our living room window.  I run downstairs to let them in.  The EMT's examine Kevin, they do neuro checks, take vitals and tell me they think it's just a migraine.  Kevin all the while is looking panicked, pale, and is unable to stand up.  They give him some IV fluids and say, "I think we will take you to the hospital".  I'm thinking, No shit you'll take him to the hospital, he can't even stand up!  Can we speed this up please?  But I don't say anything, because I think they know more than me.  I mean I haven't worked in over 2 years, and I was just a Labor & Delivery nurse.  I don't know anything about emergency medicine.  They try to stand Kevin up and he can't stand.  I say, "I think he needs a wheelchair."  They finally go down and grab a stretcher, and we finally get in the ambulance and are on our way to the hospital.  The EMT's don't seem too worried, so I think maybe it's not so bad after all.  I mean, they didn't even put the sirens on so he can't be that bad off, right?

Kevin gets taken to the ER, and I go to the front desk and check him in.  When I'm done checking him in, I go and find where they've put him.  It's now around 8:30pm.  As I pull the curtain to his bed, I see a team of doctors looking anxious doing a very thorough neurological exam.  They are having him follow their finger with his eyes, but his eyes are not steady and quiver back and forth.  They tell me he's going for a CT scan.  Shit, maybe it is a stroke after all.  I'm left alone trying not to panic.  He comes back from the CT scan and we wait for the results.  Meanwhile he's getting some sort of IV fluids.  I assume some Aspirin is in there, but I don't know Swiss brands of drugs.  He is also getting anti-nausea medicine and pain medicine, but nothing seems to help.  Kevin is still feeling like hell -- the room won't stop spinning.  The doctor comes in and says they've ruled out a stroke with the CT scan.  Thank God.  So they proceed to do a spinal tap to rule out meningitis.  Again the results come back negative.  It's now about 2AM.  The doctors say, "Well, we have ruled out all the scary things.  Now we'll just wait for the medicine we've given you to kick in until you feel better.  Then you can go home."  Phew, now I can sleep.  Luckily the bed next to Kevin was empty and the nurse was kind and let me sleep there.  I was expecting to be woken up an hour later, but when I woke up it was 7AM.  Kevin is only feeling slightly better.  He tells me he can't imagine living like this for the rest of his life, and it breaks my heart to see how much he's hurting and that he's scared.

After they have given us breakfast the attending Neurologist comes in.  She does an exam, and says based on the results of everything they've done so far she thinks he has a severe infection of the inner ear (the inner ear helps control your balance.  If you get an infection of it, you can display symptoms like Kevin did, however his were very severe.)  She wants to do an MRI just to be 100% sure it's nothing else.  OK, I can deal with this.  An infection isn't forever.  Kevin goes for the MRI, and finally at noon the doctors come in to tell us the results.  She says, "It is not an infection of the ear." What?!  "You had an infarction."  I immediately begin sobbing as the doctor explains that the MRI shows Kevin has had a stroke, and he will be transferred to the stroke unit as soon as possible.  That was the most horrific moment of my entire life.  So many unknowns laid before us...would Kevin get better?  Would he always have this horrible debilitating feeling of vertigo?  Would he ever get his balance back so he could walk?  Would he be well enough to care for and play with our baby?

Kevin spent 11 days in the hospital and 14 days in a rehabilitation facility.  I watched as he made a miraculous recovery with the help of fabulous doctors, nurses, and physical therapists.  I'll never forget the moment Kevin ran down the hall for the first time during therapy.  I couldn't help but cry tears of joy, because just a few days before he could barely stand without feeling like he would fall and now he could run.  It felt like a miracle.  His recovery continues to amaze me.  Now he's back at work full-time, is training for a half marathon in April, and it's as if the stroke never happened.

While Kevin was in the hospital, he had another MRI which revealed the cause of his stroke.  He had a dissection (a tear) of his vertebral artery, which caused blood to clot, causing reduced blood flow to his brain, resulting in a medium sized infarction (stroke) on the left side of his cerebellum and a smaller one on the right.  Only his balance was affected.  He had no paralysis, no loss of speech, no muscle weakness, nothing like that.  They explained that three things are involved in keeping your balance: (1) your inner ear sends messages to your brain about balance, (2) your vision, and (3) the feeling you get from your feet telling you you are grounded.  Kevin has forever lost the first, and now has to rely solely on his vision and the messages he receives from his feet to keep his balance.  The cause of the torn artery is unknown.  It is a freak accident that can happen due to a number of things, such as straining your neck in Yoga or going to the chiropractor.  At discharge from the hospital his neurologist told him, "You're just one unlucky bastard."  However, the neurologist at the rehab center disagreed, saying he's one lucky bastard for how well he's recovered especially since his initial symptoms were so severe.

Since the stroke, Kevin has had to take a blood thinner (Marcoumar) to help prevent another stroke.  He has a follow up MRI in May to see how the torn artery is healing.  If it is healed he will no longer have to take Marcoumar, and will be on Aspirin for the rest of his life.  If it hasn't healed then he might have to continue taking Marcoumar for the rest of his life, but surgery is not an option because the benefits do not outweigh the risks.  So I have to agree with the rehab neurologist.  Kevin is one lucky bastard.

We are lucky that it was raining and Kevin was not out at night, alone, having a stroke in the park.  I truly believe God was looking out for him and sent that rain.

We are lucky to have such an amazing group of friends here in Z├╝rich who are like family.  I wouldn't have been able to survive it without their incredible love and support.

We are lucky not only for our friends here, but our friends and family all over.  We were in awe of the outpouring of love we received via phone calls, emails, and texts which helped us get through each day.

We are lucky that Kevin's parents and my mom were able to fly over here to be with us during that time.

We are lucky that Kevin is such a strong and determined man who worked so hard to make a full recovery, and never once felt sorry for himself.

But most of all, we are lucky that Kevin is well and will be able to be the amazing father I know he'll be to our daughter.

We truly are lucky.  Even though those were the worst four weeks of my life, I have never felt so blessed.  I'm grateful for the insight this experience has given me.  It has really driven home what's most important in life -- your people and the ones you love.

Berlin & Budapest Birthdays

In early November of last year we went to Budapest, Hungary for a long weekend to celebrate Marc's 29th birthday.  Somehow we managed to see more than the inside of ruin bars (crumbling buildings that have been repurposed into cool bars with cheap booze).  What else did we do?  We walked around the city a lot and did a beer bike tour.  So see.  We got some culture in.

Marc goes big for his birthdays and the year before we went on similar trip to Berlin, Germany for his 28th birthday.  I never wrote about it, but it was a good time and deserves to be documented.  Instead of ruin bars we visited clubs where we were denied access for, I'm assuming, looking too put together (to get into clubs in Berlin you basically have to dress like a bum, or a grungy teen circa 1994).  In Berlin we again got a bit of culture in with a beer bike tour and city walks.  

The biggest difference between the two trips?  I was 100% sober for Budapest and probably only 10% sober for Berlin.  Check out the fun...
Berlin Nov 2013
City Walk

The Berlin Wall

Beer Bike Tour

 Deep Haus Tree Haus
We couldn't get in to the main part of this club, only the outside little hut that we dubbed the Deep Haus Tree Haus.  At the door of the main club was a woman and a bouncer.  The woman (who was dressed like a bag lady) looked us up and down, appeared very bored, and said something in German.  We assumed she said "Come on in", so we proceed to walk in.  She stops and says something else in German.  Then the bouncer steps in and says, "I think there's been some sort of misunderstanding".  We're thinking Oh yeah thanks, we want to go in the club, I don't think she gets it.  He proceeds to say, "You will not be getting into this club tonight.  Understand?  Not now.  Not ever."  Oh, OK message received...Deep Haus Tree Haus it is.

Smashing Pumpkins
At one of the bars we stole a pumpkin and made videos of us trying to smash it.  Here's me giving it my best shot...

Budapest Nov 2014
Ruin Bars

City Walks

 Beer Bike Tour
Mel & I were the bartenders 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Positano & Pompeii

The day after I got back from Ireland we took a morning flight to Italy for a long weekend in Positano (a village along the Amalfi Coast).  Ten of us stayed in a very nice airbnb villa with fantastic views.  I especially loved my cave bedroom in the basement that blocked out all sound of the partying going on above me.  Unfortunately the combo of being wiped out from my Irish road trip & a growing baby in my belly stealing all my energy caused me to go into heavy hibernation mode.  I napped a lot.  One day I think I only saw 3 hours of daylight.  However, the times that I was able to keep my eyes open were spent walking around town and taking boat rides (one with a hired driver, another with Marc at the helm).  On our last day we had a late flight back home.  So taking advantage of the extra time, on the way to Naples airport we made a pit stop at Pompeii.
The Villa
View from the Terrace
While I was sleeping...

Boat Ride #1

"There's a baby inside me!"
What I yelled at Marc as he sped over waves making all the girls hold on for dear life as we bounced up and down.  It worked.  He slowed down after that.

Walk Around Town

Boat Ride #2
The way home from this boat ride had some rough patches.  I was, surprise surprise, napping in the cabin below when all of sudden I woke up in mid air as we were going over some very choppy waters.  Poor baby got a bit jostled.  

A village we stopped off at...