On Tuesday around noon I received news that my unofficial aunt had had a stroke on Monday evening. She had been rushed to the hospital and they found a big clot deep inside of the brain stem. This news hit hard. It felt like someone just hit me in the stomach with a two-by-four. I saw her last a couple of weeks ago when she dropped off my ‘little bro’ for our lan-party. She played with my daughter for quite some time and you could see she was so proud of our little family. It was then I realized that we needed to visit her more often, you know the feeling that comes up and after a while fades away because of all the busy-ness in your life?
I know a lot of people that suffered a stroke and kept only minor effects of it. The doctors had started medication to make the blood thinner hoping to dissolve the clot immediately. And later that day I heard that the treatment had caused two brain hemorrhages. They had to stop the treatment right away. My little bro called me up to tell me the news and he was in a panic. All of a sudden it looked like he was going to loose his mom, in a matter of hours or days. We talked for a long time, calming each other down. Talking about the different options they still had, the hope that was still there. Just before going to bed I readied a suitcase for a couple of days, just in case he needed me.
Yesterday she was moved to another hospital under the supervision of a team of neurologists. They started discussing different options and ways to approach her case. The only real option that they had was to give her brain some time to recuperate from the hemorrhages so they could start the treatment again. Sometimes you start wondering if nature does this on purpose, leaving you with this sense of total helplessness, your only option is to wait and see what happens.
I asked if I could visit her, if it would be a good idea. I know normally only close relatives and partners are allowed to visit people in intensive care, so I didn’t know it if would be ok. My little bro immediately said yes, he was convinced it would do her good to have someone else there as well. So that was that, I was going to visit her today. And then I started getting more and more afraid. I hate hospitals, they always remind me of the people that have left this life. I also got flashbacks to when my wife was in the hospital to get her tonsils removed. And the images from when my daughter was seriously ill. She was lying there in the bed with a lot of tubes sticking out of her. That’s an image I will never forget. I’ll be honest, I’m afraid of hospitals. Not because of the germs or anything. But because they remind me how fragile a human being is. And how fast things can go wrong.
But I wasn’t going to let my fears get the better of me. So this afternoon I drove over to Antwerp. When I drove into the parking lot, I recalled the last time I was there. It was to say my last farewell to my friend who had taken his own life. But I was determined not to let my fears or memories get the best of me. So I started walking through the corridors trying to find my way to Intensive care. A friendly nurse showed me the way and when I walked into the room, I slowed down for 2 seconds before walking into cubicle. All the images I imagined during the night before came to mind. I had no idea what to expect. I cleared my mind and stepped in.
One of the strongest women I’ve known in my life was lying there, helpless, partially paralyzed. The initial blow hit me hard, but I couldn’t show it. I was there to support her and my bro. They both have known me as a rock that can face any challenge. I wasn’t going to crumble there. I just wasn’t. I dropped my bag against the wall and I stepped up to the bed. I can’t remember if I did it myself or my bro nudged me a bit, but I immediately took my aunt’s hand. He told his mom it was me and she gave a yelp of pleasure. We could’t understand what she was saying, but it was very clear she was happy that I was there. I didn’t expect this. I was so honored she reacted like this. I felt humble, like I wasn’t worth this kind of reaction. It’s hard to explain why I felt like I didn’t deserve this. I’m just me and I’m not even really part of their family.
And then something incredible happened, she opened her eyes to look at me. She had been talking to my bro and her partner the day before, but she never opened her eyes. She did that only for me. Something snapped inside of me and I felt so small. My aunt really spend all this energy to open up her eyes to see if I was really there. Everyone was shocked, in a good way of course. The only thing I could do was to smile at her. To make her feel at ease, to let her know I’m there for her and I love her. I hope my smile carried that message to her.
I had prepared one thing to tell her. So I leaned in a bit and said it: “Binky, I’m going to tell you something but you can’t spread the word on it yet. It’s not public knowledge yet, so you have to keep it to yourself for now. My wife and I are expecting a little boy.” And before I could continue she uttered a loud and perfectly clear ‘Bravo!’ We were all shocked again. She hadn’t been able to say anything this clear and coherent since the stroke. Then she asked me when our son is going to be born. It took me a couple of seconds to answer. I told her that if all goes well he will be born in September. And that she had to get through this because I want her to play with him as well, like she did just a couple of weeks ago with our little girl. Everyone lighted up, it was so good to see her so active and reactive. We all started to see this little sparkle of hope again.
This short conversation took a lot of her strength and she fell asleep just a moment after that. After a couple of minutes we had to say our goodbyes and the visit was over. I took her hand one last time, just before leaving. Trying to make her feel that it’s not her time yet. I don’t claim to be able to make these decisions, it’s just how I felt at the time. We started our walked out of intensive care and down to the cafeteria. We were all hopes, talking about her amazing reaction to me being there. I felt so weird, extremely happy that she was so active, that can only be a good sign. And at the same time I felt as if I wasn’t worth this honor.
I had a drink with my bro and my uncle. We talked about all kinds of things. About how I play the guitar; about my wife playing the hurdy-gurdy and the flute and the piano; about their house in Croatia. And then we started talking about the past and some of the things that happened to us. And then my uncle started telling a couple of stories about how my aunt really did think of me as family. About how one time when I was around 18 years old and we had known each other for a couple of years, we got in a fight. And at some point in the heat of argument I apparently said: “That’s all fine, ma’am” and how she immediately cut me off and said: ‘It’s Binka for you.” This was something that he had remembered all that time. It was one of those scenes that really helped building the feeling that I really am part of the family.
And then he continued talking about how often she talks about me and how proud she is of how I have build up my life. I had always known that she liked me, but I never knew it went this deep. Then I started feeling bad about not visiting more often. It’s hard to accept that something like this has to happen to make me realize how special I am to her. Why didn’t I see this before?
After some time it was time to say our goodbyes. My little bro and uncle thanked me for the visit. They told me that it was really energizing for them as well as for my aunt. They were able to take their mind of the situation for a brief moment. I was so happy that I was able to make them laugh. I offered them my support in the way I felt was best and it had worked.
I asked if I could come back and visit her again tomorrow. My little told me that I shouldn’t feel obligated to come and at the same time that he would love it if I could come back. I never felt 1% obligated about my visits, I feel honored that I can be with her right now. So even with my fear for hospitals and the fact that I don’t really know what to say next, I’m really looking forward to seeing them all again tomorrow.
In the meantime, while writing this post, I got some more news. She was very reactive tonight as well. This really sparkles some more hope. She needs to get a new CT scan tomorrow. The result of that scan will determine whether or not they can start treatment again. If they can’t start the treatment, she will not make it. The clot is in a spot where it can cause serious damage that will be fatal. There’s a small army of people that are all routing for some good results tomorrow. I don’t know if the scan will be taken before or after my visit. But I hope it’s before my visit. Whatever the result, I want to be there for my bro, aunt and uncle.
There, I was able to write this entire post without bursting into tears. But to be completely honest, I only avoided that by an inch. Time to get some rest, it’s a big day tomorrow. And if you have some positive vibes to spare, send them my way. I’ll make sure they reach their destination.