On the Saturday before Michael went in for surgery, we went to Düsseldorf for brunch. We wanted a nice weekend together before the big event, to be in the city of Michael’s childhood, the city I first lived in after arriving in Germany, the city where we first met. We have many ties to Düsseldorf, most of them pleasant. We ate at a nice cafè near the poshest market I have ever seen – anywhere. After breakfast we walked through the market. Well, I walked and Michael hobbled, hardly able to move at all, he was in such pain. He went to get the car, picked me up, and we drove to the Japanese part of the city to buy some porcelain tea cups. It was a lovely day.
The night before going into the hospital, I made us tacos, the same meal I had cooked for him the first time I ever cooked for him. Since that time, thirty-three years ago, tacos have always been one of his favorite meals. Back then, tacos were unheard of in Germany.
Michael was very positive about surgery, unusual for him. He trusted his doctor, we had prayed for everything surrounding the surgery, the entire church had prayed for him. He went into surgery relaxed and hopeful about a release from his excruciating pain, looking forward to a new lease on life.
I phoned Michael that morning to wish him all the best for his surgery. “See you on the other side!” I said merrily and went to work. I was a bit uneasy while teaching. After all, the operation was no picnic. It would take over four hours. I took my unease in stride. This was major surgery, after all, and Michael hadn’t been operated on since he was a toddler. He’ll be fine, I told myself.
Late that afternoon the doctor who had performed the surgery phoned me, saying there had been a complication during surgery. The extra vein in his neck that they had intubated for administering fluids had collapsed during surgery. That meant that almost the entire infusion had dripped into his face and neck. They couldn’t remove the breathing tube with the amount of fluids that had accumulated in his face and neck. They gave him more anesthesia to give his the swelling time to reduce. Nothing to worry about, but he was in the ICU for now and would remain unconscious until the following day.
The following day, he failed to wake up. I began to be nervous. He looked horrible, with his face so fat. And so vulnerable. The day after that, Michael still did not wake up. I started to feel alarm rise up in me. The head doctor or ICU came into Michael’s room to talk to me.
“We did a CT scan,” he said. “Nothing to be alarmed about. We did find some abnormalities in the brain in the thalmus area, but the shadows look old. It could be some old neurological damage that was never identified.” It wasn’t a stroke, he said. Another doctor came to me and told me she had tried to order a neurological exam for that day, but the neurologist they used was unable to come to the hospital on that day.
With this news, I became alarmed. I was very worried. But it was the weekend; nothing happens in German hospitals on the weekend. I spent hours that weekend talking to my family in America and to doctors, trying to find a way to have my husband examined neurologically. But the hospital would not budge.
“This isn’t like in America, where you can just call a neurologist and have him come in,” said one doctor to me. The head of ICU came into the hospital on Saturday morning, just to tell me it was far too dangerous to transport Michael to another hospital, where he could have an MRI. I had called a neurologist I knew, and he told me Michael needed an EEG and an MRI. The hospital he was in didn’t even have a neurologist, so no neurological exam, no MRI over the weekend.
It went on and on like this, even after the weekend, when Michael still didn’t wake up. By now he had dangerously high blood pressure, a high fever they just couldn’t get down, and indications of pneumonia.
And by now I was writing every evening to my friends and family, one email in English and another in German, asking them to pray for Michael. I asked those without faith to send their good thoughts his way. And the prayers and good wishes came in. But they weren’t waking Michael up.
I told the hospital on Monday that I wanted Michael transferred, danger or no, to a teaching hospital where they could examine him properly. On the morning of his transfer, I had to see a doctor myself. I seemed to have a cold, and I wanted it treated before I made my husband’s condition worse.
While in the doctor’s office, I phoned the hospital to see how Michael was doing. A doctor I had never spoken to answered the phone and told me, “Your husband has suffered a stroke.”
With that news, my entire life turned upside down, and I knew that nothing would ever be the same. The news took about five seconds to deliver, but the consequences would mean that my entire lifestyle would have to change. Would my husband even survive all this? That very evening, in the university hospital, after studying the results of the MRI exam they game Michael, the neurologist confirmed that he had suffered a stroke on both sides of the thalmus. “Your husband is a very sick man,” he told me.