74: A Season to Be Strong

74: A Season to Be Strong

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

A Season to Be Strong

A Note from Joan

I first learned about Penelope Vazquez and her journey of family caregiving from the woman who is in charge of my Resurgence skin care Line at Murad, Marina Randolph. Marina’s husband is a professional dancer who tours with major musical performers. Marina shared with me the story of one of her husband’s fellow dancers, who had a tragic accident while performing on stage, a ruptured brain aneurysm.

He had only been married a few years to Penelope Vazquez and they had a new baby—their first child, Elijah. Life came to an abrupt halt for this fast-paced young couple who have had to face multiple surgeries and have had to make some very tough personal decisions since his accident. This is a story of true love and devotion and a young woman’s strength and perseverance.

I’m 28 years old and my husband and I have been married four years. We have traveled the world dancing professionally. We were performing off-Broadway together when we found out I was pregnant with our first child. We had made a point to really enjoy each other in the first years of marriage and we were ready to settle down and start a family. It was the beginning of a new season in our lives.

We were celebrating our first Father’s Day together with our 10-month-old. My husband woke up to breakfast in bed and received a gift that my son and I made for him. It was a good start to the day. My husband hadn’t been feeling well five days before. He came home from dance practice and was throwing up and having terrible headaches. We weren’t sure what was going on but didn’t pay too much mind to it considering injury is very common to dancers. We had plans to take him to the doctor on Monday morning, but we weren’t going to let it ruin our first Father’s Day together.

On our way to church, shortly after breakfast, my husband starting acting a little weird. He didn’t feel like driving and wanted me to hold our son. It was during the service that I was called from the nursery because my husband had passed out. I knew something was terribly wrong when I looked into his eyes as he was being helped onto a gurney. He was completely pale. I immediately felt a knot in my stomach and began to cry.

My first instinct was to start praying with whoever was around me. We were taken to UCLA where we learned that my husband had had a ruptured aneurysm. He had suffered from two ruptures, the first being at dance practice five days before and the second at church when he passed out. He had been walking around with a bleed in his brain, not feeling well but functioning.

I was in shock and couldn’t believe this was happening to us. My husband is a good person. Patient, loving, generous, selfless, a leader, wise, humble, humorous and a very talented dancer and actor. He had never been sick in all the time that I had known him and now this horrible thing had happened.

My husband had a third rupture on the table during brain surgery and they were unable to operate. They had to go in with a different plan and you can imagine my reaction when they called me for my consent. All I wanted to hear was that everything went well but that wasn’t the case. And I’d like to say that it got better after that but it was only the beginning of a long summer of surgeries, setbacks and multiple complications.

I could see that this was going to be a long road and my husband would only want me to be strong and apply our faith. We are both believers and my husband has spent a lot of time sowing wisdom, patience and faith into me. He has prayed for me and has set the bar for what kind of wife he wants me to be by being an example as a good husband. Not having my husband to lead me through this because he isn’t neurologically all there was tough. So I had to change my attitude and thought process. I had to step into a leadership position. It is difficult to see your better half in a vulnerable position. I had to make medical decisions to save his life and on top of it all take care of our baby, bills, home, work, etc. I could have easily had a mental breakdown but I wanted to handle this circumstance the way I know my husband would have if the roles were reversed.

My family, friends, and I stayed with my husband throughout his whole time in ICU. My husband wasn’t alone for nine weeks. It was important to keep him surrounded by people who loved him and who would pray over him. I didn’t want him to feel alone or fearful and wanted him to know what he was fighting for. My son’s first birthday came and I organized the biggest first birthday that I had ever been to, but I wanted my husband to be a part of that too. Although he may not remember it, we opened presents and sang happy birthday to our son Elijah in the ICU room. Even the doctors and nurses came in to join us.

My son took his first steps at the hospital. He was growing before my very eyes and it made me sad that my husband was missing that. I didn’t want anything else in our life to have to suffer because of this circumstance. I had been breastfeeding at the time and I had no intention of stopping. It added a little more stress to worry about pumping and then eating right so my milk wouldn’t dry up, but I was determined to keep some sort of normalcy for my son. One of the harder decisions I had to make was sending my son off with my mom for several weeks. Would that ruin our bond? Would I have to stop breastfeeding? Would that traumatize our son? These were the questions running through my mind, but I had to prioritize and although my baby needed me, my husband needed me more.

Since my son was with my mom, I was able to be more present with my husband. Not just physically but mentally as well. I supported him as he was beginning his physical, occupational and speech therapy. He had to learn how to walk and talk again. His progress improved when I was there for his therapy, so I tried not to miss any sessions, but that became more challenging over time. I had to start working and that pulled me away from spending as much time with my husband.

Eventually my son came home and I had to balance learning how to be a single mom, take care of the house, work and go back and forth to the hospital to support my husband through his rehabilitation. Sometimes I wish there were five of me, and one of me would be sleeping on a beach somewhere, but I know this is just a season in my life and I have to keep pushing through.

A lot of people tell me I’m strong and that they couldn’t do it if they were me. The truth is that when you’re put in this position, you just do it. You have no other choice but to step up. It’s hard and ugly but it builds character. I know I can handle anything after going through this and I look forward to taking that nap on the beach with my husband by my side.

~Penelope Vazquez

More stories from our partners