Sunday, August 16, 2009

Brother update

So, as I previously mentioned, I'm long overdue for a 5-month Peanut post, but things have been a little crazy these last two weeks. My brother was back in the hospital for a week - we just brought him home on Monday afternoon and had to bring him back in yesterday.

Steve called me the morning of Tuesday the 4th because he was having what he thought was a stroke. His right arm and hand had stopped working and he couldn't feel them and he was having trouble speaking and finding words. We had a very disjointed conversation because we were both panicked and he was unable to tell me what was wrong. Through a combo of me playing twenty questions and him telling me as much as he could, we determined that he wasn't bleeding and could breathe but couldn't use his hand, didn't want an ambulance but wanted us to come get him and take him to the ER. I have never heard him sound so scared and that in turn scared me. I hung up with him long enough to get Mr. Fantastic and we loaded Peanut up and raced over.

I called Steve back as soon as we were on the road because I was imagining him sitting all alone in his car, not being able to do anything and being scared and so I wanted him to know I was there, that we were coming as fast as we could. Since he still was having trouble talking, I just told him where we were and played more twenty questions. It was weird, he could understand me and knew what he wanted to say but certain words just wouldn't come out. Like I asked him what floor of the parking garage he was on and he couldn't tell me. He could say, "I'm on..." but couldn't get out the word "three" even though he was staring at the big number 3 on the wall.

We got him to the ER and there was more twenty questions as he and I tried to explain what had happened and tell them about his medical history. They took him off pretty quickly for an MRI, and when he got back we had another scare. They wheeled him back into the little curtained area where he'd been and I'd been waiting. As the nurse was fiddling with the various monitors and tubes and things, I was asking Steve how it went and he started having a twitch on his right cheek. Then he started sticking his tongue out and I asked him why he was doing that and suddenly he started having a full-body seizure. It was awful to watch and to just have to call for help and not be able to do anything. It didn't last long and they quickly gave him some anti-seizure meds.

That was the only seizure he had, but his right hand was still not working. He spent a few days in the ICU, then got moved to a regular room where he had visits with physical therapy and occupational therapy. He had several scans and basically the brain doc said it was a metastatic brain lesion that burst and the bleeding into the brain causes swelling and pressure, which in turn causes the stroke-like symptoms. Apparently, given time, if the bleeding can be stopped the brain will reabsorb the fluid and that should relieve the symptoms. They keep assuring us that use of his hand will come back eventually if the swelling and pressure go away.

I was not comfortable with this "wait and see" approach, but we're told it's better to give the brain a chance to heal itself as opposed to going in surgically to drain it with a shunt or something. So they ended up sending him home on Monday with medication for seizure and blood pressure and appointments for more OT and scans. Through it all, Steve was basically feeling fine - no headache or pain of any kind and all the doctors were amazed at how well he presented despite what was going on in his head.

He was home all week and basically doing ok. We did some grocery shopping for him but he has been mostly self-sufficient even with the right hand still not working. He can move it and grip loosely, like to hold a highlighter, but not squeeze tight enough to open a factory-sealed jar. The OT told him to keep using it for everything he could, even if it means taking longer and making more of a mess than with the left.

We thought things were going well since he's been feeling and doing fine, and then yesterday he was on the phone with a friend and started having trouble finding words again. They hung up and he called me. I know how much he hates being in the hospital but I told him I thought we had to go back to the ER, since it was Saturday and I didn't think there was any alternative.

They admitted him to the ICU again and kept him there overnight last night. They did another scan and there's some discussion on whether it's bleeding in a new area or more bleeding from the same area or what. They are moving him back up to a regular room again today and the brain doc will by to see him tomorrow and make some decisions. I'm still uncomfortable with the waiting-and-seeing but I'm trying to keep in mind that it's supposed to be better for him in the long run.

They have him on steroids this time, which is supposed to help the swelling and I think it may be having some effect. He says it feels like his right hand is working a little better - not major improvement but enough to make him hopeful. So, we'll know more tomorrow but they've said he could possibly even go home again as early as tomorrow.

This whole thing has been incredibly scary - I thought more than once, "Is this it? Is this when we lose him?" I try not to have the mindset that we're going to lose him to this cancer but sometimes it's so hard to push that fear back. For all that it was terrifying, he seems to be just fine now (with the exception of his right hand, of course.) I don't know what to make of it. I mean, a bleed in your brain can't be good but nobody seems to be in a big rush to do anything. Is it because it's a lost cause and they just aren't saying it? Or is it really as simple as they say? It's his brain. But sometimes these things can be deceptive.

So, I'm trying to keep my spirits up (and his) and would dearly love your good thoughts, wishes and karma to help him.