So. I’m sitting here on the couch on Boxing Day, having not really celebrated Christmas.
Not because of any particular hard feelings, but because I’d just gotten out of the hospital after a 13 day stay.
Because I’d nearly died.
I’m not one for melodramatic over analysis or handwringing, so when I say I nearly died, understand that it’s because I beat 50% odds that could have easily gone the other way.
On December 11th, I was getting ready for a possible job interview. I was nervous but no more than usual. Suddenly a clamp tightened on the base of my skull. A tension headache, I thought. No big deal. I’m stressing the interview. Took some ibuprofen. But the clamp tightened. Then the back of my head ballooned into something huge and painful. To the point that I was starting to cry from the pain. And sweat. OMG I was sweating so much. Tried to get up off the couch and my skull decided that was the time to try sliding off my neck. I let out a little yelp of pain, but managed to get to the dining room table where my phone was. I texted my husband Brian with the words “Head hurts. Very bad. Getting scared.” He texted back “Call 911” I was tempted, by years of “grit your teeth through it” stubbornness to just sit and let it wind down. But it wasn’t winding down. It was getting worse. So I called 911. And got a lady who immediately sensed the distress in my even robotic tone. An Ambulance was sent immediately. It arrived in under 5 minutes. Brian showed up just as I finished emptying the contents in my stomach into a mixing bowl grabbed by one of the EMTs. Then I was bundled into a gurney, wrapped in blankets, wheeled out of the apartment and put in an ambulance. My last clearly remembered thought was the EMTs putting monitor patches on my chest and sticking an oxygen tube up my nose.
The next thing I remembered was waking up December 18. I was being extubated. I managed to ask through a very raspy voice how long I had been out. 7 Days. My sister Kirsten and my Mom were there waiting. Telling me that Brian was at work but had been there almost every day since I’d been hospitalized. Apparently I’d been helicoptered to Kalamazoo, to a hospital that was better suited to dealing with my particular brain injury.
Brain Injury. I figured I’d broken something in my head, considering the pain. Apparently, I’d suffered a subarachnoid Hemorrhage. Basically, I’d bled out into my brain. No, the doctors didn’t have an answer HOW it happened, but apparently I had two arteries in a place most people only have one. Plus I have a little pocket at the base of my skull. None of which anyone would have known about without the 2 angiograms that were done on me. There was still blood in my skull, so they were waiting on it clearing out before doing a third angiogram to see if any answers were forthcoming. Lucky for me, my fast call to 911 and the quick transport to the hospital may have saved my life. I spent a week on a ventilator, eating through a tube, getting my lungs suctioned daily because of pneumonia, worrying the crap out of my husband and family, and possibly not waking up. Ever.
Then I woke up, shook the pneumonia, got off the breathing tube, started taking a metric ton of drugs and injections to keep my head from exploding again. I spent 3 more days in ICU, weak as hell, dealing with humiliating lack of independence on levels I can’t relate here. Then 2 days in a private room. More independence. Solid food. Shower. OMG SHOWER! and many visits from nurses and doctors to test my blood, my oxygen levels and give me thrice daily shots in the stomach to stave off any clots creeping up to snuff me out. (Mind you the staff at all points of my care were FANTASTIC. Never had better care before)
I’m home now. With 6 prescriptions of everything from blood thinners, to vaso-suppressors, to anti-seizure meds. I have a walking cane because I am still too wobbly to walk down the hallway. I still get chronic headaches. I have to set alarms to take medications in the middle of the night.
But I’m alive. And my husband is relieved and takes amazing care of me.
I still don’t know what actually happened.
I do know something though. My health issues may have exacerbated the situation. And the balance of the problem? Might have happened anyway.
So now I’m stuck with a series of thoughts that are difficult to deal with.
1) I very nearly died. I could very nearly die again. There is literally no guarantee at either end of that spectrum.
2) I have an epic circle of friends and family that all rallied in ways I’d never expected for my support. I am nearly on my knees from being humbled. It’s one thing to know people online and from afar. It’s entirely different to have people starting prayer circles for you and helping support your husband and family.
3) I don’t know the long term effects of this. I won’t know for a while. So far, my focus and short term memory seem to be a little off. Hopefully that will improve.
4) I’m covered in wounds. From tubes and injections and bruising. It’s disconcerting not to know where half of them came from.
5) My eating habits have radically changed. My voice has changed, possibly permanently. I’m not sure who I’m turning into, but I’m trepiditious.
6) I have another angiogram coming up. I have a 50% chance of coming out of it with no new answers. I’m weirdly okay with this.
7) I need to figure out what I want out of life. Now. I want to do a lot of things. I want to BE a lot of things. I’m caught in the crossfire of taking the slow road of recovery and the wide open field of endless possibilities.
The weirdest thing out of all of this is how epically calm I’ve become. My emotions are very still. It could be the meds. It could be brain damage. It might just be the natural reaction to almost dying. I’m not obsessing on what might have happened, which seems like a waste of energy.
The only thing I do know is that I want to be healthy enough to be with Brian for a good number of years going forward. And maybe that’s goal enough for now.