It was a typical fall morning, rushing the kids and Jeff out the door so I could start my workday typing and jumping from one mobile device to another, all while sipping coffee, skimming through social posts, and searching for the conference code for my next call.
2014 was insanely busy. We had just moved into our new home in Roswell. I worked as a contractor for three companies. A non profit for the visually impaired, a cause marketing firm run by some really smart women and a boutique content agency owned and operated by a neighbor. I was the PTA President of one school and committee chair for the 5th grade graduation at the other. I ran 10Ks once a week and was an excessive, assistant coach to my daughter’s soccer team. I was an adrenaline-induced spectacle, a ticking time bomb, ready to rupture.
“Alright, Tammy, sounds great, talk to you tomorrow.” I hung up feeling an overwhelming sense of anxiety rush through my body. I decided to finish my coffee on the deck and shamefully broke into my secret stash of Camel Lights, “it’s okay, I thought, just one”. As with everything in my life at that time, I rapidly inhaled and ran through my list of to do’s, all of which needed to be done before the kids came home.
As I paced back into the house, a sudden snap pierced inside my ears. The sounds of the running dishwasher and refrigerator began to hollow into a tunnel of faint and muffled hums. An inexplicable warmth crept within the cavernous spaces between my head. I pinched my eyes shut and stood silent in the middle of the kitchen with both hands slightly raised on either side of my body, trying to find balance while the intense pain ravaged my senses. At that moment, an inner voice screamed “CALL 9-1-1, NOW”! It was as if God had positioned the cell phone in my hand, I cautiously dialed the three numbers. “Yes, I think I’m having a stroke, please hurry”. I stayed on the line, clinging to every word. “Just stay calm, what is your address”. After the fourth repetition of dictating where I lived, I started to raise my voice, “no, 1-3-0, S-A-D-D-L-E Creek Court, yes…” Oh God, the pain, “please hurry”.
The same inner champion, embraced me with further orders of finding my driver’s license and insurance card through piles of insignificant artifacts only an annoyingly, mid-sized purse could hide. My vision blurred and I felt my legs dragging through my living room as I made my way towards the garage, focused on one single thought, “ I have to get out so they can find me.”
The next series of events played out like an old 35mm, home video. The choppy scenes and sounds fluttered in and out from one erratic image to another. At the hospital, they poked me with needles pumped with worthless pain killers. “Where’s my husband?” No one answered.
Laid out in a stretcher along the ER hallway, in a fetal position, I eventually hear Jeff’s soothing voice. “How is she? Your wife had an aneurysm rupture in her brain and she’s bleeding, there’s nothing we can do for here, we’ve called Emory, the helicopter is on it’s way.”
The voices, the eerily dimmed lights and the haze of images teetering, weeping, whispering around me, the pain, oh God, the pain. I remember feeling, quiet yet loud all at the same time. A soft voice, one imprinted from childhood, patting and stroking her Chinese ancient comfort over my iv pierced hand, “Lee-ly, you okay.” Mom, is that you?” A different voice disrupted my brief moment of solace, and appeared as an awkwardly handsome young man in a crisp white coat and metal clipboard, pressed tightly against his chest. He nudged his glasses and said, “You’re at Emory’s Neurointensive Care Unit, do you know how lucky you are?” I winced a couple of times in an effort to focus. “They call it the three percent club, you’re like one in a million.”
My life, and how I viewed it changed forever, but I guess spending eighteen days in an ICU will do that to anyone. For whatever reason, I lived. More than that, my children still has a mom, my husband, his wife. It’s been over two years now, for the most part, I’ve physically and emotionally rehabilitated from that alarming wake up call, but occasionally certain smells take me back to that paralyzing time. I live my life quite differently today. I’ve learned to set the pause button, say “no” and really put my health above everything else.