The Incredible Awakening
The story of my recent trip to the ER and the gifts I gained from the frightening experience.
Friday night, three days before Christmas, Melissa and I were watching Love Actually. I was sprawled across the sofa, and Melissa was in the recliner. It was about ten o’clock when I noticed my right arm fell asleep. I shook it, but it didn’t help. I stopped the movie and sat up to shake my arm.
Melissa asked me, “What’s up?”
“Oh, my arm fell asleep. Must’ve been lying on it funny.”
I was letting my arm hang, shaking it to get the blood flowing.
Melissa responded, “I’ve had that. It’ll come back.”
As I massaged my right arm with my left hand, I noticed my right leg was now also asleep. I stood up.
“Wow, my leg fell asleep, too.”
“Huh, I’ve never had both at the same time,” she added.
I began walking on the numb leg to get the blood flowing, and the right side of my face lost all feeling.
“Crap, now it’s in my face.”
We both knew what it meant.
Melissa picked up her phone. “Should I call 911?”
I told her, “I guess so,” but it was hard to get the words out. I sounded like I was drunk, yet I hadn’t consumed any alcohol.
Melissa called 911 and was quickly answering questions from the dispatcher. I tried to say something to her and realized I was having trouble retrieving the words I wanted to tell her. I managed to slur something out, but I wasn’t sure she understood me. I began to get nervous, and my body ran cold.
She stopped talking to the dispatcher and looked me in the eye. “You’re going to be okay. Take some deep breaths. The ambulance is on its way.” (Melissa has always been very calm in emergency situations.)
I walked from the den to the living room and sat in the first chair I could find. My brain went fuzzy. “Surreal” is the best word to describe it. It felt like a bad dream. I could feel my heart beating fast, so I tried to calm my mind. I closed my eyes and talked to my father in spirit.
“What’s happening, Dad? I need you. Please be with me.” I trusted that he was. I kept my eyes shut and breathed deeply. I wondered if, at any moment, I might see my father close-up and personal. I’ve been perfectly healthy up until this point, so it was difficult to fathom that my body was in crisis.
I wasn’t afraid of dying. I knew that would be peaceful. I was afraid of leaving Melissa. I always imagined another twenty or twenty-five years with the love of my life. I thought about how much we loved traveling together and how we had delayed traveling for various reasons. For years, we couldn’t afford it. When we could, I was working incessantly. Then we got dogs. Then Covid. Delay, delay, delay. I wondered if we missed our opportunity—if my time had run out.
I also thought of my father. I’m sixty. He died at sixty-four. I thought to myself, Dad smoked Camel nonfilters his entire life and abused alcohol. How ironic that I, a nonsmoker who never drank much, might die younger than him.
My body began to shiver. I asked Melissa for a blanket.
Melissa placed a blanket over me in the chair. She kept reassuring me everything was going to be okay. I saw the reflection of red lights on the wall behind her. Melissa’s eyes, which had been locked on mine, looked up toward the front door.
Melissa walked to the door as I moved to the couch. I wanted to be facing the EMTs as they walked in.
Three guys entered the house, red lights still flashing outside. Melissa listed my symptoms to them as they put down their equipment.
That’s when I noticed the feeling returning in my right arm, hand, fingers, leg, foot, toes, and the right side of my face. All the numbness subsided.
“It’s going away,” I announced, surprised I could talk again. The more I talked to the EMTs, the clearer my brain got. My thoughts now came easily.
The EMT in charge told me his name was James, and he put me through a series of tests. He had me smile, hold my arms out, lift my legs, touch my nose then his finger several different times, and repeat a tongue twister of a sentence, which I repeated correctly.
After fifteen minutes of tests, it was clear the episode had ended. Forgetting about the slurred speech and fuzzy thinking, I surmised that I must have pinched a nerve to cause the numbness down the right side of my body. The truth was that I really didn’t want to spend the night in the hospital, so I told the EMTs they could leave without me.
“Okay, Bob. Just know you can call us back, even if we’re just down the street.”
“I will. Thank you for showing up so quickly. And Merry Christmas.”
I stood up to walk them to the door. As I was making small talk about the holiday, the right side of my upper and lower lips got tingly and then went completely numb. My speech went from coherent to slurring my words again. Seconds later, I was having trouble pulling the words I wanted to say from my brain. Everyone in the room witnessed the shift in my speech.
The right side of my face followed the numbness of my lips, then my arm and hand, then my leg and foot. Every symptom was worse than the first time it happened.
I managed to slur out, “Guess I’m coming with you after all.”
James commented, “I’m glad we got to see how articulate you were talking before this happened because we’ve never seen the extreme change before. Can you walk to the ambulance?”
There was no feeling in my right leg and foot, so I knew it would be a challenge, but I told him I could do it. I wasn’t being macho by choosing to walk to the ambulance so much as not wanting to give in to my body’s temporary disability. There was a part of me that didn’t want to admit this was really happening.
James told Melissa they were no longer allowed to have family members in the ambulance, so she would have to follow in her car. I kissed her like I might never see her again and told her I loved her. Melissa’s eyes got glassy, as did my own. I wondered if we’d kiss again. I wondered if I might never speak clearly again. I wondered if our lives were changing in this moment.
I turned to walk to the ambulance.
“Why are you limping?” asked James.
“Can’t feel my leg.”
“Sure you can make it?”
“About to find out.”
I held the side of the ambulance as I walked toward the back of the van. I reached the door and was disappointed to see there were stairs leading up to the inside. I stepped up with my left leg, grabbed the handle, and pulled my right leg up to the first stair, then repeated this method for the second stair. Once inside, the gurney was a welcomed place to rest.
James strapped three belts around my legs and waist and tightened them. This normally would have affected my mild claustrophobia, but my brain was too frazzled for it to bother me. As James put stickers all over my chest and hooked wires to them, a second EMT asked me if I minded if he stuck my finger to test my blood sugar.
“My fingers are numb. Doubt I’ll feel it,” I slurred as if intoxicated. My brain and mouth strained to get each word out.
He pricked my finger with his device. I couldn’t feel it, but I heard the click. He cocked his head, perplexed. He squeezed my finger. No blood.
“Mind if I try it again?”
“Go for it.”
Click. Same result. He handed everything to James to try my left hand.
James got some blood but realized their meter wasn’t working.
I was aware that my symptoms were worse than they had been in the house. I was trying to talk with the EMTs but really struggled to pull the words from my brain. This was the most disturbing symptom. I managed to ask James about it.
He told me that whatever was happening was taking place in the left side of my brain, where language and communication take place. “What do you do for work?” he asked.
“I’m a writer.”
“Oh,” is all he could say. His eyes looked at the other EMT as if to say, “That’s not good.”
I could see Melissa’s car lights behind the ambulance. I was worried about her having to walk alone from the parking lot to the hospital in the dark.
“How far will Melissa have to park from the emergency room?”
“It’s not far,” James told me.
About a half-hour after walking out of my living room, we arrived at the hospital.
“How ya feeling?” asked James.
“Same, and I’m kind of glad. Think it’s better that the doctor sees me while I have symptoms.”
The EMTs wheeled me out of the ambulance and into the ER. They stopped at a nurse standing behind a podium with a computer. James gave her the lowdown on my status. She asked me some questions about my age and address, which I managed to answer despite my garbled speech.
The EMTs wheeled me to a single room in the ER. As they did, the feeling returned to the right side of my face, followed by my arm, hand, leg, and foot.
“My symptoms just subsided,” I told them.
“Wow, I can tell just hearing you talk,” said James. “What a difference.”
“So much for the doctor witnessing your symptoms,” said the other EMT.
They locked the wheels of the gurney, and I unsnapped the belts holding me down and stepped onto the floor. I walked around the room.
“What’s the matter?” asked James.
“Seeing if the symptoms will come back?” the second guy asked.
“Yeah. When I walked you guys to my front door, all my symptoms came back. Just want to see if it’s going to happen again.”
A nurse from the ER walked in and looked at me pacing the floor. “What’s going on here?”
I explained it to him.
“Um, I need you to lie down,” he said.
The EMTs picked up their gear. We said goodbye, and I thanked them again, wishing them a happy holiday.
“Good luck, Bob!” they said in unison.
The nurse snapped a meter to my finger and took my blood pressure. “I’m John.”
“Nice to meet you, John. My blood pressure’s always high when I see a doctor, but it’s fine when I take it at the house,” I assured him.
“We see that a lot.”
“Where’s my wife? She arrived right behind the ambulance.”
“She’s in the waiting room. I told her I’d come get her in a little while.”
“Well, can she come in?”
He said, “Yes,” but made no indication to follow up.
I texted Melissa that she could come in, letting her know my symptoms had subsided. Seconds later, an older gentleman walked in and looked at John like he was frustrated with him. “His wife’s in the waiting room.”
“I know,” snapped John. “I told her I’d come get her.”
“Well, can I bring her in?”
John nodded. The man exited and came back with Melissa in less than a minute.
She took my hand and gave me a kiss.
“My symptoms went away,” I told her. “I’m okay.” I’d realized it was now her time to worry, and my role was to reassure her I was fine.
Melissa got a text. Our dear friends, Dan and Victoria, had arrived in the waiting room. They didn’t want Melissa to be alone, especially if my symptoms went south. I felt better knowing she had support nearby.
“I’m bringing you to get a CT scan,” John told me.
He began unlocking the gurney to wheel me out. I got to kiss Melissa and assure her I’d be okay.
I was a little nervous about the dye for the CT scan. I’d heard some people can have allergic reactions to it. I asked the tech about it as he hooked the dye up to my I.V., expressing my concern.
“We administer a little to you to start, then wait to see if you have a reaction. If not, we give you the larger dose. If you feel itchy or feel a weird sensation in your chest, let us know.”
“I’ve been in the emergency room several times due to a peanut allergy. Is it like that?”
“Yup, so you know what to look for.”
I closed my eyes and thought to myself, “Help me, Dad.” It comforted me to know my father was by my side. It took the hospital staff a while to set up, so whenever I got nervous, I just repeated, “Help me, Dad,” and I felt calmer. It was my mantra for relaxing my nerves.
I heard a voice over a speaker tell me they were going to administer the test dye. I breathed deeply and felt the warmth of the dye enter my body. It rushed from my throat to my chest and down my torso. It was a bizarre yet non-threatening sensation. Before I knew it, the machine spit me out and stopped making noise.
After having the CT scan of my brain and neck, they ordered an MRI and Echocardiogram. Since there was no one on staff who could give me those tests until morning, they told me I’d be staying overnight.
Melissa texted our friends in the waiting room that we were in it for the long haul. They decided to go home. The hospital wouldn’t allow them in the room with us, and since my symptoms had subsided, there was no sense in them hanging out in the hospital by themselves.
I’d been in the ER since eleven o’clock. At one-thirty, they let me know it might be a couple of hours before my room was ready. I told Melissa to go home. She had woken up at three-thirty that morning, so she was working toward being up for twenty-four hours. She left, calling me from her car to let me know she was safe. We chatted by phone until she was back in our house.
At four in the morning, they wheeled me into a hospital room with an elderly man as my roommate. He was wide awake, watching TV with the speaker on high, and all the lights were up bright. He didn’t acknowledge me as I walked by him toward the bed beside the window.
I was separated from my roommate by a curtain that was always drawn. Adding to the surreal nature of the entire experience, I could hear but not see what was going on in the second half of the room. There was a lot going on over there.
About twenty minutes in, a nurse entered the room and shut the lights off. The other patient yelled in a strained voice, “Too dark! Too dark!”
“You have a roommate now,” she told him, slightly shouting. “It’s four in the morning. He needs to get some sleep.”
He just kept repeating, “Too dark!”
The nurse looked my way with a smile.
“I’m fine with it,” I told her. “Leave ‘em on.”
I was so tired that nothing was going to bother me. Of course, every half-hour, nurses entered the room to check on him, yelling so he could hear them. So, sleeping wasn’t really a possibility anyway. It was more like dozing and waking up, dozing and waking up.
Come morning, I became aware of a shift change in personnel. With the curtain drawn between my roommate and me, I heard the sweet voice of a nurse named Nicole interacting with my uncomfortable and frustrated roommate. Hearing her talk to him was all I needed to know the love that is in her heart.
Nicole walked in at the beginning of her shift and asked my roommate if he knew what year it was. It was a question the nurses kept asking both of us.
“1966,” he told her.
“What year were you born?”
“So, how old are you?” she asked him.
“I don’t know, thirty? You tell me. How old am I?”
Nicole looked at his chart on a computer on the wall. “You’re eighty-seven.”
“I’m almost ninety years old!” he said with great surprise.
She giggled. “I guess so.”
He asked her, “Why am I here? Who brought me here?”
She looked at the computer and told him, “You came in by ambulance a week ago, and you had hip surgery five days ago. Your son called the ambulance.”
“I haven’t seen my son all week,” he said.
“This is the first time I’ve met you. I’m sorry if that’s true. I’m here if you need anything.”
I listened to their interactions for hours that Saturday. Nicole hadn’t yet developed so much as a layer of a hardened shell. Even when my roommate got frustrated and yelled at her in anger, she was patient, caring, and kind. I was moved by the gentleness and humanity she showed him.
At one point, I told her while my roommate was sleeping, “You’re very good at what you do. I’m in awe of the kindness and patience you showed my friend here.”
She squirmed at the compliment. “I did think he was going to hit me a couple times,” she admitted with a giggle.
“He was frustrated, but you never let him get to you, and you never stopped being kind. I hope you never change.”
The MRI and Echocardiogram aligned with the CT scan, all indicating that my health is pretty darn good. There was no sign of a stroke, so they determined it was a TIA (transient ischemic attack), which they labeled a mini-stroke. Considering my audience is made up of an older demographic, my guess is that hundreds of my readers have had this experience.
My doctor in the hospital kept telling me that my TIA could be a precursor to a major stroke. I wondered to myself if he was trying to see how high he could get my blood pressure by trying to scare me. I surmised that he was just trying to get me to take the previous evening’s events seriously, but his approach could use some work.
The EMTs must have written down that I was a writer, cause he brought it up.
“What do you write about?” he asked.
“Honestly, the afterlife,” I told him. “I was a private investigator when my father died, so I used my skills as a private eye to find out where he went, if anywhere. Had no idea I’d be doing this for 27 years.”
He was speechless.
“Be careful what you ask for, huh?” I said.
“Quite the opposite. That’s fascinating.” Then he walked out.
In the end, the CT scan, MRI, and Echocardiogram indicated some positive news. My brain, neck, and heart are all healthy. Of course, something happened to put my body in crisis that doesn’t show up on those tests. That’s the part that messes with your mind. You’re feeling healthy and vibrant until you suddenly lose control over parts of your body that are pretty darn important. It can lead one to be constantly looking over their shoulder for what’s creeping up on them. That said, we never know how long we have here, do we?
I know a man named Rick who had thyroid cancer about twenty years ago. He was treated successfully and even reached his five-year “no cancer” milestone, which he celebrated with his family. Shortly after, he pulled to the side of the highway to make a phone call (which he did for safety reasons) and was hit by an eighteen-wheeler that lost control. Rick died instantly.
I share Rick’s story to point out that life is always uncertain. I know this as well as anyone, and yet I was completely taken by surprise last Friday night. I have no family history of stroke on either side of my family. If I wrote a list of ways I might die, anything related to a stroke wouldn’t have even made the list.
There’s no question in my mind that it was stress that led to the TIA. A significantly stressful event happened that Friday morning. My body waited until evening to respond the way it did. Apparently, that’s not uncommon.
Still, it wasn’t that morning’s event by itself. I’d experienced a few major stressors in 2023. And it’s no surprise this occurred around the holidays. Let’s face it, the holidays can be a stressful season. After a stressful year, the holiday season merely finishes the year with a stress-induced exclamation point.
I’m fine now. This event was the proverbial wake-up call for a little self-care and a lot of stress management. As mentioned, I know a lot of you have been through the same experience. As I wrote in the last chapter of Answers About the Afterlife, what matters more than what happens to us is how we respond to what happens to us. It helps more to ask, “How can I make the most of my current situation,” as opposed to asking, “Why did this happen to me?”
Events like this help us to realize that we simply don’t know how much longer we have in this world. This provides us with an opportunity to plan what we’re going to do before our time here expires. Dr. Wayne Dyer recommended, “Don’t die with your music still in you.” It takes events like this to realize there’s more music within.
As I lay strapped down on the gurney during the ambulance ride, my mind thought about all the untapped music I still have inside me. I have so many more insights to share about life and the afterlife. I have more articles and books to write. I’m so excited about reigniting Afterlife TV in 2024. And I know the work I do to comfort people who are facing death or dealing with loss is far from done.
While writing this, it occurred to me that I quoted the Rolling Stones’ song “Wild Horses” in my high school yearbook. “Let’s do some living, after we die.” Well, I still have some living to do. My mind kept thinking, as the ambulance drove down the road, that Melissa and I still had places we wanted to see, experiences we wanted to have, and goals we wished to accomplish. Did we wait too long? Did we mistakenly think we had more time than we have? These are the same questions that run through many people’s thoughts as they face a medical crisis.
People on their deathbeds often ask two very important questions. Was I loved? And did I love enough? As to the first, I will comment on the response of friends and family upon hearing of my ordeal. I think of the loving texts of concern that came to Melissa and me. I think of our friends who came to the hospital to support Melissa and me while I was in the ER. I think of our neighbors texting their concern upon seeing the ambulance lights. I think of another neighbor who showed up at our door to offer Melissa assistance in any way she could. Dear friends even dropped off food before I arrived home on Saturday, so Melissa wouldn’t have to think about how we might eat that night.
Was I loved? Yes. So many people expressed their love in both words and actions. As to the question, did I love enough? I must say no. It never feels like enough, does it? Without question, I still have so much love to give. To give Melissa. To give my family. To give my friends. To give you, my audience. To give my colleagues, including the psychics and mediums on the directory. To give my precious dogs.
The timing of this medical episode has not been lost on me. How appropriate that we’ve now reached a New Year. It’s a time for rebirth and second chances, a time to make plans for everything we wish to do, say, and be. And it’s an opportunity to show love and be loved like it’s our last chance to do it. As for me, I’ve changed the acronym TIA from Transient Ischemic Attack to The Incredible Awakening, so I’m looking forward to living with more self-care and greater stress management.
Upon my release from the hospital, that sweet nurse, Nicole, walked me to the entrance. I complimented her kindness and compassion again and gave her a hug before leaving. As I walked out the door, I thought to myself, In the past seventeen hours, I’ve met some of the nicest people doing incredible work helping others. What a blessing this experience has been. I acknowledged the wake-up call with gratitude. As the doors closed to the hospital and Melissa’s car drove toward me, I thought, What an extraordinary Christmas gift my body has given me.
I have my freedom,
But I don't have much time,
Faith has been broken,
Tears must be cried,
Let's do some living,
After we die.
~ Wild Horses, The Rolling Stones
Happy New Year to you with love,
Bob Olson is the host of Afterlife TV, author of two books, Answers About The Afterlife and The Magic Mala, and creator of the reputable directory of psychics and mediums, BestPsychicDirectory.com. His newest venture is Bob Olson Connect, where you can read Bob’s articles before they become books.
If you’ve been considering a paid membership, here are some articles members have enjoyed on Tuesdays, which are available instantly after joining.
Dream Visitations: When Spirits Use Dreams to Say, “Hello from Heaven!”
Love Beyond the Grave: A holiday reminder of loved ones watching over us.
The Art of Preserving the Sacred: Navigating the Terrain of Spiritual Sharing.
The Path to Knowing: How Personal Experiences Lead Us to Unshakable Insights.
Conquering Fear of Death: Unlocking a Secret to Living More Fully.
Transcending Suffering: Stories of serenity in the face of tragedy.
Does My Loved One in Spirit Seek Justice for His Murder? Does my loved one in spirit want me to solve her crime or get vengeance?
An Afterlife Investigator’s Perspective on God: What the evidence suggests about the Big Guy in the sky.
Five Lessons I Learned About Life By Investigating the Afterlife: My investigation of the afterlife gave me extraordinary insights about life itself.
Will You Wait for Me in Heaven? How to Know if Your Loved One Will Reincarnate Before You Arrive.
The Question of Hell: If there’s an afterlife, does that mean there’s also Hell? What I've learned in my 25-year investigation of life after death about Hell.
The Five Key Factors That Determine How and When We Die: A clear and digestible explanation to a complex question, offering a new level of inner peace around the subject of dying.
Will I See My Pet Again in the Afterlife?: What I discovered in my investigation of the afterlife to establish if pets have souls.
What Happens to the Soul after Miscarriage or Stillbirth: What I learned about the souls of children who pass due to miscarriage or stillbirth.
Was Your Loved One’s Death Painful, Scary, or Dark?: What the evidence reveals about the experience immediately following death.
The Big Question about Suicide: What happens in the afterlife to people who take their own life?
Bob Olson Connect: Afterlife Investigator is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support Bob’s work, consider becoming a free (below) or paid subscriber.