Labor Day Weekend passed quickly, with most people returning to work or school the following Tuesday. But, for our family, and The Outdoors Guy in particular, it morphed into an almost three-week chaotic medical emergency with residual effects.
The holiday weekend began for Bob and me on Thursday when we traveled to the cabin of son and daughter-in-law, Jon and Sara, 30 minutes north of Hayward. We had a joyful reunion when “The Kids” and grandsons, Jackson and Bryson, and family dog, Guinness, arrived Friday evening.
After a leisurely Saturday morning, the guys left for an afternoon of golf. Sara and I drove to Hayward to run a few errands and have some girl time.
When we returned late afternoon, Jackson and Bryson came racing down the long gravel driveway to tell us Grampa wasn’t feeling well.
Bob was in a lawn chair, not looking well at all. Jon crouched next to him with a very concerned look on his face.
Jon said Grampa suddenly got weak. At first we thought he could be tired from golfing, combined with the possibility he could be low on potassium or sodium, which still happens occasionally as a result of chemo. We gave him foods which should have helped, but didn’t.
Grampa wasn’t talking and had an angry look on his face. We thought he was upset with us for wanting to take him to the hospital.
Jon, Sara and I tried to get him into the vehicle, but couldn’t. Wasting no more time, we called 911.
I rode with Bob in the ambulance where things did not improve. Hayward Memorial Hospital sent a medic to meet us halfway there. We stopped along the highway as the medic made a U-turn, climbed on board and immediately took charge.
When we reached the hospital, M.D. Dayle Quigley met us. She asked a few quick questions as The Outdoors Guy was brought in. We gave her our take on what was wrong. Well, let’s just say she would have none of it!!! Dr. Quigley had already ordered a CT scan, done within minutes of Bob’s arrival.
The scan showed his heart had thrown a blood clot from atrial fibrillation, which Bob has had for years without a problem. The clot traveled to the frontal part of his brain, resulting in an ischemic stroke.
According to a guide given to us on strokes, “Ischemic stroke occurs when (in Bob’s case) pieces of blood clot (called emboli) break off in the bloodstream and are carried along by the blood until they get stuck in a blood vessel in the brain. With the artery blocked, the flow of blood is slowed or stopped, damaging brain cells.”
Dr Quigley wasted no time. She had already started him on Alteplase IV (also called t-PA) given through an IV in the arm. It is used to help dissolve the clot quickly and return blood flow to that part of the brain.
Not only that, a helicopter was ordered to airlift Bob to United Hospital in St. Paul.
"It will be here in 20 minutes,” she told us.
Jon and I looked at each other in disbelief! Yet, we were extremely grateful and impressed with her take-charge stance.
Dr. Quigley explained, “If the clot does not dissolve, Hayward Memorial does not have the necessary facilities to perform surgery to remove it.”
Too soon, and yet not soon enough, we said our goodbyes to Grampa as he was rushed to the chopper. Jackson and Bryson had been in the waiting room with Sara. We told them Grampa was going to a bigger hospital that could help him more.
As darkness closed in, our little family huddled in the parking lot listening to the beating blades and then watching the chopper lift off from behind the hospital. Ten-year-old Jackson cried out in agony, not knowing what would happen to his beloved Grampa.
After they disappeared over the trees and into the darkening sky, we rushed back to the cabin to close things up. I rode in back with the boys, explaining that Grampa was in God’s care. Then, we said a prayer for him. Jackson calmed down. Our normally chatty, almost 8-year-old Bryson was uncharacteristically quiet. Meanwhile, Jon phoned son, Evan, who was unable to be with us for the weekend, to alert him.
When we reached the cabin, each one of us instinctively knew what to do to close the cabin without even discussing it. Then, like a band of thieves in the night, each of us grabbed what we needed to take, including Guinness, and all of Bob’s and my belongings and were on our way. Sara drove our Jeep and Jon had the boys in his truck.
On our drive to St. Paul, we stopped in Hinckley, Minn., to drop off the boys and Guinness with Jon and Sara’s friends. Jon, Sara and I finally reached United Hospital about 1 a.m. Sunday. Evan arrived a little later that day.
Bob was admitted to United Hospital's ICU. Thankfully, the clot had dissolved so surgery wasn’t necessary. However, he was having residual effects from the stroke. He was weak, especially his left side, where the stroke had affected him the most. Bob could walk, but needed assistance or a walker. We learned the reason he wasn’t talking to us at the cabin wasn’t because he was angry. He was unable to speak. But, by the time he got to United Hospital, Bob could answer simple yes and no questions. When we arrived, he was talking, but not nearly as much as usual. He also showed little expression. Oh, how we were missing Grampa’s usual banter!
By Tuesday, Bob had improved enough to be moved to a regular room. We were happy and relieved when his sense of humor and facial expression started to return. It was evident when a nurse asked him to remember three things. He put his index finger up to his temple and said, “Once it’s in the hard drive, I don’t forget!” Laughter erupted from those in the room!! And, he did remember! His personality was returning. He had turned the corner!
That same day, discussion progressed toward moving Bob to La Crosse for acute care inpatient therapy. The only facility who specializes in this type of care in La Crosse is Gundersen Hospital. They had a bed available.
Wednesday, Sept. 6, Jon and Sara returned to St. Paul from their home in Cloquet, Minn. They transported us back to La Crosse. Jon drove Bob, and I rode with Sara. They stayed for a few hours to help Bob get settled in, leaving at 7 p.m. to return to Cloquet. It was an extra-long day for them, but we so appreciated their help!!!
Daily, for two full weeks, Bob underwent three hours of intense physical, occupational, speech and therapeutic recreation therapies. Each session lasted 45 minutes with a break in between. And, daily I saw the strides he was making. It was truly remarkable! Evan visited every couple of days and also was impressed with his dad’s progress.
Besides Bob’s difficulty to speak, lack of expression and weakness, especially on his left side, he also had problems with initiating tasks and conversation, and decision making. One physician stated that the frontal part of the brain is like the CEO, and due to the stroke, the CEO was having difficulty telling the other departments what to do. Many of these difficulties are greatly improved or resolved. It’s amazing!!!
I asked what would have happened if Bob could not have been admitted to Gundersen’s program. I was told he would have gone to a nursing home, where he would not have received the intense therapy Gundersen offered. Staff told us it would have been a much longer recovery time, with the possibility he would not have improved enough to return home.
This past Wednesday, Sept. 20, was a joyful day!! It was the day I was finally able to bring The Outdoors Guy home from the longest Labor Day Weekend ever… 20 days!!
In just three days, The Outdoors Guy and I have seen additional improvement. Thursday he and Texas fished off the dock at the boathouse. I couldn’t have imagined it even a week ago!
Bob’s healing process will continue with outpatient therapy twice a week. He is now on a blood thinner to help prevent another stroke. The possibility of a pacemaker is in his future.
Our family feels incredibly blessed with the excellent care Bob received throughout his ordeal. We know God had a hand in providing the remarkable hospitals and staff who cared for him and our family along the way.
We also know Our Outdoors Guy is one tough, awe-inspiring dude!!!