PENDLETON — More than most, Dave Wallace knows that life can change in an instant.
Up until 13 months ago, Wallace enjoyed an easy-going existence with his wife Danielle and their two children. The close-knit family liked to camp and mushroom hunt and take vacations together at the coast and Wallowa Lake. Some people know Dave as former Round-Up groundskeeper and master chef of the Pendleton High School Mud Wars tug-of-war pit. Wallace and his crew spent a couple of days each year masterfully bringing the pit to pudding-like consistency for the annual slimy event.
More recently, Dave worked as a saw filer at Blue Mountain Lumber. He was there when a sudden stabbing headache brought him to his knees. Dizzy and numb, he had trouble standing. Doctors checked him for a brain bleed, but the CT scan came back normal.
A visit with a neurologist followed, as well as an MRI and a spinal tap. All showed no irregularities. The neurologist concluded that Wallace was suffering from a severe migraine.
The migraine, if that’s what it is, has lasted 13 months.
He must walk with a cane and suffers brain fog, tremors, earaches, tinnitus, numbness and sensitivity to noise. His eyes also are affected. When an ophthalmologist checked his vision, Dave couldn’t read any of the rows on the eye chart.
“My vision was 20/100,” he said. “I couldn’t see anything.”
As he said this, he looked dolefully at Danielle on the couch next to him in their Pendleton home. She flashed him an encouraging smile.
It’s been an exasperating journey for the couple. The medical odyssey affects not only Dave, but also Danielle and their children Hadlee, 13, and Kyler, 5. Danielle, who is assistant manager at D&B Supply and teaches in the veterinary assistant program at Blue Mountain Community College, often must dash away from work to ferry her kids and husband to school, day care and doctor’s appointments. It isn’t safe for Dave to drive because of periodic blackouts.
The family faces frustrating financial challenges as well. Dave hasn’t worked since that day 13 months ago. Danielle has her jobs, but the family struggled to stay ahead of the stream of medical bills. Around the first of the year, when the insurance deductible of $10,000 reset to zero, Danielle went to the pharmacy to pick up a migraine medication and was shocked to learn the drug cost more than $900 for 30 pills.
She instructed the pharmacy clerk to put the pills back on the shelf. Ironically, after stopping the medication, Dave felt better and side effects, such as brain fog, lessened somewhat.
A Go Fund Me account set up by Danielle’s co-worker and friend Brittany Cline brings in enough funds to make headway on the bills. But the charges keep coming. Just the other day, a $2,200 bill from St. Anthony Hospital arrived. The Go Fund Me account, titled “Medical Expenses for the Wallace Family,” has so far raised $4,200.
The next step is a consultation with a neurologist at Oregon Health & Science University. Dave will present the doctor with a stack of test results and reports. He hopes for a breakthrough.
In the face of the uncertainty and upheaval, Dave and Danielle try to be strong for each other.
It’s just been so hard,” Dave said, looking at Danielle. “She doesn’t know this, but I break down.”
Danielle says she saves her times of angst for when she’s away from home. The children likely have their own moments of distress.
Cline worries about Danielle as much as Dave.
“She always has a bright smile, kind words, a love for animals and livestock and a heart made of pure gold,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “Running into Danielle, you’d never know the troubles she faces and you’d never know she is in one of the darkest chapters of her life. Her resilience is amazing, but everyone has a breaking point.”
Both Danielle and Dave crave the normalcy of the old days. Danielle misses laughing and having fun as a family. Dave dreams of going to work, metal detecting with his children, tending to his coin collection, fishing and so many other things that he once took for granted.
These days, he said, his hobby is searching the internet as Pandora plays low in the background, looking for information that will lead to a diagnosis. He misses the days when he felt at ease around lots of people. These days he feels more comfortable staying home.
“Now I don’t even like going to the store,” Dave said. “I don’t want to be around people.”