Whenever I read news about people dying from an undiscovered brain aneurysm rupture, I can’t stop thinking about how lucky I am to be alive. I suffered a major subarachnoid hemorrhage and survived it; those words are rarely uttered together. I am not alone. I have the most fantastic support group of family and friends. I am not alone. Many people are unaware that they have brain aneurysms. I am not alone. Against all odds, there are survivors. I am not alone.
Ten years ago, on April 23rd, at age 38, I was eating sushi with my husband Hector at Arami in Chicago when I fell just outside the door and couldn’t get up. No one knew that.
I suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm and that blood was already seeping around my brain.I don’t remember much about the night my aneurysm ruptured. I knew instinctively that I something was not only wrong, but my coordination and cognitive reasoning were being separated as I fell down on the ground in a state of confusion. I knew I needed to ask for help from Hector, who was sitting a few feet away at the restaurant we were having an amazing sushi feast, which could have been my last meal on this earth.I remember laying on the ground, actually thinking that I was about to die. I was trying to call for help, trying to lift myself up but my arms and legs would not obey their commands. Still don’t know what gave me the strength to do so, I managed to walk back inside. This may sound cheesy, but the best way to describe it would be the scene from Lord of the Rings, Return of the King : As Frodo was attempting to flee Shelob’s lair, he sort of collapses from fatigue. Then he is suddenly shown being in a forest during the golden hour when Galadriel “picks him up” by the hand, and he’s immediately standing up outside the cave again.
I believe my Galadriel was my mother.
The rest is blurry, somehow got up, went back inside. Got sick, told Hector I wasn’t feeling well. He thought I swallowed the smoke from the cigar. I was going in and out of consciousness while driving back to our friend Fred’s house where we were staying during our visit. I remember having a really severe, sharp pain in my neck, I was having cold sweats. I knew something bad was happening to me. I was hoping it would just pass. At the house we decided to lay down and rest . But the pain was getting really bad, I screamed and passed out. I remember the paramedics and firefighters that lined up at the edge of the bed…being taken down the stairs on a stretcher…at the first hospital just laying in ER waiting and waiting.Later found out that we were there for at least 5 hours till they decided that my situation was so severe that they weren’t equipped to handle my case so I was transported to Northwestern Hospital. I kind of remember the second ambulance – it was dark, cold I and quiet. No siren. I barely remember when they were drilling the burr hole in my skull , remember the warm blood dripping from my head … that was it, lights out…
I was rushed into emergency surgery. Apparently I was given %20 chance of survival.I remember opening my eyes and seeing Dr. Bernard Bendok at the end of my bed, drawing my aneurysm on a broad and explaining what had happened. I had a burr hole drilled in my skull that had a tube connected to help relieve the pressure and drain the blood that filled in between my brain and my skull. And many other things connected to my body…So many cables and weird machines making strange sounds. Right next to me was the machine removing excess pooled blood out of my skull. Everything felt so strange , including myself… my body didn’t feel like mine…The doctors said how “lucky” I was to survive and recover so well. I was lucky to be in Chicago , transported to one of the best hospitals ( Northwestern University) , that a skilled, one of the best neurosurgeons was on call. My ruptured aneurysm was “coiled”
Statistically speaking, I was supposed to be dead, or at least left disabled.
I am neither of these things.
Maybe out of pure luck, or the way the stars aligned, or maybe it wasn’t my time yet, i escaped the worst The doctor explained that I had been living with an aneurysm that could have easily killed me. I was lucky that the emergency surgical procedure was accomplished without complications and I was lucky NOT to be counted in the one in four patients who do not survive a SAH.
They saved my life but to be honest, at the time, I had been in such excruciating agony, I thought that I wanted to die.
Along with the pain from the bleed and the surgery, I was in a state of total discomfort and confusion. The tubes and needles were everywhere; I just wanted to be free from this burden. I remember hearing my skull heal, it was so scary to hear such sound – I thought I was going crazy. And remember the smell of sharpies that they used to mark x’s on my feet and hands
I was on vasospasm watch for 2 weeks, which could have also killed me- I survived that ordeal too.I was at ICU for over a month… I don’t remember each and everyday.. the ones i can remember ,still not comfortable talking about it, still traumatizing to go through more details .. still feel vulnerable…My family has a history of aneurysms. Lost my mother and my aunt to this monstrosity
I persevered through this ordeal with love and care of my husband Hector and thinking about smiling faces of my nieces and nephew. They don’t know but they were also a big part of my survival. I really wanted to see them again. And of course talking to my family on the phone everyday, they were doing all the talking , I was just crying.
I know what happened, I know what I went through, but it still doesn’t seem real. It seems more like a nightmare.
I am still progressing in my recovery. And trying monitor remaining 3 unruptured aneurysms very closely. I am living with a continuous headache. At times it gets more severe, which sometimes really freaks me out. When will I get a headache and not worry that it’s something more? The answer to that is probably never again. Last time this happened I had to go to ER , and they did lumbar puncture to make sure there was no bleed. My cognitive skills are still somewhat slow, but I’m dealing with it. My memory still isn’t very good, I still struggle with it when I’m tired.. I continue to make art, I realized I really can’t live without art! Having suffered a ruptured aneurysm has actually “changed” my brain, and myself Others had to learn to adjust to some personality differences.I’m definitely different and it’s hard for people who have been around me so many years to understand or accept this.
All of these changes can not be seen but only felt and few can be put into words.
It’s OK to mourn the loss of your former self and the relationships that were part of your past. Just don’t stay down too long; there are new beginnings along the way and people who are willing to love an accept the new you, just as you are. Don’t ignore the psycho-social effects and symptoms. Iwas able to find and thank the CFD paramedics that came to my rescue, Scott Ronstadt and Shari Enhelder. They were given an award for saving my life. It’s so good to see see them being recognized for all the good they do for us.They are our lifeline. Gratitude is the memory of the heart(J.B. Massieu), and the heart never forgets. Thank you for more than i know how to thank you for. I am forever in your debt.We need to get the word out about brain aneurysms. We need to raise awareness and have more research that will lead to early detection. This will save lives! And so, I’m sharing my story with you, in hopes that it will make a difference.
The info is staggering. Aneurysms most certainly can be hereditary; my family is proof of that! I want to inform people about aneurysms, warn them that if someone in their family had it, that the immediate family needs to be tested, annually!The chance of surviving an aneurysm with minimal deficits is far greater before rupture then after. Taking care of it before it ruptures is the key to survival.I am still here and trying to live life one day at a time.