One month ago today, I received a Facebook DM that changed so much for me and my family. The message read, “Jennifer- Please call me. It’s urgent.” That urgent message was that my brother Victor, possibly, had a stroke. He was on the phone with a business partner who became concerned with my brother’s speech started to slur and he became incoherent. That person was based in another state, but sent an ambulance to my brother’s apartment. I left work, quickly packed clothes for my family and I, picked up RJ from school and we all headed to Charlotte, the dog included. Ralph, RJ and Bailey dropped me off at the hospital and headed to house of friends of ours.
It turned out he did have a stroke. Expressive aphasia, to be exact. Basically, he could understand everything, but was sometimes unable to get out responses or respond appropriately. He was taken to the hospital on a Tuesday, by that weekend he was starting to regain more and more language. He’d even called me on his cell phone Friday morning from his hospital bed and we had a little conversation. My brother is single with no children. Our parents are deceased. So, my two other brothers and I began discussing what to do about his financial obligations, healthcare and rehab once he was released.
Then, nearly a week after he was admitted to the hospital, he fell somehow and loss most of the language he’d regained. Exactly one week after the initial stroke, instead of him getting ready to go to rehab, he was sent back to ICU due to a blood clot that caused a 2nd stroke. This stroke drastically increased the affected area of his brain and pretty much encompassed the entire left side of his brain. For perspective, the 1st stroke was contained just in the language area of his brain. A relatively small section.
After a few days of aggressive efforts to reduce the brain swelling, he was stable enough to be moved back to a regular room. However, there was a big change in him this time around. He was sleeping a lot, and seemed to not want to try to communicate as much. It could be due to the fact that simply could not speak, but I think some of it was that he was depressed. Depression is common in stroke patients.
He was still in this regular room on Christmas Day. My family and I went to visit him before joining other family for dinner. It was also RJ’s first time in a hospital since he was born. This was the first time RJ saw him since he was ill. I had been travelling back and forth solo for the most part and staying with our framily in Charlotte. Ralph and RJ stayed back home as they still had work and school. RJ absolutely adores his Uncle Vic. They have a really special bond. So, I think RJ was a little nervous about seeing him in the hospital. He asked if Uncle Vic would have lots of tubes on him. I assured him he would not, but I told him Uncle Vic wouldn’t be able to say much to him. During our visit, my brother wasn’t very expressive, but he did recognize RJ and smiled at him as he rattled off what Santa brought him for Christmas.
That Wednesday, a doctor came in to do an exam and had a hard time waking Victor. A CT scan revealed he had increased brain swelling and they did an emergency craniotomy. Back to ICU he went and back to Charlotte I went. After a couple days, his vitals stabilized and he was moved to a recovery room. I went to visit him on New Year’s Day. He slept most of the visit and his breathing sounded horrible. The doctor and nurse said a respiratory therapist was going to come in and try to break up the congestion in his chest. When I left to go home, that was the plan. I hadn’t been home for an hour when I got a text that the chest congestion was pneumonia and they were moving him to an intermediate room.
As of today, his pneumonia is clearing and he has become more alert. We still don’t know for certain what his future will look like. Our family is just taking any victories we can get and trying not to let any setbacks crush his spirit or ours. When my anxiety and stress levels creep up, I remember to count our blessings. I’m thankful the person he was speaking to that day in December sent an ambulance to his apartment, that we were able to sign him up for ACA by the deadline (by the way, getting my brother healthcare and his outlook without it deserves its own post), that after years of wanting to, he finally hosted Thanksgiving this year and we spent several days with him and had a wonderful time, that I have flexibility at my job and could just leave and be with him and not worry, that he has fraternity brothers and friends who love him deeply and continue to visit and check on him, that after days of not really saying anything, when I told him I was going home after spending all Tuesday with him, he looked at me and said, “Boooooo”.
Needless to say, it has been a roller coaster month and this is not a life turn I was expecting. I can only believe that we all will come out of this better and stronger individually and as a family.