At the time of the SAH, I was a few weeks short of my 51st birthday. My ritual in those days was to get up, make coffee, and take my cup out to the deck, where I sat in peace and smoked a cigarette, listening to whatever was moving on or in the river. Being the first Saturday of the month, a local group called Friends Of the River San Bernard was having the neighborhood breakfast at a nearby restaurant, which my husband, Al, and I almost always attended. Al was chiding me for dragging along that morning, kind of pushing me to get in the shower and get moving.
I was pretty grouchy; I had been working quite a bit for many months due to personnel changes at my job with a State agency, plus we were coming off of Hurricane Ike and I had been involved in damage assessments and then been injured at work just a few weeks before. My response was something like “I rush around every morning to get to work on time and I am not rushing on a Saturday. If you are in a big hurry, go on ahead and I will meet you there.”
Thank the good Lord that he did not take me seriously and told me we would go together. I got my shower and was combing out my waist-length hair when he got in for his shower. While combing my hair I began to get a strange sensation in my head; didn’t know why or what it was, but somehow I was prompted to move to the bedroom, just thinking I need to get clothes on. It was like an electrical hot feeling, not really pain at that point, but something that I just knew was not good.
Getting dressed became an urgent thing and I just threw things on, then returned to the bathroom. I told my husband, “ I don’t want to alarm you, but I think I really need to go to the hospital….” I still see him standing there with soap in his hair and the curtain pulled back and it all exploded.
I think I was able to say “my head”. I know he got out of the shower and I was begging for aspirin, which I meant to chew as the pain in my head was so bad. I know he got them out, but I went down – again, thank God for those angels looking over me – and was violently ill. At one point I could hear him on the phone, describing my condition to someone. I was trying to get up and he kept telling me no, don’t move. I remember nothing from there.
My next conscious moment was in the emergency room of the local hospital. I never opened my eyes, but I could hear and answer. A female voice was explaining that I was being life-flighted to Houston as they could not help me there. I remember asking for my husband to go with me and her telling me there was no room in the helicopter. Again I was gone out; I remember nothing of the flight.
I awoke briefly in the Houston emergency room, but again didn’t open my eyes. The male voice was telling me they would be doing an angiogram, going through the femoral artery in my thigh and up to my brain. I was lucid enough to say “And I will be asleep for this, right?” because it sure did not sound good to me. Then, nothing.
I’m not sure how much time went by before I woke up in ICU. My husband was there and some medical staff. It took me a while to absorb where I was. I remember asking “and what happened to Saturday?” as my husband was talking about Sunday morning. Family and friends came in for quick visits and that quickly became overwhelming.
As I came around more, I started asking where the dogs were (3 at the time) and insisting my husband go home (over an hour away) and feed them. We laugh about that now; I could have died, but was so worried about the dogs. Al was so worried about me that he went ahead and drove back home so I wouldn’t be so upset.
In time, as pieces of what happened were relayed to me, I know I was so very, very blessed. My husband tells me I went out on the bathroom floor and lay there pale, twitching, breathing very shallow. He thought I was dying. When the ambulance came, he had the choice of two local hospitals for the ambulance to go to.
We found out later that the physician on duty at the emergency room of the one he chose had done her residency with one of the best neurology teams in the US at Memorial Hermann Hospital, Houston, TX. She recognized immediately what was going on, ordered a CAT scan and showed my husband the blood that was on my brain. She then ordered the Life-Flight and asked my husband where he wanted to send me. He told her he had no idea, and asked where she would send her family member – which is how I ended up at Memorial Hermann.
Upon arrival at Memorial Hermann, a wonderful interventional radiologist , Dr. Suzuki, coiled the ruptured aneurysm. The time after I returned to consciousness is confused; there were teams of doctors, asking me questions about who I was, where I was, what day it was, who was the president. Thankfully, my memory came back strong. Since I was relatively lucid, I got control of the ICU TV, which was near me. I remember lovely nurses.
I remember becoming so sad that I cried at one point over a person not far away from me who obviously was not doing well. I remember the headache that wouldn’t quit, the nausea and vomiting if I moved too much, and the sensation that I was in a closet. After a couple days, I got transferred to the neuro ward. My dad and sister traveled from New York at my husband’s request. Between the three of them, they made sure I was never alone and kept a vigilant watch for signs of dreaded vaso spasms.
I was in the hospital for 11 days total and had more medications than I could name. During that time, I learned there was a second aneurysm that was unruptured that would have to be corrected with clipping due to the size and configuration of it. I met Dr. Dong Kim, who would be my neurosurgeon. I underwent a spinal tap to pull blood off my brain when the drugs wouldn’t touch the headache .
I had a second angiogram that left me with temporary amnesia that surely put my family into a tailspin as I asked repeatedly “No really, why am I here?”. I remember the day I left the hospital, the freeway traffic and city sky scrapers were totally overwhelming; it was all too fast and too close.
When I got released, my husband had to go back to work. I stayed briefly at my inlaws’ house, but just wanted to be home. Once there, one of the dogs, Annie, became my couch companion. When the anxiety crept up, Annie snuggled in with me and kept me from feeling too alone. I drank herbal tea instead of smoking cigarettes. I had to turn down a job opportunity that I really wanted because I didn’t know what the future was.
Eventually, the headaches became less frequent, less intense as the blood on my brain broke down. In January 2009, I was deemed strong enough for the craniotomy to clip the aneurysms. In February 2009 I resumed my twice daily 1.5 hour commutes and went back to work full time. I know that I have been totally blessed by God with a miraculous second chance and I know that there are Angels among us. I know the neurology team with Mischer Institute, Memorial Hermann Hospital is second to none and I love them dearly and forever. I also know that I am not the same as I was before the aneurysm and never will be again.
Since the SAH and surgery, I have been monitored on a roughly annual schedule. The first couple years, I had angiograms to check the status of the clips and the vessels in my brain. When I found out that Dr. Suzuki had left for California just prior to the second re-check, I wanted to leave the hospital; it was very, very difficult to trust a stranger with such a procedure. I was thoroughly miffed when that physician didn’t even bother to introduce himself to me and am glad I have not had an angiogram since then. CAT scans are much less nerve wracking.
Like others on this site, I have experienced deep-seated anxiety and fatigue. My memory doesn’t function as it did previously. I can remember ridiculous facts that I learned prior to the SAH, but have to work very hard to remember new information. Many, many times I have felt as though the SAH left me with a bad case of ADD.
Some days, every little noise has made me want to go off into orbit while other days I can tune it all out.
I finally went to a neurologist who validated all my frustrations. He explained that a part of my brain has died and while the functions it performed have been re-assigned to other portions of the brain, they are not able to perform them with the same efficiency. As said, I realize how very blessed I am to be here, to be able to still walk and chew gum at the same time, but sometimes I miss myself quite intensely.
I get so agitated when that simple word I want won’t come to the surface or when the conversation in the office down the hall hijacks my ability to stay on task. On better days I grab the MP3 and ear buds. On the worst days I’ve been angry that God spared me. Medication prescribed by my neurologist has helped as had membership in a local church.
So, now it will be six years. I lost my sweet Annie in September. At the beginning of October, I started the job I had to withdraw from six years ago. Once again, November 1st falls on Saturday. I believe I’ll go ahead and go to that neighborhood breakfast.
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