Noel Brinkerhoff

Noel Brinkerhoff

J.L. Sousa, Register

Life’s challenges have a way of converging all at once, leaving you dumbfounded by it all, if not devastated.

In less than 24 hours I found myself dealing with three family members in the hospital: my brother, my sister, and our cat.

Two of the three came out of their ordeals alive.

Our cat Sasha was the first to go down. Her right eye had become cloudy and red, so I took her to our vet to get her checked out.

The news was not good.

The vet said Sasha’s eye had experienced some kind of perforation. The damage was significant, and it was quite likely she would have to have surgery to remove the eye.

I went home feeling bad for the cat, as well as wondering how to cover what was likely going to be a very expensive vet bill.

As it turned out Sasha’s eye was the least of my worries.

I got back to our house, walked in through the front door, and found my brother Bennet, who is 66 years old, collapsed on the living room floor.

He was conscious, but disoriented. He said he had become dizzy and fell over.

Bennet could barely stand, so I called 911 for medical assistance. The paramedics recommended taking him to the hospital for some tests.

I followed the ambulance to the Queen of the Valley, and kept Bennet company in the ER.

A technician came in and drew several vials of blood for tests ordered by the attending physician. She finished up and left the room.

Moments later my brother’s body completely seized up. His head snapped back. His mouth pursed while emitting a low, terrifying moan. His hands balled into tight fists.

I called out for assistance, and both the doctor and two nurses rushed in to help.

The seizure lasted several minutes. The doctor ordered an immediate CAT acan, and Bennet was rushed off to the have his brain scanned.

He was barely coherent after returning from the CAT acan.

His doctor later said that the blood tests revealed his sodium level had fallen to a dangerously low level. It was likely the cause of the seizure, as well as the dizziness at the house.

Bennet was admitted to the hospital, and transferred to the Intensive Care Unit late that evening. He had a second seizure just after arriving in the ICU.

I left the hospital shortly before 11 p.m. and headed home to inform my sister, Christine, and other brother, Adrian, about Bennet’s condition.

The next morning I went back to the ICU to check on Bennet. The attending physician said he was suffering from hyponatremia, or low sodium in his blood.

Bennet was given a special IV, and did not have any more seizures during the night.

That good news was about to be overrun with more bad news.

I was in his ICU room, watching him sleep when my phone rang. It was Adrian. His voice was shaky and crackling.

He informed me that Christine, 71, was heading to the ER via ambulance.

I had seen her only an hour earlier at the house finishing breakfast and washing dishes. No troubles whatsoever.

Adrian said she suddenly had trouble walking and using her legs, so he called 911.

I told him I would rush over to the ER to check on her. Adrian, 61, had stopped driving earlier this year following his own serious, ongoing health problems, which prevented him from going to the ER himself.

I quickly walked the length of the Queen’s sprawling complex, which unfortunately for me has the ER and the ICU at opposite ends of the facility.

I found Christine in the ER alert and herself. A neurologist began examining her, checking her legs, and asking her a series of questions about the trouble she was having.

He pulled me aside and said Christine may have had a stroke. He recommended giving her a powerful, anti-blood clotting medication to avoid further complications.

Other than the trouble with her legs, she didn’t exhibit any other signs of having had a stroke.

As they prepared to administer the medication, an ER orderly who had transported Bennet the night before to the ICU came over to me.

“Weren’t you just here?” he said.

I explained my sister was now in the ER. He placed his hand on my shoulder and offered his condolences.

The same thing happened after the doctor I saw that morning in the ICU for Bennet had come into the ER to help with patients. He recognized me and offered his sympathies as well.

By that afternoon my brother and sister were both in the ICU, only three rooms apart.

The staff said they couldn’t remember such an ordeal — of two family members being in the ICU at the same time, but for different reasons.

Their proximity at least cut down on my walking within the hospital over the next four days. During that time the health of Bennet and Christine improved. Bennet’s sodium level went up, and Christine began walking again on her own following some physical therapy.

Both were moved out of ICU by the end of the weekend. They were discharged from the Queen just before Thanksgiving — a development for which I was doubly grateful.

With both of them home again, and Adrian able to look after them, I spent the holiday in San Francisco with my girlfriend Shelly. The respite was welcomed, though short-lived.

On Saturday, my cell phone woke me early that morning. It was Adrian. His voice was trembling.

He told me Christine had apparently died in her sleep. He had called the parademics, but they were unable to revive her.

I dashed back to Napa to console my brothers, and to call other family members. I spent the day making calls or sending emails to people, not just family but also to the mortuary, and to cancel doctor follow-ups and physical therapy appointments for Christine.

I kept repeating the same words in my calls and emails. “My sister died last night. My sister is dead.” The repetition did little to make the reality of what had happened any easier. It seemed almost surreal at times.

But it was in fact all too real — Christine’s death, Bennet’s hospitalization and ongoing medical care, and our cat’s bad eye, which must still be addressed.

Three serious events converged all at once into a perfect storm of trouble for my family, revealing how life can be overwhelming with its timing sometimes.

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