In November 2001, we were confronted with a frightening change.
Because I often worked until 2 a.m., Wally let me sleep in the morning, at least until 8 a.m. He tended to awake around 6:30 or 7 a.m., would go to the washroom in the main bathroom rather than the ensuite, get dressed and take Yogi for his walk. The weather had drastically cooled, and he turned on the electric heater in the bathroom. He also liked to read the newspaper while on the throne. That night, before we went to bed, he showed me a blister on his left leg, on the outside of the calf. I asked him how he got it and he told me he didn’t know. Wally seemed in no discomfort. I surmised he must have braised the skin, spread aloe on the blister and didn’t think about it again.
Five days later the blister broke, and I was horrified to see a third-degree burn down to his bone. “How did you do this?” I asked.
“I didn’t know my leg was leaning against the electric heater.”
I stared at him in disbelief. “For how long?”
He shrugged. “Maybe fifteen minutes.”
I was in such shock I couldn’t speak, and then I burst into motion. “We have to get you to Emergency.”
“Why?” he asked. “It’s not that bad.”
“You have to be joking!”
“It doesn’t hurt.”
“Wally, it’s beyond my first-aid capabilities. It may already be infected. We’re going . . . NOW!”
He grumbled all the way to the hospital, telling me I was making a mountain out of a molehill—“ . . . your favorite miracle, moving mountains.”
When the nurse removed the burn dressing and gauze I had wrapped around his leg, she likewise stared at the wound in disbelief. “How did this happen?”
I explained. She turned to Wally. “Are you in pain?” He shook his head. She frowned. Seconds later she returned with two doctors and two nurses. One doctor asked Wally, “Do you have diabetes?”
I answered. “No. He has Parkinson’s.”
The doctor glanced at me with irritation. “This is not Parkinson’s.”
I nodded. “I know.”
They took a slew of blood tests and carefully treated the wound. As they worked, they kept glancing at Wally’s face to see how he was reacting. He sat calmly, with no expression. Within an hour, they had the results of the blood test they wanted. The senior doctor announced, “He does not have diabetes.”
I nodded. “I know.”
“I think you had better get in touch with his neurologist,” the doctor instructed. “Your husband will have to come into Emergency every two days to get the wound dressed for the next week, and then we will assign a visiting home nurse to change the dressing every day.”
I did call the neurologist. For once he answered his phone instead of his sergeant-major receptionist. After I explained what had happened, there was a brief moment of quiet on the other end of the phone. “When you take Wally back to Emergency, I want you to ask the ER doctor to do a simple test for me.”
He named it and I wrote it down.
The next time we went to Emergency, I gave the ER doctor the slip of paper with the name of the test the neurologist wanted him to do. He looked at me in a way that made me think that he thought I knew what the test was, but I didn’t. “Under the circumstances, it’s a good idea. I’d like to know why this has happened too.”
The doctor bulked up the sheets around Wally’s waist so he couldn’t see his legs. The nurse removed the dressing, while the doctor broke off a tongue depressor until he made a sharp point at one end. He gently stroked the point along his leg above the burn, and then below it. “How does your leg feel today, Mr. Toews?”
“Fine,” Wally answered.
“Are you feeling any pain?” he asked more specifically.
“No,” Wally answered.
The doctor then showed Wally the broken wooden point. “I’m going to do a little test. I’m going to prick your skin. You let me know when you feel me do it. OK?”
I watched as he picked some spots on his skin above the wound and below it, and then he made a sharp jab. Wally lay relaxed. “Remember, Mr. Toews, to let me know if you feel me prick you.”
Wally nodded again.
The doctor picked and jabbed the other leg with no reaction from Wally. I wasn’t even aware I was holding my breath for I understood what was happening. Wally asked me, “When is he going to start?”
The doctor answered, “Just give me a moment, Mr. Toews.” He ran the stick down Wally’s left ankle to his foot and jabbed his big toe. Wally winced.
“What did that feel like, Mr. Toews?”
“Like you stuck a needle into my toe.”
“My big toe.”
“My left foot.”
“Good, Mr. Toews. That is correct.”
He made the same test on the right leg down to the big toe of his right foot with the same results. Afterward, he held on to the slip of paper where I had written the name of the test and the neurologist’s name and phone number on it. “I’ll call. I’d like to talk to your husband’s neurologist.”
I prompted the doctor in an effort to get his opinion. “This is not Parkinson’s.”
“That’s right. It’s not.” And he offered nothing more.