It was right after our refrigerator arrived that I found out. Our kitchen was otherwise complete, but it had been on backorder for quite some time and the old one was like a ninety year-old face on a twenty one year-old hard-body. The timing of the delivery was actually like a divine intervention for the horrible news about to unfold for our family, and I was right in the middle of it.
I sat at the counter in our now-complete kitchen, gazing at the specks of clear and deep blue diamond-like clusters that glowed against the black background of the granite. My favorite piece had a translucent pacific blue section that we placed in the most prominent spot, the island. The island was usually where everything happened. We cooked together, packed lunches, ate there sometimes, it was where the girls did homework, but this time I just sat and stared.
My notes were in front of me and I was supposed to be planning my HIIT class, High Intensity Interval Training, that I’d be substitute teaching later that day. I looked over several of my past regular classes and recognized less than half of the exercises by name. “What the fuck is wrong with me?” It was so weird and I couldn’t shake it!
I was about to leave early and just wing it when Sofia called. She wanted picked up from school. I had already told her a thousand times that she needed to walk that day, but something told me to just pick her up. The short drive home was peaceful and there was something in the air, something that said, “enjoy this.” I dropped her off at the house with a, “love you,” and a smile. I was about to head off to teach the HIIT class that, despite over an hour of effort, wasn’t planned well, but Sofia stopped me. She took a second and did what she almost never did at that thirteen year-old, early eighth grade time of her life. She looked me in the eyes and thanked me for picking her up.
Ironically my class was being held at Calumet City Schools’ district office. I not only attended CCS as a student, but did some early student-teaching there while I was in college, and taught middle school in the district several years too. But this time, I was substitute teaching an exercise class for the strangers who had chosen to attend their free Healthy Habits Corporate Fitness class.
For a brief second I felt weird right before I got out of the car, but it went away quickly enough to surprise me when it reemerged. I walked up to the reception area to sign in with the lady on the other side of the glass.
“Hi, what’s the nature of your visit?”
“Hi, I’m here to…” That’s it. The words just stopped coming out of my mouth. “Um, I…” My mouth was agape and my body covered with clothing designed for intense workouts, yet I stood frozen like a statue. Slowly I tried again, “I ummm.”
“Are you here for the exercise class?” she asked with her head tilted. My eyes connected to her curiously suspicious gaze. Minutes seemed to go by in silence. Surprisingly, I was able to say yes and she actually let me in! Later, it would be she who called 911, so it was probably nice that we met.
Nothing was where my boss said it would be. I was supposed to put the signs I couldn’t find out so participants coming from other buildings could find the class. I called her and she walked me through the space they were supposed to be, but either they weren’t there or I couldn’t understand what I was being told.
People were starting to come in. I greeted them but was not myself. I ducked in the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. Why did I look normal when I didn’t feel normal? Am I nervous? Why? Suck this up, Lahla, what the Hell?
The WOD, workout of the day, was on a big sheet of paper I put on the wall. I posted it as a reminder of order because everyone pushes through at their own pace, and often refers back to it. As I was trying to explain and demonstrate the exercises, I stopped. The concepts were in my head but they wouldn’t come out of my mouth. “Uhh, just do this,” I said as I jumped into a physically perfect burpee. My head didn’t match my body and people were obviously suspicious. Time went on and this type of instruction continued. People started working out but were looking at me weirdly and I already knew this class was going to be called in.
Things were getting fuzzier, blurrier, and I needed to sit down so I called it. “Um, excuse me, I’m sorry but I need to end class. I don’t feel so good. I’m really sorry..” I slurred.. They looked around at each other, then at me. This time they didn’t look quite as angry. I stumbled to the bench at the far end of the room and sat down. One woman followed me and knelt down beside me. Then I was out.
When I came around I was on a chair in the center of the room. Several Emergency Medical Technicians clustered in front of me and my security greeter was off to the side. One of the EMTs was asking me questions. Our eyes locked as I listened. The answers came to my head, I opened my mouth to speak but they were trapped. Nothing came out. I could shake my head but not speak. The EMT’s looked at each other, pursed their lips, shifted their weight I could see them and I knew what they were thinking. Why didn’t they know what I was thinking? I wanted to answer the questions so I could go! Let me go, this is crazy!
They informed me that they were taking me in. “Well, fucking great! Like I need that..” but I did. I faded in and out. They put me on the stretcher and wheeled me outside. Now have yet another accomplishment at Calumet City Schools- getting wheeled out on a stretcher. My class was there looking at me, but this time they looked sad, and a bit guilty for having thought I was a jerk-off waste of time instructor. At least they know something was actually wrong, I thought. At least they know I wasn’t just a dumb-ass.
The lead EMT informed me that we were headed to Mercy Hospital and they would load me in the ambulance. Seriously? For one, Mercy is across the street, just wheel me over there. For two, why Mercy? All they do is overdoses and gunshots. Seriously, Mercy? But in and off I was. And in and out I was.
I was being wheeled through the hallway past a crowd of people. If I felt better, I would sit up and wave. Not a back and forth wave, but the cupped hand twist like Miss America. It would be funny, they would rush me on the gurney and I’d act like I was on a float in a parade, maybe even throw candy, but my conscious floated in and out instead, and it wasn’t the joke I could’ve made it.
I think I remember counting backwards under the light. I think. I had been given too much seizure medicine and things were fuzzy. When my husband, Jake, came I mumbled that I was leaving and going to Arizona.
Jake was pushing me in a wheelchair down a hallway. We got to what felt like a corner or an end of some sort. Jake wasn’t there anymore, but God was. The hospital was still ugly and gross like it had been, but I felt at peace now. I don’t know if it was a minute or a day. I don’t know where Jake was, but I wasn’t worried. I finally felt calm and comfortable.
For my whole life I was a take-charge person, a leader, a doer, maybe even a bit controlling in retrospect, but only because my way was right. It wasn’t like I actually wanted to control people and things, I just wanted them to go well. I actually hoped people would learn from me and do things the right way themselves. I wasn’t controlling at all.
That’s why God’s question for me was so great. He didn’t ask if I was ready for death or had anything I wanted to be forgiven for or anything I would imagine from watching too many movies. No, He asked me if I could trust Him, if I could put my faith in Him.
Believe it or not, I said yes.
My surgery was two days after my diagnosis. I would make a good 48 Hours episode, because in this forty-eight short hours, I learned I had a brain tumor, had it taken out, and went on to sport a quarter-bald head.
Not everyone has their surgery within forty-eight hours. There are those facing emergency surgeries, sure, but taking a cancerous tumor out of the brain is a big decision and requires thoughtful planning, selecting the right surgeon, and getting on the schedule. It was my bright speck of luck in the otherwise depths of hell.
Jake got the emergency call when he was in a meeting. Not only can’t I imagine it, but we haven’t talked about it a lot, because it’s still unbearable to think about. The first person he called was a friend, Kevin, who was an emergency room surgeon and could help us through it.
We met Kevin through our daughters. Our youngest, Daniella, was friends with Kevin and Kate’s youngest, Alexa. Throughout our lives we’ve found that our kids are excellent judges of character and we’ve become friends with their friends’ parents too. This time was even better. This time, in addition to friendship, we received professional guidance and support, the first of which was to leave Mercy Hospital.
Upon my arrival they had performed a CAT scan which showed a tumor, something they weren’t the best hospital to treat. Kevin made the call and within hours, my tubes were being disconnected and capped, and staff members were asking me who I knew. They had never seen anyone be discharged so quickly. I was wheeled into an ambulance again, this time off to Anderson General Hospital, where Kevin was a surgeon, my brother was born, and numerous times I visited people there. It happened so fast I don’t remember all of the details, but I do have a good excuse, brain tumor and all.
Kevin knew a neurosurgeon at Anderson who he thought was the absolute best and gave him a call on Wednesday, the same day as my seizure. He had an opening first thing Friday, in a day and a half. I was asked if I wanted it, and for the second time not thinking too much, not questioning everything, out of complete and total faith, I did it again. I said yes.
I was in my own room, hooked up to a lot of things, apparently a fall-risk, and everything else but felt otherwise ok. Even though it was a day, it felt like forever. I was actually happy I said yes, how in the world would I have handled the research, stress, communication, everything that comes with being in charge of important decisions? I had visitors but also wanted to take any stress off of my kids that I could. I asked Jake to try to keep things as normal as possible, so he did. He worked so hard and did so much. He held the family together. Jake did.
Jake came to visit me at the hospital. He was so tired and had been doing so much, all through worries and fears he tried to comfort for the girls, and stuff deeply for himself. He sat on the right side of my bed and held my hand. It wasn’t the same as the other times we held hands in hospital beds, after the births of our kids. I looked a lot better those times too. This time things were tough and the future wasn’t so exciting to think about.
Now my head was wrapped and swollen. Both of my eyes were black and I still had marker on my face and some of my shaved head showed through. Both arms were hooked to countless tubes of God-knows what. Maybe it wasn’t my most credible time to have this conversation now that I think of it. But he told me he loved me, and he said, “I will do anything, Any-Thing, for you.”
“I want to leave Indiana,” I said. I ended up in some blubbery babble about being stuck in Indiana and wanting to try something new and all the times I stuck around and I wanted somewhere else, somewhere better and warmer. “I don’t want to go out like this and I don’t want to go out here.”
“Ok,” he said….
To Be Continued
*Originally titled Five Years Ago Today when I wrote it last year. Re-titling it for accuracy of todays post. Names and places have been changed for privacy.