Oct. 23, 2009 was a Pro-Development day so I had the day off of work as my job as a teacher's assistant. I had been awake for a few hours, puttering and doing some housework when I decided to take a break and watch some TV. As I was sitting down on the couch I turned my head and heard this "pop" at the top of my neck and felt like someone hit me in the head with a baseball bat I immediately had a headache worse than anything I had ever experienced in my life. I had no idea what was going on, it felt almost like I had pulled or tweaked the muscles in my neck, but had done nothing to cause it. I couldn't even tilt my head forward, so tried to do some stretching in my neck for about 20 minutes. It didn't help at all, and the discomfort was excruciating so I did the only thing I could think of to help and made a chiropractic appointment. They could barely understand me because I was crying so hard and told me they were just closing for the day, since they were only open until lunch. Realizing the distress I was in they squeezed me in and I quickly drove to town. Needless to say the adjustment didn't help, and luckily for me my chiropractor was worried about me and phoned to ask if I was feeling any better. When I said no, he asked if I was feeling nauseous and when I said yes he told me that I needed to go to the hospital. At this point the pain was scaring me and I agreed that it was something serious. Looking back I realize that I should have called the ambulance, because if it had been an aneurysm and had blown while driving I would have crashed the car and possibly killed other people. I also would have received better, faster medical care. But no, the 15 minute drive took me about 40 minutes because I had to stop when the pain would become uncontrollable and/or had to throw up.
When I finally got to the hospital I explained to Admissions my symptoms, and at this time there was the SARS outbreak, and I guess she just assumed that is what I had. She gave me a mask, told me to sit down and wait. So there I sat, the only person in the waiting area, trying not to throw up or scream from the pain while they put other people through to emergency who had been in a little fender bender. Luckily for me someone who knew me worked in the Emergency ward and saw me sitting there and asked what was going on. She quickly realized how serious my situation was and I was whisked into a room, with a team of nurses. At this point it is about 3 hours since the bleed started and I was past the point of keeping my screams in. 3 or 4 nurses poked me countlessly trying to get a vein to give me a morphine IV drip (not a great time to be dehydrated!) The neurologist had been called in and he gave me a spinal tap, which he found blood in and decided to do a CT scan with contrast dye to locate the area of the brain where the bleed was. I thank the universe that my sister Rhonda was working that day in the hospital, because she was able to come down and distract me and give me moral support and to help explain some things. So when the neurologist looked at the CT scan he realized that I would probably need surgery and next thing you know I was on my way to Kelowna hospital by ambulance with lights and sirens blaring. Not a fun experience when you are nauseous and have a humongous headache!
At this point my family I think had been told that I would need brain surgery and might not make it through the night. So they all frantically drove up to Kelowna to see me one at a time to possibly be saying goodbye. As each person came around the corner the expression "deer in the headlights" came to mind. Their eyes were big as saucers and some couldn't hold back the tears. Nothing reminds you more of your own mortality than someone who is looking at you, and their facial expression is screaming out..."OMG...you are going to die!" I was more worried about alleviating their fears than mine, and wanting to reduce the tension I turned on my "Jodster" brand of humour. If I was gonna die I wanted them to remember me that way, cracking jokes and having laughs rather than it being all dark and gloomy memories of everyone crying.
The neurosurgeon looked at my CT scans from Penticton and explained to me that they would be doing a procedure called "coiling" where they put a metal coil in the area of the brain where the bleed is occurring. The blood hopefully clots around the coil, and the bleed then stops. Wow, to say I was a little freaked out at this point was an understatement. He wanted to do another CT scan there to see if the bleeding had worsened in the hours that had passed. When the results came back, it was better than winning the lottery. They realized the bleed was in a vein instead of an artery, which most likely saved my life. The blood pressure in an artery could have made the blood vessel explode, which in turn would make the brain swell. So instead of surgery, they said that bed rest might be all that I need. I spent 3 days in ICU with nurses constantly monitoring me, and on the 4th day they put me in a room with 3 other people across from the nurse's station. Noisy and disruptive, and all this time I am still on morphine with debilitating headaches constantly. The 4th day they did a contrast dye angiogram where they put a catheter in the artery in your groin and snake it up to the brain where the bleed has occurred and release a dye there that will show if any bleeding is still occurring. It felt a little like those stories you hear of people getting abducted by aliens and getting worked over in the space ship, very surreal! The good news was the angiogram showed the brain was healing, the bad news was I now had a worse headache than when I had the original brain bleed. Of course when I told the neurosurgeon that he just looked at me like he didn't care. Yes, this man had the bedside manner of a coffee table, lol. My sister put it best when she said "there's a reason why people become surgeons, then they don't have to deal with people cause they are under anaesthetic". During the 9 days in the hospital I was blessed to have a lot of visits from my family and even a few friends. It was 9 days that felt like a month, and if it weren't for the daily visits from my sister Rhonda and boyfriend Jerry I think I would have gone insane from the non-stop thoughts going through my head.
Post traumatic stress, coupled with the bleed being in the area of the brain where emotions are controlled made for a lot of anxiety. The blood in the brain fluid is what causes the extreme headache, but another side effect is fatigue. That might not sound like a big deal, but to simply vacuum a room or walk a few blocks for the next month would give me a big headache for the rest of the day and exhaust me. The last thing you wanna do when your mind is racing uncontrollably is to sit around and do nothing. On top of that get out of shape AND start feeling sorry for yourself and the ensuing "why me?" thoughts. After about a month I was starting to feel a little more normal so Jerry and I decided to go on a vacation to just get away from everything. I was scared about the plane trip, wondering if the cabin pressure would cause and problems, but the doctor okayed it. Well, 2 weeks in the beautiful Dominican Republic sure helped. Even decided to get my scuba diving certification. But as I was filling out the waiver, it asked if I had any circulatory problems. Well, already paid, and I just said to Jerry if something happens, oh well...hopefully it ends quickly. I decided in that moment to start living life, not to be afraid...even though I was seriously afraid of deep water. The experience was very liberating and so worthwhile!
Came back from holidays, Christmas break was over a week after that and I went back to work at the school. For the first month I would be exhausted at the end of the day with a small headache. They say that it takes a few months for the body to reabsorb the blood that is in the brain fluid. Towards the end of January I had another contrast dye CT scan and it came back clear. The neurologist said that I basically have 0% chance of it ever recurring. So needless to say this news was better than I could have ever expected, and I got on with the rest of my life...
So on that note, don't put off until tomorrow what you are dreaming of doing, don't settle because you never know what life will hand you. It can all be taken away in an instant, from you or someone you love. I know of 3 people close to me who did not survive their brain bleeds, I was one of the lucky ones. The picture I have attached is from a 16 km hike I did 2 weeks ago, and this is a beautiful tree that I called "Grandfather". I stopped to give him a hug and to share his strength. May all who read this be blessed with improving health