After dealing with spinal stenosis for many years, and after exhausting all other options for pain management, Joe made the difficult decision to undergo a laminectomy and spinal fusion to relieve his back and nerve pain, once and for all. On Monday, November 21, 2016, Joe was admitted to Barrow's Neurological Institute/ St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix and the surgery took place. His neurosurgeon was very pleased with the outcome and we had all anticipated that Joe would be home by Thanksgiving.
Joe's sister and her husband drove in from California on Wednesday, November 23rd, to help me with Joe's at-home care. However, when we arrived at the hospital that afternoon, Joe had gone from being engaging and his usual witty self, to being disoriented, complaining of a horrible headache, and he appeared to be in much more pain than the day before. We assumed that the pain was part of the normal healing process and that the heavy amounts of IV pain meds were the source of his confusion. Unfortunately, that was not the case and things quickly took a turn for the worst. Sometime in the middle of the night, Joe began vomiting large amounts of blood. Afraid that he would aspirate, the medical team intubated him and a CT scan revealed that he had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, or a "bleeder" as some refer to it.
I received a call from one of the ICU nurses at 5:00 am on Thanksgiving morning, needing my permission for the neuro team to perform a craniectomy to relieve the intracranial pressure and allow them to access the source of the bleeding. I gave them my blessing and told them to do whatever it would take to save his life. After the 3-hour surgery, Joe's primary neurosurgeon sat and spoke candidly with us. He said that Joe was in bad shape, even though the surgery had gone well, and that had this happened to Joe anywhere else, he probably would not have survived. The doctor stressed that the stroke was unrelated to the spinal surgery and he felt that it was just a terrible fluke.
Since Thanksgiving day, Joe has remained in the ICU; he is intubated, has a feeding tube, a cranial drain, a spinal drain, multiple IVs and is being monitored very closely. He battles with a persistant low-grade fever and congestion in his lungs. They are also closely monitoring his blood pressure which has a tendency to creep up when he gets agitated, antsy and starts moving around too much. If too much sedation is used, his heart rate plummets. So, as you can see, it's a fine balancing act.
He is moving his hands and feet upon command. However, his left side is much stronger than his right, since the hemorrhage occurred on the left side of his cerebellum. He is now tracking us with his eyes, which is a positive sign. Yesterday, I looked into his eyes, told him that I loved him and blew him a kiss... he melted my heart when he tried to purse his lips around his vent and attempted to blow me a kiss, too! Twice!
I want to thank each and every one of you, from the bottom of my heart, for all of your support, love and prayers. Please do keep those prayers coming as Joe has many hurdles ahead of him. I will post to this journal as changes occur - hopefully, all good changes!