Survivor Stories 4

Sharon’s Story

May 30, 2007 started out like any other day in my life. I went to work and put in a full day at my job. When I left for the day, I did not feel well, and my only concern was to go home. I worked right across the street from the hospital, for a cardiology practice. My co-workers would tell me months later that I had complained of a headache before I left. I drove out of the parking ramp and up the street. I remember turning right at the corner, then all of a sudden I was in my living room. While I was driving home, I felt as if someone was holding my head underwater. I had the sensation of drowning. I kept hearing my husband Jim’s, voice telling me if I ever became ill to call 911, not to wait for him to get home. When I found myself in my living room, I dialed 911. In actuality, calling 911 saved my life, for I found out later, had I just waited for Jim to get home from work, I probably would have died. I had a stage IV brain aneurysm that had ruptured. The drowning sensation I felt was the blood leaking in my brain.

The 911 operator asked me several questions, and while I thought I was making sense, apparently I wasn’t. I told her my husband told me to call 911. She asked where my husband was, I said I did not know. She asked me what was wrong with me, I said I didn’t know. During some point in the conversation, I became afraid she would think I was a prank call and hang up, and I knew I would not be able to call back. My hand was frozen to the telephone receiver and I could not move off my chair, but for some reason I was only afraid that the operator would not help me. Finally, she told me to sit back and wait, that I would hear sirens and that help was on the way. When the firemen got to my house, I heard them banging on the door, but I couldn’t get up to unlock the door, and the telephone receiver was still “glued” to my hand. Thankfully, my neighbor saw the fire truck and hopped the fence, let himself in the back door, and let the firemen in. I felt someone take the receiver out of my hand. Then, somehow, all of a sudden, my husband was in the room, asking what was wrong with his wife. (I found out later that a neighbor had called Jim at work).

I was taken to St. Vincent Health Center, where the doctors determined that I had the aneurysm. The doctor who saved my life, Dr. Jacob Agris, came and spoke to my husband. He told Jim that I was in very bad shape and probably would not survive. He knew what he had to do, but was not sure that he could save my life. He told Jim to call our children home. Two of the five live out of town, so the terrifying phone call began. Dr. Agris put a drain in my head that night and then the next morning coiled the aneurysm. The coiling took 4 hours and they told Jim that I should start responding in a half hour if it was working. Thankfully I started responding, but I was still very ill.

I was placed in Intensive Care, where I remained for three weeks. During that time Dr. Agris was absolutely wonderful about explaining every detail to my family. What impressed my children is that he never promised to fix their mom, only to do his very best to help me. I was so blessed to have such a skilled doctor involved with my care. I’ve been told that during my stay in ICU, I was awake and talking, giving my children advice for their lives, dancing in my bed, and yes, trying to take apart the telephone. This last one amused me, because I am mechanically inept and would never think of taking apart anything. I don’t remember any of this. I was kept in ICU three weeks because of concern of rebleeding of the aneurysm or of a stroke. I was on an antiseizure medication to prevent further problems. From what my husband told me, my blood pressure was medically raised very high and then medically lowered. It never did stabilize and I am now on blood pressure medication. That, I am told, is a normal side effect of an aneurysm.

I was then sent to Rehab at St. Vincent for 2-1/2 weeks for speech, physical and occupational therapy. It was a very confusing and frustrating time for me and I fought to go home on a daily basis. I was very unsteady on my feet but I didn’t realize that and I tried to get up by myself. The nurses resorted to putting a monitor on me and chained me to the bed so I would have to call for help, but I kept making the monitor go off, and eventually learned how to turn off the alarm when it beeped. Finally, in early July, I got the news I had been waiting for. I could go home.

Upon arriving home, the real challenges began for me, because I did not realize how sick I had been and how much this had affected me. I gave my poor husband, the love of my life, much grief, as I continually tried to do things that I was unable or not permitted to do. I had major short term memory loss, was more tired than I had ever been in my life, very frustrated at my limitations and loss of appetite. In addition, I found I had lost my emotions, was unable to cry, had no reaction to good or bad news, and became very agitated at everything.

The aneurysm has affected my emotions. The doctor is unable to tell me if I will ever be my old self, who was a caring, sympathetic, individual who was always helping someone with something. This is my biggest loss. While I still loved Jim with all my heart, I did not feel the same about our relationship. I know this hurt him deeply, but as he told me every day, he was just glad that I was alive and back home with him. He continues to tell me this on a daily basis. We have been able to get back a lot of our relationship now, but I am definitely a different person.

I had home therapy for weeks after returning home. I reached a point where the therapists were not able to do anymore for me. My functions will either come back or they won’t. Only time will tell. When I saw Dr. Agris in August, Jim had a ton of questions for him. He answered them all patiently and spent 45 minutes with us. I only had two questions. I wanted to know when I could drive (I had been on driving restriction) and I wanted to know when I could go back to work. Dr. Agris is a man who looks directly at you when he speaks. I knew I was in trouble when he wouldn’t look at me after I asked these questions. He finally said he was concerned about me driving, but he would let me drive provided I had Jim as a passenger. He was not happy about me returning to work. He did not think I could do it. He finally agreed to have me return part time to my job if I would stay home for two more weeks. I still did not realize the severity of my injury–I thought I could just return to work and everything would be fine.

I went back to work on September 4, 2007 for half days. I could not remember anything about how to do my job. My co-workers were very helpful, retraining me, but I could not seem to remember from day to day what the job entailed. I returned to see Dr. Agris in October and he extended my part time status. I was so exhausted at lunch time that I was literally walking into walls at the office. Thanksgiving weekend, I had four days off and when I went back to work, I could not remember the job at all. I was absolutely panicky. My employer gently reminded me that mine was a full time job. I told them that if I couldn’t manage full time, I would walk away. I still had hope that one day I would just be fine. For some reason my brain could not absorb that I was just not able to be ok.

Dr. Agris and my family doctor told me I would not be able to continue at this job, but I am very determined person, so I kept trying. I finally had to return full time. I had run out of excuses. I lasted three days at full time. The third day, I came back from lunch and could not make it through the day. I felt as though I had had the flu and been in bed for a week and then tried to get up and be normal. I was weak, dizzy and felt disoriented. I essentially came to the conclusion then that I had to quit my job. It was a very complicated and stressful job and I could not longer be sure I was doing it right. I was terrified of making a mistake and because it was a doctor’s office, I couldn’t afford to make mistakes.

I left my job right before Christmas. My co-workers and employers were sad that I was leaving, but they understood. Apparently, they could see I wasn’t doing well, but to their credit they let me make the decision. My husband, even though he wanted so desperately for me to leave, let me make the call. For this I shall always love him.

It is very difficult to be home now. I still have memory loss, balance problems, and my emotions are still confused. I tend to keep people at arm’s length. I hope that some day I am better than I am right now. I have been told to expect to be recovering for two years. Wherever I am at that point is where I will stay. I am very grateful to be alive. I feel God spared my life for some purpose; I just have to figure out what that purpose is.

I had minor problems with arthritis before the aneurysm. Now the pain has escalated and I hurt all over most of the time. I have an appointment with a rheumatologist in early August. I am hopeful that he will be able to help me. I had partial and total left knee replacements in the past two years, but the left leg continues to give me pain. I am hopeful that this too will remedy itself someday.

I want to express my deep appreciation to Dr. Jacob Agris for saving my life. It was due to his quick response and fantastic skill that I am still here to enjoy life with my wonderful husband and family.

Elma’s Story

On Oct 18, 2007 I suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm. I am a 45 yr old woman living alone. My children had moved out of state, clear across the country. That day I had gone to work and came home for lunch as I usually did, being that I lived close.

My sister happened to stop by that day, she was going to go on vacation. I had a very bad headache, feeling as if my head was being squished, which I had mentioned to her, then I began vomit and became unconscious, my sister called 911 immediately. They responded very quickly, I was sent to Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa, CA from there I was air flown to UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco.

My family was advised to expect the worse, for me to be severely brain damaged or possibly death. My children were called and they came as quickly as they could, the rest of my family gathered at the hospital waiting.

I had the ruptured brain aneurysm and a fistula in my neck coiled. They also discovered that I had 3 other brain aneurysms. They left those. I was hospitalized for 3 weeks at UCSF and from there I was sent back to Memorial Hospital where I stayed another 3 days.

I returned back to UCSF 6 months later (April 1, 2008) to have an angiogram, checking the status of the coiling that was performed and to take a look at the other unruptured aneurysms. I had another aneurysm coiled. I am due to return in another 6 months again. Possibly getting the last aneurysm taken care of at that time. And the 3rd brain aneurysm- that miraculously disappeared!

I truly believe I am a walking miracle. I am so lucky, I am alive! and I am not brain damaged. I have minimal short term memory issues and sometimes when I walk too much, I tend to veer to the right. If God is willing I will be back to work full-time in a few weeks. I did attempt to return back to work in January 2008, but I was having too many headaches.

It is scary to know that you have the brain aneurysms. I try to live stress free. I know that God has a purpose for me, in time I will know what it is.

Laurie’s Story

My one year anniversary

February 8, 2002, Portland, Maine. That was the date I had a subarachnoid hemorrhage and a brain aneurysm rupture. My name is Laurie Morrow Farmer and I was 40 years old and working as an office manager in Portland Maine when my life changed forever. It was late in the afternoon at work. I work for an oil distributor and it had been a long and busy day. I was complaining of not feeling well all day, they tell me. I decided to go out front to talk to our switchboard operator. While I was talking to her, the switchboard rang. She answered it and at the same time I started to feel a severe head pain and got queasy. I said, “I don’t feel so well.” I went to find a seat but never went more than 2 steps before I passed out and fell to the floor.

When I awoke, the paramedics were standing over me and I was on one of their cots. I was having trouble breathing through my nose and had vomited blood. They got me to stand up and my left side was limp. They put me into the ambulance. The paramedics gave me oxygen, which made me feel so much better, but then he asked me a question and when I attempted to answer him, I pulled up the mask and passed out again. I have no further memories until after the operation.

I am told my husband of less than one year was called on his cell phone. He turned around from going to pick up his two sons and ended up at the hospital before the ambulance. He had no idea the extent of my problems until the neurosurgeon Dr. Jeffrey Florman spoke with him about the severity of the situation. Meredith, a friend of mine from work, stayed with him for quite some time until his parents arrived. My parents are 80 years old and 6 hours north of here so my husband decided not to call them until after the surgery. I was so glad that he waited. He did call my sister Mary and her husband who live nearby. My sister then called other family members.

The next part of this story has been mostly related to me and read about in my medical report. I do not have any memory of seeing my husband, being admitted, or the first several days in the hospital. I regained my memory slowly over the next few months.

It turns out that I was very fortunate. The neurosurgeon on call was Dr. Jeffrey Florman. He was already at the hospital and he clearly saved my life. I had a right middle cerebral artery aneurysm with intracerebral hematoma and hydrocephalus, along with a severe subarachnoid intracerebral and intraventricular hemorrhage. The operation lasted about 4 hours and was a Hess-Hunt grade 3-4 aneurysm. Dr. Florman performed much of the operation with a microscope. I had a stroke on my right side but thankfully have very few serious problems left because of it. I am left-handed but everything was okay with my handwriting. I also had a seizure. I had leaked blood that dried and adhered to the macula of my right eye. Over time much of it disappeared on its own, but what is left I am stuck with. Fortunately it is a very small spot that for the most part I can ignore. I also lost my ability to smell. I think that it had something to do with the stroke. I was in danger because of vasospasms, but those did stop. My short memory loss is most bothersome.

When I first woke up I asked about all of my family except my husband. Because I had known Alan only 2 1/2 years, I did not remember him right away. He felt awful about that and when he told me it really hurt because I certainly know and love him.

I was at Maine Medical Center for 14 days; during that time I guess I scared the nurses a few times. I was very happy and good-natured because the drugs they put me on totally masked any pain! They found out that I am allergic to morphine. They gave me some and I broke out in red blotches. The other thing I did was pull my IV’s out. This was more serious and they had to move me from my private room and put me in an open area so that they could watch me. Once I regained enough memory, I stopped pulling them out, but I think when they told me not to do it, I would not remember being told. I remember Dr Florman would visit me every morning and ask me his name. I never remembered who he was and I could tell he was concerned about me. I asked the nurse who he was and she told me. The next morning I struggled but I did remember his name (with her help!). I was really happy and I believe that is when I began to remember new things a little at a time. The nurses also asked anyone visiting to sign a journal so I could look back and read it and remember who had been there. That really helped jog my memory and encouraged it to work again.

My husband was so wonderful, he would come see me twice a day; in the morning and at night. My parents were called and my younger brother, Peter brought them to see me while I was in the hospital. It was very wonderful to see them and I do remember it, but I also remember how much it tired me out seeing so many loved ones at once. The nurses were very good with letting them visit as a group. I didn’t want them to worry but couldn’t do anything to prevent it. My Mom asked our Catholic church at home to pray for me. She knew I could still have a seizure or die. That is a wonderful gift she gave me and I will always appreciate it.

I had so many visitors and people praying for me, I really believed they helped save my life. They certainly helped with my recovery. I received around 70-100 cards and many, many plants and gifts. My brother Ray and his wife came on the weekends and my sister Mary came every day. Her husband, Tom (who is studying to become a doctor) also spent time with me, as well as their daughter Lindsay. My employees would come visit me and we would have fun, but apparently they were a little scared because I would say odd things like “I am going to fix you up with my friend.” while knowing the person was married! I told my husband “This is the dog’s fault!!” I guess I said that more than once. Needless to say, many people were afraid of how much of a recovery I would make. They treated me very well at the hospital and when they transferred me to New England Rehab. Center I was actually sad to leave the hospital!!! I certainly missed their food!!! I did not lose any weight while with them because their food was actually quite good!!!

I was transferred by ambulance and spent a week at New England Rehab. (also in Portland). I did not participate in as many classes as they would have liked but my problem was not physical and most of their rehab is for physical problems. Although it was an okay place, I really had started to become myself again at this point and really wanted to go home! I felt horrible about all that my husband was dealing with. I realized how bad I looked and although they allowed me to wash my hair it did not really come clean. Luckily, Dr. Florman did not shave any of it and for that I was very thankful.

I work for a very good company-Downeast Energy, that allows you to earn short- term sick leave. I had never used any of mine and after working there 18 years, I had accumulated enough to pay my entire time out of work. What a blessing.

They discharged me after a week and my husband took me home. This was a scary time for he and I because I was very forgetful and needed to be transported to therapy 30 minutes away twice a week. I was also taking Dilantin, for seizures, though thankfully I no longer need to take it. Alan was so wonderful. He took the first week off to be with me. He works as a Director at the YMCA and people there pitched in and delivered a meal to us every night of that first week! That was just wonderful and so helpful to us.

Therapy was also at New England Rehab. which made it easier for me, but I had so many problems with memory and at first I could not find my way back to the reception area after an appointment. Luckily the therapists are trained to bring you back. Thank goodness! I remember feeling so afraid and feeling so useless. I was afraid to cook because I was afraid to leave the stove on or burn food. My therapist, Katie Pike convinced me to use a timer and that worked well. Many of my problems were because of the stroke and not necessarily because of the aneurysm. I had to go see my regular doctor to be put on blood pressure medicine because I was high, and that was a potential cause. At this point I really wanted to know why this happened to me. I know now that I will probably never know. I do remember getting a really bad pain in my head months before this happened, that pain lasted 2 or 3 days. I believe that could be when it ballooned out. I don’t smoke and no one in my family has ever had an aneurysm that we are aware of.

March and April passed quickly and I began to see real progress. I had lost my license because of the stroke and had to take a test to get it back. That was awful, but I do understand why they have you do it.

I went for my driver’s test on May 6 and returned to work part time on May 7th.

I started doing full time work around the end of the summer and some days are better than others. It is now heating season again and it gets very stressful here. My manager and the entire company have been very understanding about my recovery. There are days I get head pains and I worry about that, but Dr. Florman said I would continue healing for quite some time. I would get tired so easily and my husband got me to tell my doctor, Dr. Cyr. She put me on Paxil. This drug is really helping my anxiety, as well as, my tiredness. This whole ordeal left me shaken and extremely thankful to be alive, in the condition I am in. I thank God, I thank Dr. Florman, my wonderful husband Alan, my parents, family, workplace, friends and co-workers who guided me back to where I am today one year later.

I continue to try to get my energy and strength back and to be as close to the person I was before as I can. I miss being able to hike and hope to get back to doing that. I am a lot more understanding of those around me and try to relax more and not take things too seriously. If you can die at any moment what is important to you? For me, it’s those I love. Everything else will work itself out. I walked away knowing how fragile life is. Savor every moment while you can. If something happens to your body that you don’t think is correct SEE A DOCTOR.

I hope to continue healing and to appreciate the lesson I have learned from this, “Enjoy every second of your life, because you truly do not know when it will end.” I am so happy to be alive!!!

Thanks for listening and may God bless you.