I had taken my parents to Majorca in January of 2007 for my mothers 85th birthday and it had been a real tonic for all three of us so I decided I would repeat the exercise in January 2008. We were staying in a lovely apartment on the east coast of the island and I would have a hire car to transport us around. The journey was quite tiring as I had to cope with luggage for three people and ensure mum and dad did not have to walk far, so I was dashing around getting the car close to collect them at the airport etc but it would all be worth it to get a change of scenery.
On arrival at the apartment we were disappointed to find workmen hammering all the render off the property and making a lot of noise and dust but we would not let that bother us. We had glorious weather on the first few days so at the last minute my husband Geoff decided he would fly out a couple of days later to join us and I drove back across the island to collect him on the Thursday afternoon.
On Friday morning I awoke to the sound of the builders hammering and I launched myself out of bed to throw the curtains open to reveal the fantastic view of the harbour from the window to Geoff but I was suddenly gripped by the worst pain in my head I had ever experienced, it felt like a firework had gone off in my head and my cries woke up my parents. Suddenly I started vomiting and felt disorientated, my neck became rigid and my right eye would not focus and was throbbing. The worst pain was in my head and neck though, it was unbearable.
I made it back to bed and as long as I lay on my right side and did not open my eyes or move I could just about cope with the pain. I said right then that I thought I had had a brain haemorrhage but I think the family thought I was being a bit dramatic so I kept quiet! Geoff somehow managed to get me in the car and took me to a local doctor, by this time I had a very pale complexion and was in a lot of pain. He examined my neck and gave me an injection in my behind for the pain and said I must relax and that my neck muscles were very tight causing the headache. He also gave me some powders to drink at regular intervals which I assumed were for rehydration.
Back at the apartment I lay on my side in bed and convinced Geoff to take my parents out for the day so I could rest. It was the longest day ever, the hammering of the builders was in time to the thudding in my head and I drifted in and out of sleep or consciousness, not sure which, till they returned. The next day continued in the same vein and by this time my eldest daughter, who was at that time a final year medical student, was texting Geoff telling him she suspected I had had a SAH and to get me to a large hospital asap. I was unaware of this and Geoff decided (understandably) that she could not possibly know that without being there and that after all she was just his little girl and how could she know (can we ever take advice from our kids, however knowledgeable they are?!)
By Sunday morning it was apparent that I could cope with the pain no longer and Geoff called out a doctor from an international practice nearby, he immediately gave us a letter for the hospital saying he suspected I had had a SAH and told us to get to the hospital in Palma as quickly as possible either by ambulance or car and gave us directions. He also told us that the powders I had been dutifully taking were for arthritis and that the local doctor must have thought I had arthritis in my neck!!
On arrival at Clinic Palmaplanas the staff went in to overdrive, within minutes I had had a consultation followed by a CT scan, a diagnosis was made, I was admitted to ITU and an interpreter was summoned to explain what had happened and what would happen next . All impressive stuff! I was told that they could not see an aneurysm on the initial CT and that they would stabalise me for a few days before doing an angiogram where they would be finding the aneurysm and coiling it at the same time.
The next few days went past in a blur, I was not allowed to move at all and was tilted at an angle on a bed, there were no clocks, no belongings at all allowed (I was kept naked except for a thin sheet over me) and one visitor allowed for 45 minutes at 1pm and again at 7pm which for most patients was so that relatives could feed them but I was nil by mouth for the first 7 days! The only thing that relieved the monotony was the blood pressure monitor inflating at 30 minute intervals and the bleep going off to say my numerous IV bags needed replacing.
I dreaded Geoff leaving after evening visiting as it would be 17 hours before the next visit. He had a hard time reassuring my very worried parents , getting them to the airport for the flight back home that I should have been on with them, ensuring our youngest daughter met them at the other end and picked my car up from Liverpool airport, getting someone else to pick his car up from Stansted airport and a 101 other logistical things including finding a hotel for himself.
On the Thursday I went down to the theatre for my coiling but low and behold no aneurysm could be found, the doctor spent so long doing the catheter angiogram to make sure he was not missing anything, he was exhausted at the end. He then ordered an MRI scan for the next day which also showed no aneurysm and that the blood was starting to dissipate. I was constantly told that this was the best possible outcome and that recovery would be total which was reassuring. I was then allowed to have my first food and drink and to sit up.
On Sunday I was transferred to a normal ward and that was so much better, there was a sofa bed for Geoff to sleep on so he left the hotel and we could be together 24 hours a day. The next day I managed to get up to the bathroom wheeling my IV and from that point on I made good progress each day. The doctor wanted my blood pressure to below 120/60 before I was allowed to fly (it was never very high at any point) By the end of the week I could take the lift and sit out in the garden and walk along the corridor and on the Sunday, after much deliberation and differences of opinion between doctors I was allowed to fly home, just 16 days after the SAH, it was such a relief. I was given CD’s of my scans, angiogram details and notes and told I must get an appointment with a neurologist within 2 weeks.
Back in the UK I expected to get back to normal very quickly, after all, I had had no surgery, had no aneurysm, there was, to all intents and purposes, nothing wrong with me was there. The first hurdle was trying to get an appointment in the NHS system, eventually I got one 6 weeks later. During these weeks I made myself go for a walk every day, the first few days I only got a few doors away and even 5 weeks later I did not stray far from my own front door and on several occasions an elderly neighbour returned me home after finding I could not walk one step further!
I eventually got the neurologist to agree to ask his radiologist to assess my scans form Majorca and only then did he grudgingly agree that I had “definitely” had an SAH, until that time he referred to me as “thinking it was an SAH”! He was so patronising and was happy as long as I could squeeze his hand and almost walk in a straight line, it seemed totally unimportant that I could no longer do many of the things I could do before and that fatigue and neck pain were blighting my life. He intimated that the tiredness and neck pain had nothing at all to do with SAH and that I was depressed and that most difficulties after SAH are for that reason rather than physical!AAARRGGHH! After this I had some private physio and acupuncture sessions which really helped my neck pain.
Eventually he sent me for a follow up CT and then later for an MRI on my neck and spine and concurred that there was a physical reason for the neck pain (perhaps unrelated to SAH but that is when it began) but that it would take risky surgery to correct and he would not advise it. He declined to elaborate further saying that patients did not understand such complex things and would misinterpret the information! AAARRRGGHH! I am an educated woman, my daughter by this time was a qualified doctor and could not believe how patronising he was. I am glad to say he discharged me in February 2009, this was 13 months post SAH.
I am now 15 months post SAH and in the past few months have seen a real improvement in my stamina and the pain in my neck had got less and less. It now happens only when I get tired and I have learnt to pace myself more. I can now do some gardening without spending the next day in bed, I have returned to my volunteer roles and can now do 4 hours admin and telephone work without going straight to bed afterwards (although still do not feel competent enough to do paid roles). I can swim a bit further each time I go to the pool and some days I actually feel like my old self!
I am a determined and active person with a very supportive family and friends. When I suffered from a very serious life threatening illness and radical surgery over 5 years ago I pushed myself to a full recovery very quickly so I thought I had the power to beat the after effects of SAH. I was so wrong, our brain governs who we are and everything we do, I suppose it is logical that damage to it will reflect in everything about us. I was sure that the prognosis of recovery taking between 6 months and 24 months was rubbish, I would be back to normal in 3 months at the longest. That was not to be but now I feel that I am making a full recovery in my own time and that 2 years is actually realistic. I know I am one of the very lucky ones who will eventually have no after effects from this devastating menace that kills and damages so many people in their prime. My story is not dramatic or sad like so many on here but it does have a happy ending so I feel it is still a valuable story to reassure some people that full recovery happens.
I am so grateful to Karen and her team for starting this web site where we can share stories, gain support, learn from others and educate ourselves about SAH. Thank you.