Wednesday, June 11, 2008


It was a very pretty day out. I was outside watering the flowers. My two sisters, Maureen and Patty, were in the house. I could hear them talking but not clear enough to understand what they were saying. One of them said something funny. I heard them laughing. Then the phone rang.

No one wanted to answer it because we had been getting calls for weeks that showed up on our caller ID as "PRIVATE NUMBER". When we would answer the phone no one would be there. It had started to bug us so we decided to just ignore those calls and let the answer machine pick up. This call also showed up as PRIVATE NUMBER.

The phone rang again right away. This time Maureen answered it. She wanted to see what Patty and I were talking about with the mystery calls we were getting. Only this time, someone was there.

Then I heard Maureen yelling outside to me "Joanne, Gene had a stroke and he is in the hospital". I quickly tossed the hose down. I don't even remember turning it off, but I did. I ran into the house.

Maureen didn't have many details. She just said our SIL, Gene's wife, called and said "Gene had a stroke and we should get to the hospital". I was shocked! This couldn't be real. My head was filled with thoughts. I wanted to run to the car and leave right away. I wanted to know more details. But I couldn't just leave.

Patty had just had surgery and was home recovering. She couldn't be left alone. So what do we do? I had to decide quickly and I wasn't sure what to do.

I picked up the phone and called my SIL back. I asked her what happened. She just said "Gene had a stroke and was in ICU." I could hear in her voice that she was scared, worried and on the verge of tears. I asked how bad he was. She said "You just need to get down here".

What did that mean? Was she trying to tell me my brother was going to die? Oh God! Please don't let that happen!

She then said "Gene wants to talk to you. He may be hard to understand". I said "OK". I knew it was good that he was even able to talk and wanted to talk.

Then I heard him. "Hello Joanne. I had a stroke." The words were very hard to understand but I knew what he was saying. "Be calm! Be calm!" is what I kept telling myself. I didn't want to start crying right then. I needed to take care of things without breaking down. I could do that later.

I told Gene I would be there soon and that I loved him. He told me he loved me too. I hung up. I could feel panic starting to set in. I was fighting hard to keep focused.

I told Maureen and Patty I was going to go the hospital. Maureen said she wanted to go too. Patty said she was going to go too. Together, Maureen and I said "No Patty, you can't go. You just had surgery and need to recover". She understood. She agreed she was in no condition to go the hospital right then but made us promise to tell Gene that she loved him and really wanted to be there. We promised.

I went into the computer to pull up the address of the hospital and I heard crying coming from the living room. I walked out there and saw it was Patty. She was crying harder then I had ever seen her. She was so upset she ended up getting sick.

Patty is the oldest of all of us. She has always been the strong one. The one who was always calm and took care of everything. I hardly ever saw her cry.

But now, she was crying and crying. She was so upset she could not go see Gene. What if he died and she didn't get to be there to tell him she loved him? It was heartbreaking.

I knew she should not be left alone. Not only was she recovering from surgery but she was so upset. So, I called one of her good friends to come be with her until we came home.

Within 15 minutes Patty's friend pulled up and Maureen and I were in the car. I was driving.

Looking back I knew angels were with us on that ride. I was going so fast and going in and out of traffic. It seemed like the drive to the hospital was taking forever. Like we were going in slow motion. But in reality I was driving like a crazy woman and could have easily gotten a ticket or worse yet, gotten into an accident.

Then we got there. We quickly parked. We walked, almost ran, inside and asked the lady at the volunteer desk where ICU was. She sent us down the hall to the double doors at the end of the building.

There we were met by another volunteer who had to check us in. She had to be sure there were not to many people in the room before she would let us go in. She was just doing her job but I was not in the mood to wait for her to do it. I wanted to see my brother. I wanted to see him NOW!

I knew we couldn't just open the door and get in because first of all the doors were locked. Also, I had no idea which room he was in once I got through the doors. So we waited. She finally buzzed us in and told us what room to go to.

We quickly went in the room. There he was. My big brother. My hero. Laying in the bed with tubes and wires every where. Hooked up to all these machines.

I don't remember ever seeing my brother sick, let alone laying there in the hospital like he was.

Gene tried to speak but I couldn't hardly understand him. He did manage to explain to us that he was paralized on his right side. But, thankfully, he wasn't in any pain.

I had to take a minute to process what happened. My brother couldn't move his arm or his leg. He couldn't walk. He couldn't even sit up. He had double vision. They wouldn't let him eat anything. So he had to be hooked up to an IV. They said he had to have a swallow test before they could give him anything. He could choke and have the food or liquids go down the wrong way and into his lungs. That of course, would cause him to get even sicker.

I asked to talk to my SIL outside. I needed to know more. I needed to know if he was going to die.

That's when she told me he had the stroke about a week before. He didn't want anyone to know. So she didn't call us. Then he got worse and he asked her to call us.

At first I was mad. How could she not have called us! What if he would have died before we got to be there with him! How would she feel if someone did that to her?

Now I know the answers. She was doing what my brother wanted her to do. She was following the wishes of her husband. It wasn't about us. It was about him.

Later, Gene, told me he didn't want anyone to see him like he was. He just hoped he was going to be better as quickly as he got sick. So why worry every one? Then when he took a turn for the worse he thought he was going to die and wanted to see us. He wanted to tell us he loved us and if he died at least he got the chance to say good bye.

No one, not my SIL, not Gene or even the doctors, knew what was going to happen. Would he get better? Would he have another stroke? Would he even live?

A stroke is a strange thing. No two people are the same. Therefore the healing process is different for everyone. We would have to wait and see, day by day. Even hour by hour how he would do.

I knew right then I would be by Gene's side for as long as he needed me to be. I didn't care who wanted me there or who didn't want me there. I was going to stand by my brother and do everything and anything I could to help him get better.

I know my brother. I know how strong he can be. I know he has been through a lot in his life and has gotten through everything. I know he is going to make it through this too. He has to! He is my brother. My big brother who always made me laugh. My hero who protected me as a child.

Every time we said good bye, in person or on the phone, we always said "I love you" to each other. Now I was going to get to show him I loved him and let him know, it wasn't just words.

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