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December 2, 2020 PART V: Melting Ice Cream Cake, TNA and the slow walk home from Shitsville U.S.A.

There is a weird thing that happens in your mind when you are faced with your reality.

Truly your reality. The fragility and weight of your existence. When the difference between your living on this earth and not comes close enough to you that you can feel the breeze it leaves. I honestly didn’t think I would have this proverbial physiological paradox until I was much older and I would smell like mothballs and Werther’s Originals.     I assumed, as most people did, that Natasha and I would be somewhere in the south, after my caregiver would’ve just cleaned my bedpan and put a new pair of Depends™ on me. It would be sunset and I would be being wheeled out near the water over by the shuffleboard courts so I could play some sort of game lead by Debbie, the activity director, to help with my dexterity and hand-eye coordination. Debbie would be very bubbly with kind eyes and she had learned through her years working at old people’s homes how to be professionally sympathetic between the hours of 10 am – 6 pm M-F.  I understood this to be how the inevitable winter of my years would come. A slow, languid pace filled with several pairs of teeth and glasses and a few spit ups along the way that would eventually lead me to the final exhaustion of my life’s journey.  Sloooooowww and low style.

However, once this rollercoaster of annoyance was set in motion and I was introduced to my new best buddies those lovable butt bayonet-having bees, I knew the pre-game to shuffle board play time was going to take some detours. Life was rolling. It was going smooth like JiFF.  Then randomly you get stung 14+ times by bees (they stopped counting at 14). Then you are told you might have a funky heart thing and perhaps medication will help it work better. Negative. Then it doesn’t help and your condition starts to rapidly deteriorate and the discovery process starts to speed up. Next, we talk about a stent, a metal tube that will open up arteries and help you. Negative. Nah, buddy you need the whole shebang. Trips. The trifecta. A Triple Bypass. So then that happens in a rushed fashion only 2 days before your son’s 9th birthday. Sooooo…safe to say: not ideal. A lot to process there…I’ll wait.

My operation went flawlessly, so I am told. How the hell would I know? (see drugs) My surgeon was 100% on the spectrum and in the future, if you ever have to get one of these babies done to you or a loved one, I think this is a very good characteristic to look for in a heart surgeon. He went to Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, DeVry, all of them and he was a concert pianist.

SOLD!! To the balding bee-stung bastard over by the window.  That part was easy; I just had to show up. Healing on the other hand, left me with a shitload of issues. I guess when my body, with all its fine hereditary gifts, is left to its own devices, kinda…how do you say…sucks.

Soggy wet lung, constipation like a clogged colonial cannon, cold sweats, hot sweats, pain that would cripple a rhino, weird depression waves that will stop you immediately, insert other issues here. Ohhh and sneezing.  I honestly never thought sneezing could be a bad thing. It feels like a firing squad. It is fkn crippling. I liken it to the end scene of Scarface.  A super uber-coked up Tony Montana sees his empire crumbling and he won’t go down without a fight.  A super crazy, coked-up fight where he takes 30 to 40 shots to the chest. God bless me indeed, holy shit. I have never imagined pain coming from something so basic. Thankfully in time, about a few weeks after being released, the initial pain started to subside ever so slowly but it was happening!!  YEAH!!!   All things big and small seemed to look promising.

Small wins all around.  I was walking a lot and doing my breathing exercises daily. My soggy wet lung was drying up and occasionally I had a bowel movement. It felt like the sun was starting to shine in Shitsville, USA.  Party of one. Population one M.G. O’Rourke.  

To recap: bee stings, crap, more crap, Bigger more serious crap, biggest most serious crap, then the tapering-down type of crap. Then we took a big right turn and we started to see the lights getting bigger and brighter; we had turned right back towards Shitsville. It had clearly missed me and was calling my back.

One Friday night about 2 weeks ago I was feeling good and Hazel (Hazy, El-Haz, Birdy, Bert, Baby Girl) and I took our dog for a nighttime walk around the block before dinner. Natasha is an amazing cook. Seriously, 7 Stars, but since she was handling so much with me out of commission, we had a meal train that our friends set up. Our friends seriously kick ass. I would tear up if I had to get into detail of how much they have done for us. Tash was getting dinner ready and George (Georgie, G$, The Geeg) was setting the table and prepping.  Real Norman Rockwell shit at the ranch.  While Hazy and I made our loop around the hood walking Rosie, I started to feel very tired. This is normal. There are days I would take two naps and some days I’d sleep most of the day, but this time it had a weird tinge to it. I never recall it coming on at a moment’s notice, and feeling it so heavily. I passed it off as being tired. I mean jeeesh, I was in recovery and everyday was a full-blown adventure. I asked Hazy to hold my hand and we walked back home at half pace. When we got home, I hung up the dog leash and put my shoes away and washed my hands. (Basic Covid stuff, bridges.) At home I started to feel more tired and proceeded to sit down at the table and was pretty sure I was just gonna go to bed after dinner. It was not uncommon for me to rock a solid 8PM bedtime or sooner. 

We all sat down and started eating. The kids are still doing remote learning so we talked about what they did at school and how their days went. As we were all talking, I went to reach for my water glass, and missed it terribly. In my mind, my hand was in line to grab the glass, but if my hand was a plane, that plane crashed into the runway yards before it was supposed to. My depth perception was off. WAAAAAYY off.  The odd thing about it was it didn’t feel that way, which sort of made me feel like I was drunk or seriously buzzed. I immediately looked at Natasha who was engaged in discussion with Hazy. She didn’t notice me staring at her at first.  We had made a pact to make sure that I am more open and honest about how I am feeling. This was never the case before. I sort of would shrug a lot of stuff off and hope that it would pass and usually I was right but this, this was a feeling I couldn’t sneak by or pass it off. I decided to stand up. I don’t know why, I just did and while the room wasn’t spinning, it wasn’t normal. It was off its axis and time started to get really slow. It felt like a lifetime just standing there, like hours, like time was moving at ¼ speed.

I was standing and must have been looking around stupidly and Natasha asked me if I was okay.

I remember replying that I felt really dizzy and that my face felt weird. She stood up, grabbed her phone and called the Chans (A+ friends) and asked if the kids could have a sleepover as we were on our way back to our home away from home…that’s right, EMERGENCY at Mass General. Tell him what he’s won, Rod Roddy…Well, Bob, Matthew is having what appears to be a stroke!

Yeah… NOW my highway of crap, this solid 6 six weeks from bee stings to new arteries decides that now, now would be the perfect time to throw this shit in the middle of my road.

Mr. Chan was at our house in about 5 minutes, boots and shorts. Serious pick-up mode style. My kids were excited and grabbed their stuff, and with small cheek pecks, were out the door and gone, none the wiser of what was going on. This was intentional and definitely for the better. After the whoosh of the door closing and the noise of the door knocker settling, we were in the car and on our way.  The ride is roughly 30 minutes. It felt like a goddamn year.  Time actually stopped and I felt buzzed. Good, long party buzzed, the sort where you paced yourself, remembered to drink plenty of water, and buckled in for a long-sustained party. It felt sort of nice, if you can exclude the holy shit panic waves that were crashing inside my body. 

We were about a mile into our ride and my hands started to feel really warm and then got tingly. I kept moving them like I was doing the chicken dance – da na na na na na na –

but I never got to the lower body portion of the celebratory dance, da na na na na na na. Clap-clap-clap-clap. I remember having to open the window to get some air, and it helped me feel a bit more of my body and calm down a bit.  Ahhh…that is air coming in and going through my nose to the inside of my lungs. “Okay, this isn’t that bad,” I thought to myself and then the melting happened. That is truly the only way I can describe it. The left side of my face had become an ice cream cake that was slowly melting. A wide strip of my face and neck from the top of my head all the way down on the left side of my face, that once-stunning cake, now just melting and sagging and feeling like what I can only assume it feels like when you are on the Biggest Loser and you lose all that weight and you are just left with a heavy swath of skin. The left side gave up on the game and was now going to laze around and the rest of my body was going to have to finish the game without it.  Way to be a team player, lefty.

I immediately got whisked into Emergency.  I had just been at Mass General for a lovely stay with a great giant scar as a parting gift so maybe they knew me, but I doubt that. I think it really comes down to key words. Upon check-in, I was in the full-on throes of the stroke party. I didn’t know what was going on and it was mildly scary. I clenched on to Natasha and honestly felt like a helpless little kid. I didn’t want to do anything. I wanted her to do all the talking. She could tell the intake nurse my name and my address and all my symptoms, my favorite color and that fact that, outside of my new found love of purple popsicles, I wasn’t really a sweets guy.  As soon as I was brought to triage and sat down, the nurse looked at Natasha and told her, “You can go home, he’s gonna be here for a while.” We looked at each other in a way that I hope you don’t ever have to experience looking at your spouse. It was a deep stare.  My eyes saying “Am I going to be okay?” And her look replying, “You got this, you will be okay.”

I released from the gaze and said the phrase that I have said to her so many times on this shitty journey. From the bees to various diagnoses to the prep for the surgery to my first bout of real healing pain.  “I don’t like this!” I would always say it in a normal voice, perhaps with a sigh before it and I would repeat this phrase a few more times over my stay. It is a simple phrase that sums all of it up: all the confusion, weirdness, self-doubt, the hereditarily bad hand and all the whoa-is-me-isms you can find and lament about. It fits. You are welcome to try it and use it.

I was quickly rushed back to the main pool at the ER and started to get a steady cavalcade of doctors, nurses, neurologists and heart specialists each asking me all sorts of questions while making me squeeze fingers, have my eyes follow lights and pens and some white coated cats  finger. (Come on buddy, be better, buy a tool.) I got an MRI, a CAT scan, immediately got hooked up to an EKG monitor, and had a bunch of other tests mostly referred to by 3-letter abbreviations but sadly not called the FBI or OPP. After all that, I got admitted and was given a room in the middle of the night or was it already early Saturday morning? In my room, solo room hollaaaahhhhh, I finally got to use my phone. I turned it on to text Natasha and tell her what was happening. I wanted to be able to at least, hopefully make her feel better about what is going then she could relax and maybe sleep for a bit. Luckily my chest was still healing and painful so I got some painkillers and some new stuff for the ole left side droopy face and tried to sleep.

In the am I woke up and realized, after seeing my breakfast menu, that I was being rewarded for having a stroke with access to the full hospital menu. That’s right, I could have the full menu of mediocrity that the hospital cafeteria could offer. I got the keys to fkn OZ!!!  In the past, due to my heart surgery, I could only eat things off of a custom low-sodium menu sponsored by my mortal enemy, Mrs. Dash. So as much flavorless gruel as you wanted. Now, I could have anything I wanted and it was glorious dreadful. After all the advances in medical science and productivity they still can’t make the food edible OR maybe they are so smart they want the food to be crap so you will want to go home faster…hmmm dunno it’s a debate nonetheless.

I really didn’t do much while I was in the hospital. Just sort of sat around. Not much you can do after a stroke I guess. A few hours later, a lovely-natured gentleman came in with a large IPAD looking medical device and showed me pictures of all my brain activity (basically, a bunch of looking Cauliflower stalks doing their thing). There were about 3 photos spanning the time I was in triage to just a few hours prior to this gentleman’s arrival. He took me through all the areas of the brain and what to look out for, I guess in case I want to start doing DIY brain photos at home. The key was that there were no white dots. White dots on a brain photograph are no bueno. A white area/dot is big deal in the stroke game as they represent where damage to the brain has occurred during the stroke or what I was soon told is classified as a Transient Neurological Attack.  I apparently had gotten a little unwanted TNA.  (TNA, holy crap, what a horrible thing to associate with something that’s usually so great, T&A. Do better, medical science namers.)  So, TNA, once classified, takes it down to the JV-version of a stroke. TNA is often also referred to as a mini stroke.  In general, in my life I try not to do anything in the mini department; but in situations like this, I will let it slide. For sure.

So after another day of observation I was given a true proper medical precision-based diagnosis of “peripheral,” as a reason for my small “s” stroke .  I suppose you could also call this the  “uhhhh, we dunno why you had a small stoke.“   So with this new droopy eye opening information my saggy left side and I left MGH and slowly carried each other

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  • Kevin Redmond : OK. Now you are just showing off. Thanks for keeping us up to date Matty. We are all thinking of you. Enjoy the holidays with your family, and no more trips to the ER.
  • Jennifer Campbell : Holy shit. Thinking of you all. You got this!
  • Chris Kiser : DUDE. C’mon already! These cries for attention really need to stop. We see you, we read you. Now let’s get back to the run of the mill boring old fart jokes and whatnot. You continue to be an inspiration of strength and modesty. Thank you for updating your extended posse and know that we’re crying and laughing and cheering you on. You do “got this.” 👊🏼
  • Kevin McLeod : Wow, a family with two talented writers. I’m sorry for your experience but so glad you made it thru!
  • Winslow Dennis : Fu**. I am at a loss for words. But I beg you to check out of Shitsville - maybe get a change of address form and mail it in? Your writing, however, continues to be epic and almost too humorous in the face of tragedy. I am almost ashamed when I find myself laughing. I don’t really pray, but I will keep thinking and being your friend. Albeit remotely. Keep your strength up.
  • Terry Ward : Bro, I'm here for you, tell me how and when I can help. Done.