Tuesday March 24, 2020, an ordinary day in these extraordinary times. My wife Priscilla and I had made our appointment with the Town of Shelby to cast our absentee votes. When it comes to voting Priscilla was not going to be late. We got in our pick-up truck at 11:35 am to get to our 11:40am appointment.
"We are going in the truck?" She asked with surprise.
"Sure”, I said with a whimsical smile, “we haven't driven it much all winter and the battery needs a work out." We smiled on this bright sunlit morning on our way to the Shelby town hall.
I began to turn into the town parking lot when Priscilla started to speak.
"What?” I asked as I looked towards her.
She tried to speak again, gibberish language, slurred speech, her eyes were glazed, helplessness.
“What's my name?” I asked. Slurred response.
I made a sharp turn in the parking lot, a left onto Ward Avenue on our way to Gundersen's Emergency Room.
"Stroke, stroke, stroke, I knew it, I could see it, I could feel it. Please Dear God Be with Priscilla”, the most sincere prayer I may have ever prayed.
I sped through the lights onto south Avenue. "Please lift your right arm. She did slowly. Please lift your left arm, no movement."
Made a sharp left into the hospital campus and now to the emergency entrance. There's an ambulance in front of the doors and barricades. The old gold pick up is now an ambulance. I veered past the barricades, jumped out of the truck and ran towards a masked nurse.
"My wife is having a stroke." "What is her birth date?" she responded, "8-2-1952" I stammered, as I ran back to her side.
Priscilla was dazed and confused. I took her left arm, a nurse who had run out to help took her right arm and we eased her into a wheelchair which someone had brought out. They whisked her away. The masked nurse pushing her chair, yelled back over her shoulder "Check in at the desk." I did as directed.
The person admitting Priscilla was masked as well. "Thank you sir, we are taking good care of your wife. Will you please move your truck?" This I could do.
I found a spot to park the truck and walked back to the ER. I knew I needed to be a non-anxious presence but I was scared, terrified. The masked nurse gave me a mask and asked me to sit away from others on a chair down the hall. I sat, I waited, I, prayed. Being Catholic my go to prayer when I can't pray is the Hail Mary. Followed by an attempt at singing "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be Glad" This another daily mantra but the words would not come. I closed my eyes, silence, tears, God's Peace.
"Sir, sir," it was the gentle voice of the nurse behind the mask, "You can go back and see your wife, they are waiting for you.
They wheeled Priscilla in, she was crying. She was hooked to machines and monitors and a nurse was trying to find a vein. The ER Doctor told me they had just done a CT Scan and were awaiting the results. It was an orchestrated dance with each professional anticipating the next step. A TV monitor was rolled into the room and turned on. A Neurologist sitting at home in his office was reading the results of the scan and explaining them to me clearly and patiently. He communicated with his colleagues in the ER what he was seeing "We need to open the blood clot in her brain with medication and surgery. He was watching the monitors and Priscilla's face. He saw her face droop a little on the left side. After repeated attempts at an IV, the neurologist said "Prep her for surgery" the team did as told.
"Where's my purse? Priscilla asked with a clear quivering voice." Locked up in the truck" I replied. She could speak and of course she asked about her purse, it is a Priscilla trademark, always attentive, always practical.
They were getting ready to wheel Priscilla into surgery I felt a gentle hand on my left shoulder with a little squeeze which seem to say, brother you are not alone. It was her nurse Bruce. How any times has he healed people by his words and presence.
I reached down and placed my right hand on Priscilla's head and prayed out loud, "Oh Dear God, please send your Holy Spirit to Heal and Protect Priscilla and all the people who will care for her in surgery." Tears filled both of our eyes. I looked up and the nurse on the other side of her bed looked straight at me, "Amen," at a faithful brother present at our time of need.
Human beings are God's language is a line from the Jewish talmud, that I believe. God has never spoken to me more clearly, Amen, Amen, Amen, so be it now and forever.
From the time we arrived at the emergency to the time Priscilla was wheeled into neurosurgery was less than an hour. In the Jewish Tradition it is Time which is Holy. It certainly was A Holy Hour.
Priscilla's surgery lasted for the next three hours. I rushed home, picked up my phone and changed my clothes. Rushed back to the waiting room with my prayer book, phone, and the writings of Robert Greenleaf. After getting settled at a comfortable table in a far corner of the room it was time to call each of our daughters, Danielle, Meghan, and Nicole. I prayed for God's grace to speak the truth with love to our daughters. There is so much to say but please know Priscilla has been a great mother; each of our daughters bear witness to their Mother's strength and determination each day. Non anxious presence, non anxious presence, non anxious presence, was the mantra that permeated our phone calls with the promise to pray for each other and Mom. I would call as soon as I knew something definite from surgery.
At approximately 4PM, the neurosurgeon, came out to find me; prayerful, hopeful, grateful, and alone. He described the surgical procedure and even drew me a picture. He was competent and kind. He explained that Priscilla would be in recovery and I could see her after that in her room. He directed me to the floor where she would be staying. The attendant smiled and greeted me and told me visitors were not allowed on the floor due to the virus and safety protocol. She gave me the phone number I could call later to speak with Priscilla or her nurse.
I left the hospital, exhausted, alone, and very blessed. As I walked through the parking lot, I looked for another human being for a human glance of reassurance. There was no one around. I got in the truck and drove home.
My friend Fr. Conrad Torganski, OFM, reminds me at least once a week. "Is it Providence or Coincidence?" To be home on a Tuesday morning in the car with Priscilla, four minutes from Gundersen Health System; Providence. In good times and bad, in sickness and health till death do you part, Providence. Two do become one, it is the mystery and grace of marriage and it is real and realized when it is tested. Unconditional love made flesh is the Incarnation, and we experienced it first hand in our time of need.
The new Testament is filled with the miracles of Jesus and the phrase and "they were amazed" which is an honest response to the miraculous: Amazing Grace for sure, Providence definitely. We need both. Competent, kind, and compassionate medical staff and professional health care workers are performing miracles everyday. We know it, we feel it, we see it. People who are stocking our shelves and selling us food and providing clean water and sanitation are literally saving lives and protecting us. Farmers are providing the miracle of loaves and fishes, milk, meat, and produce. Isn't the multiplication of food a biblical story repeated daily. How about CNAs and custodians who keep us safe when we are most vulnerable or the boy scouts who taught themselves to sew protective masks for their communities. Rabbi Abraham Heschel writes that our sixth sense is our religious sense and it is Wonder. I am in awe of the medical care Priscilla received and I witnessed at Gundersen on March 24, 2020. Providential, miraculous, and grateful are words which are sacred and limited and never more meaningful. We are blessed and now am discerning how to humbly and joyfully share the blessing with others, "Human Beings are God's language." Peace and all Good, TT.