Three weeks ago, while we were having our usual pre-lesson chat with our tango teachers, Terry said he felt dizzy and didn’t think he would be able to dance that day. When he added that he had some discomfort in the left side of his jaw, I suggested we head to the emergency room. He insisted on making a detour home to get his wallet, but fortunately it wasn’t far, and when we arrived at the local hospital the staff in the ER immediately whisked him back and started tests to determine whether he had had a stroke or a heart attack. He was admitted to the hospital for observation and after two CAT scans, an EKG, echocardiogram, and an MRI, there was conclusive evidence of a small bleed in the basal ganglia.
The basal ganglia form a central component of the cerebrum, lying deep within the brain, below the thalamus. Their primary function appears to be to control and regulate activities of the motor and premotor cortical areas so that voluntary movements can be performed smoothly. Dysfunction in the basal ganglia has been implicated in such disorders as Parkinson’s and Tourette’s syndrome.
In Terry’s case, the only noticeable effects following his stroke were a very slight list to the left when he walked and a subtle hesitation in his speech. He said that inside it felt as if he were dizzy and “quivering” and that he could not speak, write or move as smoothly and with as much coordination as he usually does. All of these symptoms have either decreased significantly or disappeared in the three weeks since his stroke, and this has been very reassuring for both of us.
But the clinical description of what happened to Terry that first Tuesday in August is not what I’m writing about. Instead, I want to focus on the fact that we humans are made to attach and that threats to our primary attachment figures (a.k.a. partners) feel like threats to us. So no matter how cool, calm and collected we may appear, inside we’re leaping to tall conclusions in a single bound and freaking out.
And in my case, it didn’t help that my first husband had died of melanoma. Terry’s stroke got tangled up with Dave’s cancer and somehow I got sucked back to the time of Dave’s diagnosis in March, 2001 and his death in December of that year. Now I was really bummed out that I seemed to have once again married an apparently healthy man who could not give me a guarantee of immortality.
So I guess that’s what this is really about is once again bumping into mortality and the fact that we are ALL temporary. And that no matter how much we exercise, eat healthy food, and refrain from bad habits like smoking, sooner or later we all get sick and die, and that aging inevitably involves grief. Grief over lost abilities, energy, youth, beauty, hair, and if we live long enough, over the loss of those whom we love most.
This time we were lucky. Terry’s stroke left little damage and in all likelihood he will recover completely. He’s already back to dancing, working, cooking, playing music, and has beaten me more than once in Scrabble. And the odds are that we’ll have a number of very good years to come. But I know that I must not take him for granted and to savor the precious moments that we have together.
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