Thursday, June 11, 2015

What I learned during 1 year After a Brain Aneurysm.

The Headlines:


1 year ago my Dad almost died.


He had a brain aneurysm that almost killed him.

Instead, he's alive today.

And almost as good as new.







All really big life lessons start somewhere.  You never know where or when.  Sometimes they pop up in the most mundane way.  Other times their entry into your life can be rather extraordinary.  One of my "life lessons" began about this time last year.  It was almost Father's Day and in honor of it I wrote a post about "giving DAD the gift that costs nothing..." I encouraged people to write a letter to their Dad - for Father's Day.  If you missed it, you can read it HERE.

It was also at that time, that unbeknownst to me, a time bomb was ticking in my Father's head.  A brewing brain aneurysm that was slowly and silently growing inside.  You can read that story HERE .  I will say, it's a good read if you need a reminder of how easily life can be taken from you.

Looking back at the first post, I could hardly believe my own foreshadowing of the events to come.  I talked about how you need to take advantage of today - tell people how you feel now - just in case tomorrow never comes.  My Dad almost didn't live to see Father's Day.  But he got another chance.

Since then, I've learned a lot.  I know way more than the average person about brain aneurysm's of course... but I also took note of the life lessons that joined me on the journey too.  It started with a very simple question... What is a Brain Aneurysm?  They sound so scary but it's pretty simple to define:


Kind of like a balloon inside your head that pops.  But it my Dad's case... it didn't pop as much as it seeped.  On the Sunday, when the pain started, his head hurt when he coughed and the bulge was probably close to erupting.  By Tuesday when he started to be in non-stop pain, the aneurysm was most likely slowly leaking.  It continued like that for 4 whole days.  By Friday the pain was excruciating.  Again you can read the play-by-play HERE but the bottom line is doctors had more questions than answers when it came to my Dad.  They kind of weren't sure why he survived.

He was taken into surgery Friday afternoon and they say, his blood seemed to stay in one spot versus traveling the entire brain.  Because of that, as far as they could tell, he sustained no "long term neurological damage."  At that point, one year ago, they assumed he'd go back to everything he used to do prior to the aneurysm because they didn't see any reason he couldn't.

I was shocked, over-joyed, confused and hopeful all at the same time.  I heard the words directly from 3 doctors mouths because I flew out to see him for myself when he was in the ICU.   In essence, they were saying he was going to be as good as new.


But we had to wait 21 days.

For 21 days, we held our breath, watched him carefully and hoped those 3 weeks would pass without any instance.  For then, we were out of the immediate danger (recurrence) zone.  21 days came on the 4th of July last year.  Now, the holiday holds a new, special significance for my family.  The birth of our nation and potentially the re-birth of my father.  


But our next hurdle would take much longer.  When I saw the neurologist last July in California, he told me my Father was doing as good, if not better, than any other patient he'd had.  He was simply one of those people you don't see very often.  He lived.  See, depending on who you talk to... 95% or 9 out of 10 people with a brain aneurysm die.  Not only had my Dad lived... but they predicted he would survive and thrive.  Of the people who do live through a brain aneurysm... many of them have life altering issues.  Kind of like a store patient, they have speech problems to trouble walking, changes in personality, mood and skills.  The list goes on....

The neurologist also said he had one year.  One year to become the person he was meant to be.  One year to re-grow those brain cells that may have been a little damaged a long the way.  One year to become who he was capable of being of the rest of his life.  At that point, his growth would stop.  He would be who he was, one year later, forever.

He seemed to get off to a decent start but stumbled, literally and figuratively, shortly after.   In September, those that didn't know him but would casually talk to him thought he was great.  But by Thanksgiving, those who know him were all concerned.  He was exhausted, sometimes confused (not able to figure out the tip on a restaurant bill), he wasn't clear, it was like he was in a fog.  And he walked funny.  Like little shuffle steps.  He even scraped a car in a parking lot and wasn't aware that he did it until the policeman knocked on his door (sorry Dad)!  Honestly, it seemed as if he'd aged 15 years overnight.  I told him to challenge himself with crossword puzzles or Sudoku.  He did none of it.  He wasn't interested.  I was desperately trying to get my Dad back but my Dad wasn't really there.  After Christmas, I wrote the neurologist - I often encourage people to be your own medical advocate and I was absolutely going to do that for my Dad.  So I asked, "Help.  Per your own words, we're running out of time.  Can we do anything more because he's not okay...?"

It was at that time they thought he had Hydrocephalus or water on the brain.  Which is not at all what it actually is because it's cerebrospinal fluid, not water.  And it can happen after a trauma in the brain.  If not treated, it too can be deadly.  If it didn't soon go away they would need to put a shunt in his head to drain the fluid into his stomach.  It explained so much, his symptoms were right on.  But magically, when they went in to look for the so called "water" there seemed to be none.  The shunt procedure, was deemed, unnecessary.

I was worried but I took a leap of faith.  Since I wasn't in the state, I trusted my Mom and medical professionals he didn't need surgery.  I let go... while still holding on to hope that he would live to see better days.   

I saw my Dad in February of this year and I could not believe it.  For the first time, since the trauma... he was much like himself again.  NO more shuffle walking, not as much confusion, less forgetfulness, it was like he was back.  By Easter, it only got better.   We now talk on the phone like old times.  He reads this blog.  He's even upholstering and doing some household chores like he used to, the doctors we're right.  Just like they said, he has no life altering neurological damage.

Why did this happen to him?  Smoking is bad.  That's nothing new I learned this year  but he smoked all his life until about 12 years ago... that's one high risk factor.  But so is hypertension, alcohol abuse and drug abuse.  It can be genetic but none of his close family members had one.  So maybe it's just life... perhaps we have to go through pain to keep us in line.  Without it, we wouldn't appreciate anything.

Today, 1 year later, I would say he's 95% of the person he used to be.  He says he still forgets some things and occasionally gets confused but I rarely see it.  All I see is my Dad again.

I do know this,  I believe in ANGELS (I wrote about them HEREand I think my Dad had many of them surrounding him this fateful week of last year.  He told me, when he was being wheeled into surgery, he said a little prayer: "you and me God - we're good" he said, "and if it's my time - no hard feelings."

My Dad didn't hear it but God spoke back to him that day - loud and clear.  

Yes, it's been a full year of life lessons: I now know what a brain aneurysm is, I know that you're out of the immediate danger zone in 21 days, I am aware how incredible it is that my dad survived without serious loss.  I also know major strides need to be taken within that first year of a Brain Aneurysm, I can define Hydrocephalus, I learned to be a medical advocate while letting go when necessary.  I  now know the risk factors of an Aneurysm.  I thought about the reason pain is apart of life and I solidified an opinion I had long believed in: Angels.  Not to mention, I was reminded, once again, the precious gift that is life and that no matter how bad your day seems to be going... it could always be worse.


I'm glad I'm still a work in progress, thankfully today my Dad is too...
Happy Father's Day to all the Daddy's out there.  And may ANGELS surround during the day pain finds you.