Tree lay heavily sedated in the ICU of Clincia San Felipe with a feeding tube, a breathing tube, a catheter and an IV filled with sodium chloride plugged into too many orifices. Outside in the waiting room with Soleil, I discussed his condition with the doctor. After having a Cat Scan, he was diagnosed with Hyponatremia, which is low blood sodium that led to Encephalitis, a swelling of the brain.
“His sodium is back to normal now, but he’s still highly agitated when he’s not sedated, which indicates that his brain is still swollen. We need to do a spinal tap and test him for infectious diseases. After that, if we still don’t know what’s causing it, we can do an MRI, then do a toxicology report,” said Doctor Humeres, the head neurologist.
“But, couldn’t the hyponatremia be caused by the liquid fast he was on, coupled with the sauna?” I asked.
“Yes, but in order for someone to have such a serious reaction to overhydration, a person would have to drink 10 liters of water. What is more likely is that a disease or infection is causing the swelling.”
The doctor clearly didn’t know my husband. Tree is EXTREME. If eight glasses of water is recommended, then he’ll drink eighty. If the limit in the sauna is fifteen minutes, he’ll stay an hour. And that’s exactly what he did. Ten liters of water. One hour in the sauna. Oh baby.
He’s just that kind of guy, and I love him for it. That’s why we live the life we do. There’s a certain madness in his eye, and it turns me on. I finally found someone who understands my passion because he runs just as hot. He matches my intensity in every way: We both go to eleven. He’s my best friend, a fierce and loyal companion, a dreamer, a joker, a dedicated father. He makes me laugh even when I’m mad…at him. He’s that funny. And, he has “compassion” for Republicans almost as much as I do. He’s perfect for me. After we were married, friends of mine joked that I finally found a man who tamed my wild ways, but the truth is more that I fell in love with someone who loves the wild.
And, yet, sometimes there’s a price to pay when you fly too close to the sun.
When we flew back to Lima from the States, Tree immediately began his “custom cleanse.” He wanted to start the New Year off right and “get healthy!” He even had a blog post draft in the queue that outlined his plan so that you too could “feel like a million bucks!.” He actually wrote that, along with “Raw food on Sunday. Juice and half an hour of sauna on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday, ten liters of water and an hour of sauna.” That’s as far as he got before he almost died. (Thank god that blog post was never published. It would have been Sprinter Life’s own personal take on Jonestown. Who needs Kool-Aid when you got water! Drink up folks! We’re going to Disneyland!).
Anyhoo, he came home from the gym complaining that he felt lightheaded. I suspected it was his blood pressure (last year I passed out in the Inca Baths in Cajamarca for that very reason- remember here), nothing too serious, so I told him to go lie down with his feet up. An hour later, he still wasn’t better, so I suggested that he at least drink some juice and a smoothie. He felt a little better for about a half an hour, but then he started to decline again. He had a headache, felt nauseous and his hand went completely numb. The numbness worried me, so I said that maybe we should go to the hospital, just to get him checked out. He asked which hospital, and I said the one that our friend Roxana suggested. “Who’s Roxana?” he asked. “Our doula, the one that helped us deliver our baby,” I said, expecting that lightbulb to go off. Nope, nothing there. “You know, the owner of our apartment,” I added.
“What’s a doula? What apartment?” he asked.
“Oh my God. You’re having a stroke! Stick out your tongue!” I screamed.
“What? No, seriously, what’s a doula? Explain it to me.”
“Stick out your tongue! What’s our address? Smile. Put your hands in the air!!!” I couldn’t quite remember how to test someone for a stroke, but I figured if he got any of those things wrong, it was bad.
He stuck out his tongue. He didn’t seem to be exhibiting any of the lopsided tendencies in stroke patients, but he was growing increasingly confused and disoriented by the second. I ran to the intercom and called Alan, our door guy, to have him call us a cab or an ambulance. I put Sol in her car seat, grabbed Wabanub (her binky) and every passport and wallet I could find, and then hurried us all into the elevator.
En route in the taxi, no more than fifteen minutes later, Tree started vomiting violently. By the time we made it to Clinica Good Hope, the closest one to our house, he was seriously losing it. After a cursory examination, I asked the doctor if he thought it was a stroke, and he said, yes, it appears so, but he’d need to do some tests before he could properly diagnose him. And then sloooow as frickin’ molasses he wrote up the medical order in the picture below, which included a Cat Scan and a blood test, but by that time, I had had it with that clinic. I called Roxana to ask her advice. She said her sister almost died there due to malpractice and highly suggested that we move to the Clinica Anglo-Americana. She came immediately to give us a ride. I was so grateful when she showed up. I was on the precipice of a full-blown panic attack and needed someone to assure me that it was going to be okay.
I made such a mad dash to get us out the door of our apartment that I didn’t even put pants or socks on Soleil. I even forgot the diaper bag. As always, though, she was a trooper. Best baby ever.
This was the last time that Tree was somewhat coherent. But even then, when the doctor asked him what my name was, he couldn’t remember it.
Roxana got us checked in at the Clinica Anglo-Americana but then had to go teach a prenatal class. She said she’d be back in a few hours. While she was gone, Tree had a Cat Scan and a blood test, during which time he went bat-shit crazy, and I dropped the camera. (I can’t believe I don’t have pictures to post all over the internet now). Afterwards, the head neurologist came to our curtained off room to explain the results (the hyponatremia and the encephalitis), but said that the clinic was completely full, and we’d have to go elsewhere for treatment. Meanwhile, Tree was laying in the gurney next to us talking to himself. “What!!,” I complained to the doctor, “We can’t go somewhere else. Look at him. He needs help NOW.” And, as if to illustrate my point, Tree sat up, stripped off ALL of his clothes and said, ”Doh Doh Doh 5 2 9 7 7 6 8 9. C’mon. C’mon. C’mon. Trust me. Doh Doh DOHHHHH.”
Reconsidering the gravity of the situation, the neurologist ordered for Tree to be sedated–heavily–and called an ambulance to transport us to San Felipe, the best and most expensive clinic in Peru.
Roxana followed Tree and Sol and I in the ambulance and helped us get checked in to yet another clinic. Tree woke up from sedation in the ambulance (that was fun) and was again a real challenge through triage. Finally, we got him upstairs in the ICU and sedated him again. At midnight, Roxana gave me a ride back to our apartment so that I could take Kiki out, feed her, and give her her nightly meds, and then grab enough stuff to camp out in the waiting room with Sol for a few days. I also did some online research about Tree’s condition and spoke with Adam, Tree’s brother, in the States about our next steps. About an hour later, at 2:30am, Miguel, our taxi driver who had been waiting nearby, came to take me back to the clinic. In the waiting room of ICU, Sol slept by me in her car seat, while I curled up on a couch and listened to her breathe.
The neurologist returned at eight in the morning. He said that Tree’s sodium was back to normal but that when the nurses lifted his sedation, he was still very “agitated,” which was his nice way of saying that Tree was still crazy, loco, coo-coo for Coco Puffs. It was time to start “ruling out” possible viruses and bacteria, he said. I okayed the spinal tap and pressed him to do it right away. If it was infectious, I wanted Tree to start treatment as soon as possible.
In the waiting room, the nurses came to get the only other person in the room with me. She too had spent the night curled up on a couch. The nurses said it was time–her mother was actively dying.
This is about when I really started to breakdown mentally too–not just because I hadn’t slept or because Tree was nuts and had to be drugged senseless with tubes coming out of him or because I had to watch as they punctured my sweet lover’s lumbar and sucked out his spinal fluid or because I was afraid he would slip into a coma and die and then Soleil wouldn’t have a father and I would be left to wander the earth like a crazy lady looking for peace that I’d never find. Sure, each and every one of those horrors sieged my heart and usurped my sense of being okay in the world, but what made me sob unconsolably in the bathroom on more than one occasion was the thought that if it was something infectious like meningitis, it would only be a matter of time before the virus or bacteria started to present in Soleil. And her little body would be no match for it. What if I lost them both? I couldn’t bear the thought of it.
Meanwhile, back in the States, our family was hard at work. Noni was packing her bags to come back to Peru; Indra was on the phone with LAN airlines buying the tickets; John Senior was prepping for emergency evacuation should we need to move Tree to Chile or the States; Aunty Debby spoke with her friend Maria who is from Lima and arranged for friends to come visit me in ICU and help with the baby; and Adam called me every two hours to get an update to pass on to the troops and to help calm my terrorized mind.
As I waited for the results, Irma, the first of Aunty Debby’s foot soldiers, showed up. She was an elderly lady–kind, resilient. Many years ago, she had twin boys but lost them both as infants to Rh disease. Now she cared for other people’s babies, most often her grandnieces and grandnephews. She bought me lunch, made sure I ate it, and walked Soleil up and down the halls while I went in to check on Tree or chased down doctors to try and get results. After a few hours of helping me, she grabbed a bus from the clinic to a poor neighborhood outside of Lima to feed the street dogs.
After Irma left, I made friends with an incredibly kind Peruvian family–a mom, two daughters and one of mom’s friends– in the waiting room. The dad had almost died from a stomach ulcer that led to a broken artery, but he was recuperating nicely. The ladies picked up with Soleil where Irma left off. Since Soleil wasn’t allowed in the ICU (or, technically even in the waiting room), it was crucial that I had someone to watch her while I went in to handle things with Tree.
In the late afternoon, I finally got the results from the spinal tap: No evidence of an infectious disease! A huge weight was lifted off of my chest, but we were still in the dark about what was causing Tree’s brain to stay swollen, so we moved forward with the MRI. As I waited again for what seemed like forever, Carlos, another one of Aunt Debby’s foot soldiers, came to visit. He and his friend Manolo kept me distracted with good conversation until finally, at around 6pm, Dr. Humeres came to tell me that the MRI results were normal. Even the swelling had gone down. He was going to start reducing the sedation to see how Tree reacted. I asked to be in the room this time so that Tree would be more likely to feel safe when he woke up. The doctor told me to be there by 8pm.
With a couple of hours to kill, I had Carlos and Manolo watch my belongings while Sol and I went for a walk. When I came back, the nurses told me that Tree had asked for me…by name!!! I was ecstatic. I handed the baby off to Carlos and ran into the ICU ward. He was asleep. So, I shook him until he was awake, and goddamn he really did know who I was! He even asked about Soleil. Ding ding ding! I asked him what our dog’s name was, and he said “Kiki”, as if I was the one with a brain problem. Sprinter Life was back in action!!!
Unfortunately, Noni had already begun her gnarly fourteen hour travel to Peru; luckily, however, she had a connecting flight in Los Angeles, which meant that I was able to contact her to let her know that her son was awake, and mostly coherent, before she caught the flight to Lima. She returned back home to Seattle by midnight–tired but not ruined.
The next day, Carlos brought a doctor friend and we all went to get some breakfast, and then Irma came by to drop off booties that she had crocheted for Soleil (see pic below) and to make sure that I ate lunch. I was overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness that both of them showed me–and that many others did as well. They spent money, energy, and multiple hours each day with someone they did not know to help in a time of crisis. I kept asking myself if I would have done the same for a friend of a friend of a friend on a moments notice. I’d like to think that I would, but would I? In the future, when an opportunity arises to go out of my way to show compassion and care for a stranger, I will remember my new friends and the way they eased my struggle.
The nurses moved Tree to a recovery room where both Sol and I were able to be with him. We hung out until nine at night, when finally we were released to go home. For the next three days, Tree was still a bit foggy, but he has since recuperated fully. He has no recollection whatsoever of what happened though. The whole experience is lost on him.
What’s not lost on him is the expense. Hospital bills to the tune of $7000. Hard for us to swallow, but it would have been 50 times that in the United States.
For me, however, this experience was replete with lesson– the big lesson, the same lesson, the most important lesson of them all. It reminded me how incredible it is to be alive, and how quickly and easily that can change. And, it reminded me how incredible it is to be in love, to live in love, to share life with my lover–and how quickly and easily that too can change. There is no time to waste. We’ve got to burn bright in this life. We’ve got to love big and heavy. We’ve got to get sweaty. Skip. Hold hands. Skinny dip. Break into a run. Play hopscotch with neighborhood kids. Paint. Get dirty. Learn something new. Kiss the one we love one hundred times in a row. Hold our babies close. Make them squeal and giggle and goo in delight. Fight for justice. Sing loud in the car. Roll around on the ground with dogs, lots of dogs, and let them lick our face stinky. We need to get really dirty. Take a nap in the sun. Splash around in the rain. Eat slow and messy. Drink amazing wine. Laugh hard and easy. Cry hard and easy. Be kind. Give thanks. Hang out in the ICU with someone we don’t know. Say I love you and mean it every night before bed.
It also reminded me of the importance of community. I’ve written about it numerous times, but really I can’t say it enough: We need community to thrive in this life, and I am amazed by the one I have, from the incredible kindness of the strangers I meet to the fierce dedication of our friends and family. And in today’s interconnected world, we’ve made friends everywhere from big cities to small pueblos, even online. That’s one of the most incredible gifts I’ve received from living the way we live. All I’ve had to do is be open to the experience. Creating community wherever I am has made me feel like I belong wherever I am.
They say home is where the heart is, and that’s fine by me because I’ve learned to bring my heart wherever I go.
Lastly, I realized how fragile our lifestyle is. With our captain out of commission, Sprinter Life was on the brink of being no more. I sure am glad to have him back. We are so blessed to be able to live our dream, to see the world together, to raise our daughter as a global citizen, to be healthy, happy and in love–and to share it all with you. -STEVIE