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Bottled-up emotion

Grateful wife of stroke victim copes with $41,999 ambulance bill, counts days until she can see recovering husband

Staff writer

Tisha Parish is grateful for the progress her husband, Don, is making after a dangerous stroke — even if she isn’t able to witness it in person.

The last time she saw him was three weeks ago, when he was being loaded into an ambulance to go to Newton Airport and meet a waiting air ambulance.

Since then, Don has recovered the ability to speak, hold a cell phone, and walk with the aid of a walker.

Parish is happy to know he is getting better, even as she counts the days, hours, and minutes until they are reunited because COVID-19 precautions have kept them apart.

“He is amazing,” she said. “I can’t wait until he is back again.”

Signs of a stroke

Parish noticed Don was slurring his speech at about 5 p.m. on Dec. 14, but didn’t become overly concerned because he had stitches in his mouth from a recent oral surgery.

“It was shaky and a little slurred, but not the kind you would expect from a typical stroke,” she said.

When he worsened about 30 minutes later, she ran him to St. Luke Hospital’s emergency room.

Medical staff there tried to arrange transfer to an intensive care unit, but that is easier said than done during a pandemic that has swamped nearly all area hospitals.

Their only options were the Research Medical Hospital in Kansas City and one in Texas. She knew it was serious when she offered to drive Don to Kansas City only to have doctors tell her he needed a private flight.

By the time the couple said their goodbyes, it was very late that night.

First thing next morning, she gathered his cell phone charger, clothes, and made the 2 ½ hour drive to Kansas City, but was told to hand over Don’s things to hospital staff.

“I was not even allowed past the front door,” she said. The outbreak of COVID-19 has forced Kansas City hospitals to ban all non-essential visitors.

The Research Medical Center’s doctors finally told her that Don had suffered a stroke with bleeding to the brain.

Parish insisted on staying in nearby Tonganoxie.

“I didn’t know if I was going to have a husband the next day,” she said. “If something were to happen, I never would have forgiven myself for not being close.

I wasn’t ready to leave him yet, even though I wasn’t with him … it doesn’t make any sense.”

A bleak prognosis

Doctors did not offer an encouraging prognosis. Don had extremely high blood pressure and bleeding on his brain stem.

Parish was warned her husband might need to be taught how to eat, swallow, walk and talk again.

The first week Don was in the hospital, he was not able to hold his cell phone to text her and struggled to make himself understood.

“That just about killed me, with me not being able to see him,” she said.

But Don showed great improvement through physical therapy. He was able to video chat with her about a week later.

“Oh, my gosh. It made me feel so much better,” Parish said. The couple now video chat regularly.

Tackling the big stuff

Parish decided to return to Marion at the end of December.

Her 15-year-old daughter needed her and she had other responsibilities.

The Parishes have no health insurance, so they are applying for Medicaid and disability.

Don, head cashier at Carlsons’ Grocery, had been the one to take care of the family’s bills, but she didn’t want to miss a payment because he wasn’t there.

So she “put on her big girl pants” and tackled the stack.

One of the envelopes contained a nasty surprise – a bill for the air ambulance to Kansas City.

It was $41,999.

“I opened it and I started laughing,” she said. “Because I mean, it’s laugh or cry. There is no point in crying about it.”

Don also has maintained his sense of humor and is recovering faster than neurologists ever expected him to, said Parish.

Co-owner Greg Carlson, has set up a fund for Don at Carlsons’ Grocery. Donations also are being accepted at Central National Bank in Marion.

Carlson said it’s the least he can do for a great employee.

“He’s my front end man,” he said. “He takes care of everybody.”

A jar placed at the cash register where Don greeted customers has yielded about $4,500 so far — and donations still are being accepted.

Parish is grateful for the support she has received from the store, but admits she can’t bring herself to revisit the grocery just yet.

“It makes it so much more real when I walk in there and he’s not there,” she said. “I enjoyed walking in there and seeing him smiling at me.”

She is overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from people in Marion who have grown to like Don.

“We’re from Johnson County. Stuff like this never happens there,” she said. “We never expected anything like this. It’s been kind of awe-inspiring and our deepest appreciation goes out to everybody for their love and encouragement.”

Last modified Jan. 6, 2021

 

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