The following post was written by my mother, Lorri, who survived a sudden subarachnoid hemorrhage one year ago. I think she frequently feels alone in that she doesn’t really have anyone else to talk to about it (especially in our small town), so I suggested that she write about the experience from her perspective to see if it will resonate with any other survivors. I am writing a follow-up post about the experience from a family member’s perspective because there isn’t a ton of information out there about SAH and how it affects all involved.
If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to post and I will have my mom respond. If you are a survivor but don’t feel comfortable posting, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will forward your message to her. If these posts help even one person, then it’s worth our time.
Thursday, April 18, 2013 will always be vivid in my mind; a beautiful sunny morning, paycheck week, and I was finally getting a tooth extracted that had bothered me for quite some time.
It was also the day I died.
My friends and I had just gone out to the parking lot behind the medical clinic where we worked, adjacent to the hospital, to have a cigarette before lunch. I knew as soon as the sun hit my neck that something was wrong. It felt like a white-hot poker was being driven up each side of my brain stem, my blood felt like it was boiling, and I felt nauseous. I asked my friends to catch my hands and they looked at me like I was stupid.
That’s the last thing I remember about that day and many to follow. Numerous friends and family have told me repeatedly (to their dismay) about my head bouncing off the concrete. My eyes rolled to the back of my head and I wasn’t breathing.
I thank God every day that Dr. Empey was in the clinic instead of in St. George awaiting the birth of his first granddaughter as his excellent military field training made all the difference. A couple of the physicians at the clinic and the ER staff at the hospital moved me onto a stretcher and rolled me directly into the emergency room not but twenty-five yards away from where I fell. Dr. Empey intubated me as the rest of the staff tried to stabilize me. They ran CT scans and sent me off to Las Vegas via Life Flight within and hour and a half to two hours after my fall.
By 5:30pm, I was in surgery and the prognosis was grim. I had a subarachnoid hemorrhage that required immediate attention and I had another aneurysm in a different area of the brain that would need surgery at a later date when I was stronger. They told my husband to be prepared: if I lived, I might be in a coma, blind, or handicapped.
When I was finally taken back to my room after recovery, all of my loved ones were there trying to get me to awaken. I was busy with my good friend’s sister, Yvonne, who had recently died. We had been walking and she told me that I had to go back for my friend Eileen’s sake. There was no light and I didn’t see myself from above, just Yvonne telling me good bye for now. When I finally did awaken a couple of days later, my husband was telling me good night. The nurses took out the breathing tube and performed all the required neuro tests. The specialists were amazed at my recovery. I wasn’t out of the woods, but it was an excellent sign.
I don’t remember much of the next two weeks and for that, I’m very thankful. I’ve been told that I had numerous headaches and fluid on my brain that kept building up, so they had to put in a temporary shunt to help drain the fluid.
I woke up the day before the permanent shunt placement in the back of my head. I pulled through that surgery with flying colors. However, I realized that I couldn’t see out of my right eye; it looked like several hairs were covering my eye. (Consequently, I do now have peripheral vision in my right now, but can no longer read out of it.) I began rehabilitation in the hospital and I was discharged the first Friday in May.
A word of advice: you need someone to finish your buzz cut before you leave the hospital. I had longer
hair on my left side, buzzed on most of my right side, and I was totally bald where the tubes and staples were placed on the back of head. But none of that mattered- I was still here!
At first, I slept twenty out of twenty-four hours a day. Just walking or taking a shower exhausted me. When your brain says you are tired, you’d best have a comfy place to stop as you will be doing nothing until you get some rest. Also, I couldn’t remember things one day to the next, but I kept working at it and by the first of June, I was back to work for four hours a day. It was terrifying, exhilarating, and tiring all at the same time. I was unable to drive due to preventative anti-seizure medication and that simple lack of freedom increased my depression. It was difficult to see, but while I was at work I could actually focus.
When the neurosurgeon called about the second upcoming surgery, I actually thought I had a choice in the matter and hesitated. After everyone convinced me it must be done, I went in for the second coiling on August 23rd. It was a piece of cake! The neurosurgeon went up through my groin and it all went as planned. It also seemed to quell my increased crying jags.
I’m finally working seven to eight hours a day, but if I overdo it, I’m sick the next day. I’ve even had migraines, so I need to realize my limitations. My daughter gets upset with me for not realizing the severity of what happened and the fact that it’s miraculous I’m even here. I do, but it’s surreal, like a story that happened to someone else.
I always feel guilty that I don’t show appreciation more but it’s harder now. I’m not as spontaneous as I used to be and a little more timid as I’m afraid I will do or say something wrong. I don’t like to say overnight anywhere because I don’t feel secure, but I’m working on that. I will need an angiogram soon to see if coils have packed down. I was recently told I will need these procedures performed about once every five years, which was a shock to me.
For now, it’s one day at a time. I’m trying to lose the thirty pounds I’ve gained from not smoking, depression, and just from being lazy. It will take some time, but I will get it done. My strength and resolve grows more each day.
I’m so thankful for my friends and family that love me in spite of the repetitious questions, the pity parties, and the occasional rage outburst. They take it all with a grain of salt, humor, and somehow make me realize how silly I am. You can have the best physicians in the world, but without this group of loving people by your side, you have nothing.
Once the angiogram is done, I will get back with reports- hopefully all good.
Just remember to be good to yourself, take one day at a time, and act like it could be your last because it could happen at any time.