I couldn't allow myself to think that Jeff wouldn't make it because I had to deal with the boys.
The MRI shows the huge mass invading the left side of my brain. In this scan, right and left are reversed.
Waking from my seizure, I recognized that the doughnut-shaped tube surrounding me was a magnetic resonance imaging, or an MRI. The imaging device gives doctors a precise look inside the body. But why was I here? And what did this mean? It could only be something serious to bring me to the hospital from the comfort of my own bed in the middle of the night.
I have no recollection of the actual event. Susan, my wife of 20 years, tells me I woke up about 5:30 that morning, moaning and breathing heavily. My lips were blue, and my eyes rolled back in my head. After sitting up briefly, I collapsed in bed in a fetal-like crouch. When I didn't respond, Susan, fearing the worst, reached for the phone and called 911.
"Oh, God, don't let this be a stroke. If it's a stroke, I was afraid of the paralysis that would go along with it, how Jeff would hate being incapacitated. ... You see your whole life flash before you, literally ... the fear of all the radical changes," says Susan.
"I couldn't allow myself to think that Jeff wouldn't make it, because I had to deal with the boys," Zachary, 16, and Nicholas, 13, says Susan.
When the paramedics arrived -- eight of them -- to help, I'm told I struggled against them for about 20 minutes and had to be strapped to the stretcher.
"It was no time to cry. This was not the time to let down. This was life and death; there was no time for the luxury of self-pity."
The trip to nearby Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, Md., was brief, but it began a day-long effort to solve my unexplained medical condition.
In the emergency room, I'm told I repeatedly asked why I was there, restrained on a bed. The hospital's on-call neurologist, Dr. James Yan, allayed initial concerns that I'd suffered a stroke. A preliminary exam showed I was now becoming more responsive. Dr. Yan's initial diagnosis was that I'd suffered a seizure. But, still, no explanation.
Then more high-tech scans revealed something obviously suspicious in the left side of my brain.
Meanwhile, aside from my medical crisis, life goes on. Susan had to take the children home to get dressed. Our two dogs and two cats had to be fed. In an emotional phone call, Susan told my 84-year-old father what had happened. Others also had to be notified -- co-workers, friends.
Incredibly, my internist, considered one of Washington, D.C.'s finest, failed to answer a total of three calls made from the hospital ER, then by Susan, and ultimately from myself. Other doctors I knew didn't call back, either.
In spite of my years as a medical reporter, we were very much on our own.
After a day of anxious waiting and confusion, Susan finally called Dr. Yan at 7 p.m., and he abruptly told her that I had a tumor and that a neurosurgeon was on the way to the hospital.
Susan barely intercepted the neurosurgeon, Dr. Nathan Moskowitz of Olney, Md., as he was walking down the hall to my hospital room. He told her that I had a meningioma, about the size of an orange, slowly growing on the left side of my brain.
The MRI was definitive and terrifying. It showed a huge mass, mercifully benign, pushing the left side of my brain into the rear of the cranium. Perhaps the tumor had been growing there for a decade with virtually no symptoms until now.
"When I told you that you had a tumor, you registered a disbelief, shock ... kind of like an intake of breath," says Susan.
A brain tumor. That was more than enough bad news. However, Moskowitz assured us that the tumor wasn't threatening vital centers in the brain and could be removed.
"This is the best kind of tumor to have," he assured me as I was beginning to realize the gravity of our situation.
"It was no time to cry. This was not the time to let down. This was life and death; there was no time for the luxury of self-pity," says Susan.
One part of our ordeal was ending, but so many uncertainties lay ahead. The next three weeks would be a test for all of us, no one more than Susan.
For years I had reported on patients facing agonizing choices. Now I had become one of them.