On January 31st John suffered a massive stroke. By the time we arrived to the emergency room he was on a ventilator. His closest friend, Barry, had already gotten there and was with Alex, John’s wife. Only two people were allowed in the treatment area so Patrick joined them to help translate comments from the doctor.
Our daughter Erinn happened to be home for the day and was with me in the waiting area. John and Alex are Godparents to our children and, ironically, Erinn is a Neuroscience major at William & Mary. I was grateful for her presence. She and I waited together, speculating and praying. The neurosurgeon arrived and quickly decided to insert a catheter into John’s brain to allow the hemorrhaging blood to drain. We all walked with the rolling bed through the back corridors of the hospital to the surgical area. All the while, a pulmonary technician was bagging the ventilator. It was a Saturday night and the halls were dim and abandoned. It was surreal. We stayed late with Alex until the surgery was complete and he was moved to ICU. We didn’t see him until the following day.
John was supported by a ventilator, a feeding tube and a myriad of other life saving devices for about two weeks. After that he spent a few days on the neurological floor at St Mary’s and then was released to Sheltering Arms at St Francis. We knew early on that he would not suffer from paralysis or loss of speech. On the third day when they removed the ventilator he woke up kicking and moving his arms and he was able to talk. In true John fashion, he attempted to remove and dismantle every device that was keeping him alive. Alex stayed with him around the clock, encouraging him and keeping him calm. He had to wear “mittens” to prevent him from tugging on tubes and wires. By the time he had removed the feeding tube for the third time, he was able to eat soft foods so the nurses gave up the fight. They would allow the mittens to be removed when someone was with him to make sure he didn’t pull the drain out of his head. We brought toys for him to play with and the nurses gave him abandoned tubing to fiddle with, anything to keep his hands and brain occupied. He lined up his food on his plate, ate in a particular order and rearranged his tray over and over. The nurses explained that engineers, mathematicians, and construction folks often organize and dissect their surroundings as part of their healing process.
Alex was really great at staying focused on the day at hand. The rest of us were speculating and worrying among ourselves. What damage would there be? What deficits would he experience? What if…? His mother and sister sat by his side for hours. We watched the ICU nurses attend to his every need, every minute of the day and night. What a remarkable group of professionals! When John first awoke he didn’t remember much, including the people closest to him but everyday saw improvement in his recognition and ability to communicate.
The move to Sheltering Arms came in mid-February during a snow storm. John had taken only a few, assisted steps at the hospital and was very slow at mental processing so we knew he had a tough fight ahead of him. The team at Sheltering Arms lives up to any testimony you have seen in their advertisements. Therapists of every sort worked with John like it was his full-time job to walk and talk and feed himself and relearn how to do anything and everything. For three weeks they exhausted him daily, forcing him to improve. As we would expect, the physical part came quickly for John. He has been a life-long athlete and worked his entire life in physically demanding jobs. For John the challenges come in the form of cognition and memory. We joke that at his age, that’s normal! He turns 65 in a few weeks and was planning to retire when our project was complete. He just did it a little earlier than planned.
Ever so fortunately, life goes on for John. Alex is there with love and patience, word search books, jigsaw puzzles, brain teasers, books to read, long walks around the neighborhood, and rides to continuing therapy sessions. It’s retirement; a little differently than John imagined but thankfully he is here to enjoy it!
John has shared with me many times that in retirement he looked forward to playing horseshoes and boating with his friend and construction buddy, Bobby Wood. You may remember Bobby from previous blog posts. Bobby and John maintained separate construction companies but would help one another with projects. John had Bobby join our team during the framing phase. It was Bobby who master-minded a duct work solution when no one could figure out how to move air across the vaulted ceiling on our second story. Bobby also crafted the trim work in the house and designed the interior doors.
About this time last year, Bobby was diagnosed with cancer and stopped working. His prognosis wasn’t very positive and he wanted to focus on treatment and enjoying as much of his life that he could with his family and dog. His diagnosis was especially difficult on John. It took the wind out of his sails and it made completing our project a challenge for John. He fully expected to have Bobby by his side to the end. He asked Bobby’s son, Steve, to help him finish the back porch. After that, Patrick became John’s helper on the final phase of things around here.
Three days after John had his stroke, Bobby passed away. I am not sure that Bobby ever learned of John’s stroke and I am not certain that John completely realizes that Bobby has passed. Life is tough sometimes.
From the Richmond Times:
WOOD, Robert A. “Bobby,” 61, of Midlothian, passed away on Tuesday, February 3, 2015, surrounded by his family. Preceded in death by his mother, Peggy M. Wood; he is survived by his wife, Jewel; their sons, Daniel (Andrea) and Steven; their dog and his constant companion, Bella; as well as his father, James A. Wood (Kathleen); and two brothers, Jay (Nancy) and Michael. Following in his father’s footsteps, he was a home builder for over 40 years and became president of J A Wood Corporation. Bobby loved golf, hunting and fishing, and spending time with his family and friends, having continued a weekly poker game for over 34 years. He gave his time and many talents to family, friends and anyone in need, and will be remembered for his selflessness and work ethic. A celebration of life will be held at a later date.