In order to make sure that we’re getting all the good that Mark’s brain can give, his neurologist ordered a 72 hour portable EEG. Mark’s brain damage is in a specific area that can lead to overnight seizures, and the doctor wants to make sure that Mark is on the best possible medication regime. Each seizure provides the possibility of adding to his cognitive problems. His functionality could improve if his seizures are kept at bay.
Despite knowing that Mark prefers and often insists on nothing medical attached to him, we gamely went to the hospital on Friday for them to attach the EEG. The technicians glued two dozen electrodes around his head, gave Mark a purse-like data collection device to wear, and sent us on our way.
Twenty-eight hours in, I was cooking and baking and talking to Michael in the kitchen. Mark got up off the couch and came to the doorway to ask me if it was time to change the batteries in the EEG data pack. In a split second he started to sway, his eyes fluttered, and as Michael and I both lunged for him, he fell back. Head, wall, floor. He had fallen at an angle, into the narrow hallway, rather than straight back, which would have been straight down the steps. I straddled him in the tight hallway. “Mark! Mark!” His eyes opened and focused on mine. “Hi,” I said. “Hi,” he said back. “He’s okay!” I called to Michael. Michael was standing over us. “He’s bleeding,” Michael said. I watched as a deep red halo of blood began spreading from the back of his head. I told Michael to call 911. I put my hands behind Mark’s head and pressed where I thought the wound might be. I yelled for Matthew to get paper towels. He climbed over us to get to the kitchen. My hands were covered in blood. I yelled for Matthew to get a towel instead, and he climbed back over us to reach the hallway closet. I pressed the towel against Mark’s head. He closed his eyes. “Mark, we’re going to stay awake,” I said. I kept asking him questions. He knew the date, the year, where he was. No, he didn’t like the Elvis station I was playing on Alexa. Yes, he knew who the president was. I called to the boys to sequester the dogs. The police arrived, then the ambulance. “What’s going on?” the paramedic asked. I took a deep breath. Summarized. Forgot to even mention the brain graft.
After Mark was taken out of the house, I surveyed the damage. Quickly threw the towel in the wash. Wiped up the blood so the boys wouldn’t have to. The kitchen was a wreck. I told the boys what to do with the nut rolls in the oven, the nut rolls waiting to go in the oven, the remaining dough and filling. The sausages I was cooking for dinner. The salad I was making. I told them to take care of themselves, and each other, as Lester Holt reminds Mark and I to do every night when we watch the news. We might be at the hospital overnight, I said. I climbed into my car and followed the ambulance down to Presby.
The rest of the night played out in a familiar way. You know the drill by now: I listened to the nurses talk about cases, Mark waited patiently at first and then the little tolerance switch in his head flipped and he became defiant. Took off the neck collar. Worked away at getting the O2 monitor off. Took off the blood pressure cuff. Refused a dry shirt. To seal the laceration, they added four staples to his already very elaborate headgear. They decided he had blacked out due to a blood pressure drop, not a seizure. They wanted to admit him to figure out how to regulate his blood pressure, as this was his second fall and then trip to the ER in about a month. He refused. Refused an IV. “It’s your body, I’m not going to make you,” the young nurse said, quickly turning and walking back out.
Mark signed out AMA. Waiting for the valet to bring our car, Mark stood over a trash can, dry heaving. He didn’t look great. His shirt was wet. The gauze patches covering electrodes on the back of his head were stained with blood. My handprints, documented in flour and nut roll filling, were across the front of his sweatshirt. We got home before midnight. The Christmas lights were still on in the living room, the kitchen was completely cleaned up.
The next day, I was more afraid than usual to leave Mark alone in a room. I was preoccupied, thinking about needing to talk to the boys, to find the right words to praise them for how they did everything right the night before, the right words to acknowledge that it had been a terrifying event for all of us, the right words to make sure if they are ever home alone when something like this happens, that they know all the steps they need to take to help their dad.
It was Sunday afternoon, and I needed to get out of my head and find a way to rest. I asked Mark if he wanted to watch “White Christmas.” It’s a movie he loves. He sat quietly watching the movie, except for during one song. As Bing Crosby sang, Mark, eyes on the screen, sang along. “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep/I count my blessings instead of sheep/And I fall asleep counting my blessings.” I held his hand, and joined in.