I Made It!

by Paula Elston

In her own words…

It was a day like any other day, one week before Christmas, seven years ago. I woke up, went through my morning routine, and then went to work at the Elliot Hospital where I had worked as nurse in the Emergency Room Express Care for the past ten years.

When my shift was over, I drove home, feeling only that the day had been mostly like any other, completely unaware of the events that would occur in the next few hours – events beyond my control that would force me to return to this same Emergency Room, where I would be made to begin a long journey that would change my life forever.

At first, however, upon returning home from work, it seemed that the night was also like any other night. I shared conversation with my daughter, son-in-law, and my newly born grandson who were living with my husband and I at the time. I went about my routine nightly activities. I spoke with my husband, who was working evenings during that time, on the telephone as I did every other night. And then…

I woke up. My whole world was different, and I was overcome with questions: Where am I…what day is it…who am I?

Today, I can answer that question: I am a survivor of a brain aneurysm. That night my aneurysm had burst, and in the days and months that followed, I had undergone surgery, coma, paralysis, and suffered from loss of speech and loss of memory.

I later learned as I crawled back into life that I had been trying to communicate with my family and friends following surgery, though to this day I have no recollection of this. It is the eeriest of feelings to have that time in my life be blocked out from my memory.

After surgery and some recovery, I began work in a rehab and I was so depressed. I could not move my right side. What was happening? Before my aneurysm, I had been so active and health conscious. I had become a vegetarian. I meditated. I exercised. This could not have happened to me, I thought.

Except that it did.

Slowly, with my hard work, and with the support and help of my husband Bernie, my daughter Jessica, my son-in-law Stephen, and my son Joel, I began to reclaim the things that had been stolen from me. I began to walk and my hand moved, my memory slowly returned, and I could begin to grasp what had happened to me.

At first I could not even discuss the aneurysm with strangers. I did not want anyone to know that this terrible thing had happened to me. Because those that knew treated me differently.

But the truth was, is that I was different Ð I walked with a slight limp on my right side, and my right thumb had become useless to me. My memory was not as strong as it once had been. I experienced depression and many times did not feel as confident as I once had, even with the slightest things.

But, with time, with courage, and with much work, all of this has changed.

It has taken me years to accept this and say, okay – this is who I am – hold your head up high. After much recovery, I returned to work, did exercises to strengthen my body and mind, and today I can discuss my aneurysm without pain or shame.

So I will say it again.

I AM A SURVIVOR OF A BRAIN ANEURYSM. I am still alive to enjoy life, to watch my children grow in their lives and to see where my own life’s journey will take me next. Every day is a celebration. I made it!

©2002 Permission Granted to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation For Use On Website and Other Print Materials