Living A Good Life

by Henry Recke

I am going to start my story. It started on October 16, 2003. My name is Henry and I live in Maine. My left Middle Cerebral Artery (MCA) ruptured. It was classified as a grade 3-4 aneurysm. I had a 7 mm wide aneurysm. It was a subarachnoid hemorrhage. The doctors saved my life right then. I was completely out of it. I never knew what was happening.

This is how it happened as people have told me. I don’t remember this day at all. My girlfriend she went to work. My next-door neighbor, an elderly woman, saw my car in the driveway. It was 6:30am and she knew that I usually left for work at 6:00am. She came over and looked in the window and saw me lying on the floor. So then she called the ambulance or the police. They took me to Southern Maine Medical Center.

I thought that I could talk but I wasn’t able to. It came out all garbled. I was at the hospital for only a short time before they realized it was serious and I needed to go to Maine Medical (MMC) in Portland. I needed emergency surgery.

I had a lot done to me at MMC. Dr. Florman was my surgeon. They put the hose in the top of my head and below by mouth. This was to drain the blood or fluid from the brain. I don’t know anything after that, except that they cut my head and stopped the blood with 4 clamps. They were very tiny. I got to see one and they are very small. After the clamps were on, they closed my head. I could feel holes in my skull. Dr. Florman is one of my favorites because he saved my life and he would come to see me every day in intensive care.

I also began seeing a neurologist, Dr. Heidi Henninger, after my surgery. She helped me with my medications. Dr. Heidi is one of my favorites because she helped save my life.

My total time at Maine Medical Hospital in Portland was 36 days. There are so many things that I can’t remember. My family and girlfriend were talking to me, and I would mumble back to them. No one could understand what I was saying, but I would think my talking was okay. I didn’t realize that I couldn’t talk. Words were coming out, but they didn’t make sense to the people listening. I thought I was making sense. A lot of people came to see me (friends, nurses, doctors and therapists). Speech therapists had to teach me to say words and helped me with my memory and thinking. I was not supposed to get up by myself but I would watch the nurses and go when they went the other way.

While I was in the hospital all I wanted was to go home. I guess that I figured that if I went home I would be back to normal. But a lot changed with this injury. All the food that I used to like didn’t taste good to me. The TV, I wouldn’t even put it on at all. I couldn’t pay attention to it or understand the words. I didn’t even watch football!!

When I came home it took about 3 weeks before I was going to the outpatient rehab at the New England Rehabilitation in Portland, Maine. I saw a speech therapist and an occupational therapist. When in therapy, I called my therapists “teachers” and I called the rehab center “school”. I learned by both talking and listening.

After I got home, they found another aneurysm, this time on the right side. But that one didn’t rupture. I was going to have to have surgery again. Dr. Jeffrey let me know that there were 3 different ways that the aneurysm could be taken care of. 1.) Observation where they did nothing but watch it, 2.) Clipping 3.) Endovascular treatment. He recommended the clipping. But that wasn’t until Feb. 23, 2004. This was going to be with Dr. Jeffrey again. Hopefully I will not ever need that operation again. But if I ever do, I would have my same doctor again.

As an outpatient, I attended New England Rehabilitation. They gave me speech therapy. When I went in for surgery for the right sided aneurysm on February 23, 2004, I was only in the hospital for 4 days. I went back to New England Rehabilitation for more therapy but I didn’t lose my speech. I was at least back to right where I was before this surgery. The right side didn’t do any damage like the left side that had burst did.

At home my girlfriend was thinking that I wasn’t doing good. My girlfriend wasn’t a teacher and she couldn’t understand me very much. I don’t remember this, but reports state that I wasn’t showering, shaving, or eating. They also said I was confused, I had language problems and I was sleeping a lot. I knew when I was awake I couldn’t talk right. I had word finding difficulty, difficulty with reading, and sometimes problems with auditory comprehension. I was sleeping all the time. She knew about an inpatient rehab called River Ridge in Kennebunk, Maine. This was for brain injury rehabilitation. I was admitted to RiverRidge on March 12, 2004.

While I was at RiverRidge, I started going to A.A. meetings again. The meetings were held at RiverRidge every Monday night. I couldn’t talk as well as I can today, so I listened to the other 2 clients instead of talking.

I kept thinking that I was going to get better and have a normal conversation. But all that I could say was yes and no. I couldn’t understand long questions and was confused a lot. I finished my rehab at RiverRidge and I finally moved to Portland. I moved to Portland Center for Assisted Living (PCAL) for a while. I stayed there and went to school at Bayside, another outpatient rehab. I was there a year. Some of my therapy activities included shopping, swimming, exercising and cooking with Speech Therapy and Occupational Therapy. When I got my drivers license, I felt great (wow!). I was able to go to the coffee shop, visit friends, and drink free coffee. I started to work, and I filed papers and stuff like that. They were teaching me all sorts of things that you would have to do to live on your own.

I was always thinking that I would get back to my normal work. Before my aneurysm I worked construction. I always tried to do what I thought I could do. I couldn’t do heavy lifting, climbing ladders and I couldn’t safely use power tools. My doctors told me not to do any work that involves heavy lifting, climbing ladders or power tools ever again. Then, I went to my friends’ house and there I started to do some of the work that my doctor told me not to. While doing heavy work that day, I had my last seizure. This made me think about what my doctors had said. That was 2 years ago. It was while I was there at my friend’s house helping to carry shingles up. I was drinking coffee all day. When I had my last seizure there, I fell and scratched my glasses and bent the frames. They called an ambulance and took me to the hospital. Now it finally got into my head, I have to do what I need, to live on with no seizures. From the hospital I went home that night.

Then I was still going to Bayside for my outpatient therapy. I finally realized what I had been told and I couldn’t do those things any more. I finally realized that I could never get back to normal- to what I was doing before. I don’t think that I am normal now. When I am talking to someone and start talking about a topic I jump from topic to topic. I can’t remember what I said before and I can’t change this about me.

I started my first job after a while, working in something new to me. I had to change what I was thinking; I couldn’t do what I had wanted to before. I have learned that I will not get back to normal. I used to think that driving would make me normal again, but I know that’s not true. What I want now is to go to different places and learn as much as I can learn. I don’t know what I can learn, but I just want to learn as much as I can. I have already learned a lot from what has happened to me.

Updated November 2012:

It has been 7 years and 4 months since my last seizure and I am very proud of that. I am going to do my best to keep the time of being seizure-free going. Since starting March 12, 2004, I have had a lot of ‘teachers’. That is what I call the therapists, ‘teachers’. Each of them all taught me bits of a lot of things. My teacher Ellen S. B. is helping to write this story. My other teacher is my case manager Denise. I now feel that I can never really be done with therapy. It finally went into my head that I need the ‘teachers’ to continue to learn things.

Both of them were my first teachers when I lived at RiverRidge as an inpatient. Now it has been 3 years that I have left and I have these 2 teachers again. It’s kind of funny but I am glad that I did. Now I can thank them because I see them 2 days a week.

Regarding getting back to work, first I found 2 jobs on my own. They both didn’t work out. With my brain injury I can’t do certain types of work any more. I have figured out that I should have gone to a vocational rehabilitation counselor.

I met my first counselor Amy while I was at RiverRidge as an inpatient. But when I moved to Portland, I had to get a new counselor and we didn’t connect. That is when I found my own jobs and they didn’t work out. Then I moved back to York County and got a hold of Amy. She is a very nice person. Plus she is great help, in that she knows a lot about aneurysms and brain injury. She quickly found a job for me, that I can stick with.

What I want to tell people is that if anyone else with a brain injury like myself, wants to work again, they should get a vocational rehabilitation counselor like Amy. My opinion is she is the best teacher that I have had.

So it has been over 7 years. When I get a headache, I get scared that it might happen again. I want to call my doctor or go to the hospital. But I have gotten to the point that I know that I can’t do that. I have to live with the fear that it may happen again. I figure that I have had aneurysms on both the left and the right, so I am done with them. So I figured that it’s like the cowboys and the Indians fighting in my head. They have been on both sides, and they have nowhere left to go. I feel like I am going to live a long life. I pray to God to keep me alive. I am glad to know everybody.

I am grateful to my teachers who included Faith – my speech teacher, Jessica – my Case Manager, Meridyth who taught me to cook, Alison who started the AA meetings and took care of my medical issues, Faith M. who helped me with my license and helped me with cooking and started me using my bookbag, in which I carry all my stuff and notes.

Now I am up to date. My teachers are Laura, who is my OTR/L, CBIS. She has started me on reading. I always wanted to read hard stuff, like the paperwork with MaineCare and Medicaid – so many big words. Now my Case Manager is Ellen. She and the others are helping me with everything. They are teaching me how to open my brain. I’m learning from all of them.

Now my teacher is Ann Marie and she is an RT, CBIS. She changed the reading that I do to easier things. My opinion is that this great because it is teaching me how to open up my brain.

I’m still living a good life!