My husband, Brad, and I have a very unique life together. We have undergone eleven surgeries as a couple during our married life of almost seven years. We often joke that we are similar to unreliable cars physically, but at least we both got a lemon for a spouse. And when life throws you lemons, make lemonade, one off-kilter joke at a time 😊. Jokes aside, trauma within a marriage is always hard, and there have been times when we haven’t been on the same page. But, for the most part, it has bonded us implicitly. I guess you could say this bond started before we were married on the scariest night of our lives—when Brad was diagnosed with a rare brain infection called viral encephalitis.
One afternoon a little over eight years ago, I met Brad at my apartment for a mid-week date night. After saying hello, I realized right away that something was off in Brad’s demeanor. My normally mild-natured, easy-going man seemed to be in a full-fledged panic attack over the start of a strange headache, which included a nerve sensation crawling up his left arm. Brad had just played in a pick-up basketball game, and often got migraines when he was overheated. But this was different somehow. After asking Brad a few clarifying questions, I realized that he seemed very confused and was scattered in his speech.
Once the nerve sensation stopped mid chest and started crawling up his right arm, I asked Brad to head down to the car. “We’ll drive to the emergency room,” I said. “If we don’t need to go in, no worries. But at least we’ll already be there.” Half way to the hospital, he started slurring his speech. He struggled to say, “They aren’t going to be able to understand me.” “That’s ok. I’ll speak for you and everything’s going to be okay,” I told him, trying to believe my own words.
We arrived at the hospital, and by the second in-take room, Brad could no longer remember how to sign his name. I struggled to hold it together, knowing that Brad’s family would arrive shortly to help. The doctors knew almost immediately that Brad most likely had encephalitis (swelling around the brain). But they were unaware of whether the infection was viral or bacterial, the latter of which can be life-threatening.
When Brad’s parents and brother arrived at the hospital, Brad was completely oblivious to what was going on around him. The nurses were placing IV’s to start the antiviral medication, while Brad was trying to coordinate basketball plays, coaching everyone in the room like we were his players. We laugh at this now (another example of the aforementioned off-kilter jokes we have been collecting over the years). Adding to this, when Brad’s dad leaned over the bed to greet him, Brad grabbed his head like he a would a basketball, with his right hand under his chin and the left hand on his cheek. As funny as this is in hindsight, at the time it was devastating.
As a testimony to Brad’s character, he is kind and thoughtful, even with a brain infection. He kept compulsively thanking the nurses in between coordinating basketball plays, and any time my face was close to his, he leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. I think the Lord knew I needed this little bit of normalcy. In a normal day, when I am in Brad’s range, he kisses me.
Brad had to be transported to another hospital from the first emergency room, so I drove with him in the ambulance and my in-laws went to grab what everyone would need for the unexpected hospital stay. In the ambulance, the EMT let me know that these cases were serious and to “prepare myself.” I think back to that ambulance ride, envisioning my life without my best friend and love of my life at the age of 24.
The rest of the night, I had to wear a mask to enter Brad’s room, in case his brain infection was bacterial. The doctors continued to keep him on antiviral medication, and I tossed and turned in the uncomfortable hospital waiting room chairs, willing him to wake up. At around 5:00 a.m., a nurse came to let us know that he was awake and he remembered who and where he was. His mom was already with him, and when I came in, everyone let us have a moment together. He looked at me with exhausted, yet thankful eyes and we held hands over the hospital sheets and cried, thanking the Lord for our future.
The next several days and weeks were a whirlwind, filled with medications, IV’s, scans, and doctor visits, but my future husband was going to be ok. Brad proposed a month later and we were married four months after that.
I look back on this night as the most traumatic of my young life, but we were blessed in so many ways. We were blessed to have caught the infection early, before the swelling caused any permanent damage. We were blessed to start off our life as a married couple realizing that life is short, and not to take each other for granted. Brad was blessed to use his experience as a testimony to God’s goodness, even in the wake of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We didn’t know then that we would experience several more years of medical trauma… but we knew that we were meant to battle through it as a team. I can’t thank God enough for this gift.
Isaiah 40:31- But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.