Siobhan, Tati and I – Prelude

Written by Eike Pierstorff

Some eighteen months ago my  father, whom I loved very much, died from arterial embolism. There wasn’t a single day since I did not cry, and I just wished that something would happen to take my mind of things. Then my wife suffered a stroke, which just shows that you should be careful what you wish for.

Or maybe not. For the better or the worse, the universe is not moved by our wishes, and things do not usually happen for a reason. This is in fact my single comfort in these times, that events did not happen because we did anything wrong, or because we are somehow bad people, or we failed to do or not do something that we should or shouldn’t have done. Events occurred as they did simply because something always happens to somebody, only the things that happened to us were pretty bad.

What happened is this.

On January 11th Siobhan, my wife, called me at work and asked if I could return home immediately; she had caught a flu, or so she thought, and needed me to look after her. When I got home she lay on the sofa, unable to walk, had already thrown up several times and spoke only slowly, with a slur and uncharacteristic trouble to find the proper words. My wife is a type one diabetic, so I checked her blood sugar which turned out to be normal. That was when I called the ambulance.

In the hospital they did a cat scan, and discovered an aneurysm at the brain stem partially closed with a thrombus. She was immediately committed to the neurosurgical ward at Klinikum Neukölln.

The doctors there said that we had come just in time.  The aneurysm had not yet ruptured, so they would insert a metal coil to stabilize the walls of the affected artery. This was introduced to us as a standard procedure with a success rate above 95%. Four or five weeks of speech therapy, so a nurse suggested, and everything would be alright again.

Surgery was the next day. I called Siobhan at the hospital to wish her luck, and then went online to order her an iPad so she would have something to keep her busy during her stay at the hospital. Then I sat down and waited.

In the evening the hospital called. They said if it would help me to calm down then I should come down to the hospital and watch Siobhan waking up, only she didn’t. I sat by her bed waiting for her to wake up, until finally the hospital staff started to get worried and she was rushed off again for another cat scan.

It turned out the blood clots in the aneurysm had not completely dissolved despite the blood thinning medication; some coagulated blood had escaped, and blocked the neighbouring blood vessels, resulting in a brain stroke. There was damage to the thalamus, and the cerebellum, and alas even some damage to the left side of the cerebrum.

I was worried sick, literally. My short term memory disappeared almost completely, I developed tunnel vision to a point where I was half blind on the left eye and I suffered from chest pain (eventually I had this checked by a doctor who confirmed that there was no organic cause; this was mere panic). I was on sick leave for almost eight weeks.

For forty-seven days I spent my waking hours at the hospital, while Siobhan suffered through a double craniectomy to reduce pressure on the brain, a tracheostomy,  pneumonia and a systemic fever that only went down many weeks later after the swelling of the brain subsided, all the while she was in a first natural, later artificial coma. Eventually I had to return to work, and Siobhan was transferred to a rehabilitation facility where they started to wake her up. She has made some progress since, but it is still not clear what we can hope for as a result of the therapy; the only thing doctors have categorically ruled out is a full recovery, she will remain paralyzed on her right side.

Some nice people have suggested that I am somehow praiseworthy for staying with the wife. This is not exactly true, or at least not relevant; rather I am horribly selfish.

I was not a very happy person before I met Siobhan – not particularly unhappy, either; just idling in neutral gear, waiting if someday, something would happen that was worth the effort. With Siobhan I was tremendously happy, and she did not have to do very much at all – it was enough that she would sit on the sofa and smile at me before she carefully selected another episode of some english panel show, or silently and diligently drew her plans to make me change my hoodies for proper shirts or make me join civilization in some other way. I want that back, to the extent possible (if anything I am worried that I am too selfish – the worst thing that could still happen that the life she returns to is not a life that she deems worth living).

And of course I made a vow, quite purposefully and deliberately, that very distinctly included the phrase “in good times, and in bad”. Now the good times have been much, much better than I had any right to expect, so it it unthinkable that I would not be at her side during the the bad times.

So to make you understand what Siobhan means to me and why it is so important that she returns home  (and what the dog Tati has to do with all of this)  I want to share over the next months a few thoughts and memories with you. Some of those are Siobhan’s memories, too; I know she would not like this, but at the moment I am the one who has to function out in the world and make plans for us both, and if telling stories helps me to cope then so be it.

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