In the room, in the blur, she was no longer alone. Her colleague had arrived; he supported her down the stairs. As he drove, he gently touched her knee and she wept, from sorrow and some measure of relief. At the hospital she slumped in a wheelchair while he filled out papers. Her hands were dead weight. Someone was insisting this wasn't an emergency. Someone else was shouting. Someone wheeled her down for a CAT scan, and before she passed out she heard the word stroke. Then they were jostling her again, though she desperately needed to sleep. They had to get her to Mass General, a neurological trauma center, immediately.
"In the ambulance I curled up into a little fetal ball," she recalls in the quiet of her sunroom. "We went whooshing across town, and I felt my spirit surrender, the last energy deflate. I'd done what I had to do." Her voice, level till now, starts to crack. For the first time telling the story, she's crying.
When she woke, she was surprised to be alive. She'd been in an oceanic place with no boundaries. "The absence of experience is bliss. It was peaceful and beautiful there. I was with God," she believes. "I could see that my spirit was huge. I didn't see how I would be able to squeeze myself back into this tiny little body." Describing this state, she sounds like a mystic. "All details of my life and language were gone. Language is a kind of code, and things were no longer reduced to coding. I was looking at the big picture and could see how everything is related. Everything is in motion, connected in a dance of grace. The brain is what imposes boundaries, and boundaries convey a perception of separation, but that's a delusion. Everything is one."
"I got to sit in the space of silence gurus meditate toward for years," she says. She didn't want to leave. The world she periodically awoke to was painful: all strident vibration, raw data, and chaos. A blood clot the size of a fist had lodged between her two language centers, in the left half of the brain. She was processing the world through the right side, which perceives underlying meaning. "The good MDs touched me," she says. "If they had the peace inside that said, 'I'm here to help you heal,' I could feel that."
She began to find her way out of the near vegetative state, she says, when one day she heard the internal voice of pure thought again, her wise woman. She was being given a choice, she understood. She could remain where she was: still, but in grace. Or she could come back and resume her life. But that would mean detaching from God, and she was anguished by the prospect.
And then the letters began to pour in. News of her stroke had burned through the NAMI grapevine. Family members she'd exhorted into hope were returning the favor. At this point, she understood only glimmers, but "day after day," she says, "there was just all this love coming at me. I was so wounded, and they were telling me how much I meant. I had to come back because of the love. They loved me back to health."
Two and a half weeks after the brain hemorrhage, she had an operation to remove the clot. It relieved the pressure, but her memory stayed sketchy and she still couldn't speak. "Can they take away my PhD?" she worried. Her mother flew in; her best friend, Kelly, took time off; and with eight months' paid leave—a gift of co-workers' vacation time—she began the fight to reclaim herself. They had their work cut out for them, all three of them.
We Hear You!