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Mar 10, 2016
March 10th started out as a normal day, and as I went to lay my head down on my pillow to end what had also finished like a normal day, it suddenly became anything but normal. I suffered what could have been a life-ending brain injury, just by laying my head down on my pillow. At the time, I had NO idea how serious my condition was. I am writing this to share what happened, and to inform everyone of the signs so if you or someone you know shows the same signs, that you don’t wait and you get to the hospital ASAP.
It was around 1:30 AM. I had worked the closing shift and got home a little after 11 PM. It always takes a couple of hours to wind down after a closing shift, so going to bed at that time of night was not out of the ordinary. But as I was laying down, I felt something start at the very top of my head. Something different than anything I had ever felt before. Something that methodically spread out to cover a portion of my head that a baseball cap would cover.
And it hurt like hell.
I could not remember ever feeling pain like this before. After a few minutes of it, I got up and took Aleve. I wasn’t sure if I was suffering my first ever migraine, or… actually, I wasn’t sure what the hell was going on. The immense pain lasted around 20 minutes and when it subsided I quickly fell asleep. That’s right, after suffering by far my worst headache ever, I just rolled over and went to sleep. Around 3:30 AM, I woke up having to use the bathroom. I was returning to bed and out of nowhere, it happened again. This time it was on the right side of my head. This time it was much worse than the pain I felt two hours earlier. I had three thoughts as this was happening. The first was simply “what the fuck is happening?!?” The second was “is my earlobe going to explode?” The sheer pain and pressure I felt in my right ear lobe was indescribable. The 3rd was “Is this how I die?”
I made it back to my bed, where I laid in the fetal position, clasping the right side of my head. The pain was so intense I didn’t have the ability to do anything else. This time it lasted a little bit longer, maybe 25-minutes or so. As it subsided, it didn’t quite go completely away as it did the first time. As the pain continued to lessen, I was able to regain some sort of normal activity and I grabbed for my phone. I didn’t use the phone to call for help as I should have done, I used it to see if the internet gods could tell me what was going on.
The internet overwhelmingly gave me two answers. A brain hemorrhage, and an aneurysm. Each one gave the same symptoms: A severe headache, a stiff neck, vomiting, and confusion. All I had was the severe headache, so being the stubborn bastard that I am, I didn’t think that was it. I didn’t have any of the other signs, so I had to have something else, right? Perhaps it was just a migraine as I thought after the 1:30 AM attack. Do I really want to call an ambulance or family or a friend at this time of night just for a stupid migraine?
So I kept using that smartphone of mine and kept searching. The entire time that smartphone of mine kept telling me I was having an aneurysm. And I wasn’t buying it. This went on for a good 30-minutes. The entire time I still had a pretty decent level of pain, and not just pain, but something that also felt different than any other headache I have ever had.
Around 4:30 AM, I thought I was good enough to try going back to sleep. As I rolled over onto my side, the pressure started building a little bit. It didn’t get anywhere near what it had before, but because it started building again, and because it just felt so much different than anything I had ever felt before, at 4:29 AM I used my phone as an actual phone this time and called my parents. I’m sure all parents know, getting a call from your kid at 4:30 AM is never a good thing no matter how old they are. My mom answered and all I said was “I think I need to go to the hospital.” I mentioned the headaches and what they were doing to me, and a short while later my dad had arrived to bring me to North Memorial. I was fully functional. I got dressed, walked out to the car, and my dad and I had our normal conversation about the Minnesota Twins and Timberwolves as we drove to the hospital. He pulled up to the emergency entrance where he dropped me off and then he went to park the car. I walked in to check myself in, still thinking things weren’t that bad.
I walked up to the desk, a guy asked what he could do for me. I mentioned the headaches. Before he could ask anything else, a female in the back of the area hollered out “Were they the worst headaches ever?” I said yes. She told me to get my butt back to where she was. The first thing she did was take my blood pressure. It was 215/ some other ungodly number. The guy then walked me back to a room and had me lay down in the bed. I was there maybe 5 minutes when my dad showed up, and they then took me to have a CT scan. It was 5:15 AM at this point, so just 45-minutes from making the call to getting my head shoved into a machine.
After the test was done I was brought back to the same room. My dad was still there and a constant parade of nurses came in and out, drawing blood, taking another blood pressure test, and doing any other number of tests. A doctor came in and said they had found blood on my brain and that I had suffered an aneurysm.
My damn phone was right the entire time.
He told me about the odds I had beat. He told me half of the people who suffer an aneurysm die before making it to the hospital. So I was among the 50% who were lucky to survive. He also said half of the survivors suffer some sort of permanent disability. And he could tell I was very lucky to have not suffered that. And he also told me that 50% of the survivors will have another aneurysm within 6-months, and the 2nd one is always worse than the 1st one, so I still had a long road ahead of me.
I don’t remember exactly what happened next. I was either brought in for an angiogram or brought to the ICU. Both of them happened, I’m just foggy on which was first. I had a broken brain, you’ll have to forgive me. For the angiogram, they went in through my groin and up into my brain to look for the aneurysm. They were unable to find the source of my injury.
Back in the ICU, I was connected to a baker’s dozen wires and had my arm wrapped in a blood pressure wrap. This would be my life for the next nine days. Lying in bed. Wires coming out of me, and constant blood pressure checks. Throughout the day on Thursday, I received pills every 4 hours (or more often if needed). They came and checked my vitals every 2 hours, and the blood pressure test automatically happened every 15-minutes. The constant parade of medical personnel kept telling me to rest. With all the commotion going on, how is anyone supposed to rest?
When they introduced me to a couple of the new meds, the nurse mentioned it is common to get nauseous from them. My parents were both in the room when I took these. And sure enough, it didn’t take long for me to tell the nurse that I indeed felt nauseous. She handed me a pan and I immediately used it. First time I had thrown up since 2000. Thankfully, that ended up being the only time the meds made me vomit.
For the first few days in the ICU, I was not allowed to read, or have a cell phone or laptop, or write, or do crosswords or sudoku. They didn’t want me doing anything that could stimulate my brain. I could, however, watch TV. So, I laid there watching TV, and trying to sleep through all the constant tests they were giving me.
On Friday, they cut the blood pressure test back to once an hour instead of once every 15-minutes. I still had vitals checked every 2 hours, and pills every four hours. So, yeah, it’s not a thing that is easy to sleep through, and they kept telling me to get my rest. Oy. There was a 5 AM nurse that came to take blood, which happened every single day I was there. I started calling her a vampire, as every day she crashed her cart into the door of my room. She walked in loudly announcing in a thick accent that “I’m here to take blood!” And she would turn on the brightest lights in the room that every other medical personnel avoided as they wanted me in a cool, dark room. That first day, as soon as she left, another nurse came in to give me my first doppler/ultrasound test. This test would happen every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday while I was there. They used it to check the vibrations/spasms of the blood vessels in my brain.
One good sign on Friday was my blood pressure was running around 120/80 without any meds for it. Considering where it was just a day earlier when I arrived, that’s a huge improvement. However, in the late afternoon after seeing several visitors, it crept up to the 150 range, so they started giving me meds for it again. They wanted me to be below 140, and the meds kept me there.
Over those 9-days in the ICU, every once in a while they’d let me go sit in a lay-z-boy instead of the hospital bed. It was set right next to the bed, so that was the totality of my walking during those 9 days. Put my feet on the floor, turn around, and sit down. Of course, sitting in a lay-z-boy really isn’t that much different than laying in the bed. The bed was never flat, as I had to stay above a 30-degree angle as laying my head down any lower would increase the pressure in my head. The last thing we wanted was to increase the pressure there.
Near the end of my first week, a physical therapist came in to give me a test to see where I was, and if I had suffered any loss from this. The test was just simple movements with my arms, hands, and legs. I’m not sure if she said it to be nice or if it was true, but she said I was the first person she’s ever had to get 100% on the test. I did hear a lot of comments like that from the nurses. They had never seen anyone who suffered my injury be in such good condition.
On Friday, March 18th, I was moved out of the ICU into the family medicine area. All of the cords and wires were removed. The blood pressure wrap was removed. I was given a private room, I could read, use my cell phone, laptop, and I could walk around the hallways as much as I wanted. At that moment I had a serious rush of freedom, of course, there was one thing that nipped that in the bud right away. That part about being able to walk around the hallways whenever I wanted? Well, after laying in a hospital bed for 9 days, my hamstrings and glutes had tightened up so much that walking was painful. They brought in a physical therapist, and she attempted to stretch my muscles. While lying flat on my back, all she could do was lift my leg about 12-inches before the pain was too much. Yeah, my muscles were that tight. We spent a couple of days using a warming pad and stretching them and we eventually got them to a point I could move about freely.
When they brought me to the family medicine side, their plan was for me to go home that following Monday. I spent that weekend enjoying that I could move around and that I could use my laptop and cell phone again. I was now able to get nearly 4 hours of sleep at a time as they only came to check on me when it was time for my pills. After never even getting an hour of uninterrupted sleep in the ICU, getting nearly 4 hours of sleep at a time was dreamy.
Monday came, and everyone was talking about me going home. I just had to have one more doppler test and if it was good I’d get to go home. The previous tests all happened early in the morning. On this day the test didn’t happen until around 2 PM. I didn’t get results until nearly 5 PM, which drove me nuts waiting. I wanted to go home. When I finally had the test results brought to me, I was told they were good, and on their own, they were good enough to send me home. However, the test results were worse than the test on Friday. They wanted to keep me around for another test as this test getting worse wasn’t normal and wasn’t supposed to happen.
So, it was now Tuesday the 22nd. The doctor had said we’d take another doppler test, but they only did these tests on those three days, Mon, Wed, and Fri. even the nursing staff was confused about it. But then around noon they came and got me to bring me down to get the test. I was obviously pleasantly surprised to be getting it taken on that day. As the afternoon was turning into the evening, a hospital chaplain came in to talk to me. Partway through our conversation, the doctor stuck his head in the room, asked if I had time to talk. The chaplain said she’d like a few more minutes with me and asked him to come back later. If I was a jerk, I would have smacked her. Let me talk to the doctor! This was about 5-hours after my test, and I hadn’t heard anything about the results. Before the doctor left he simply asked “do you want to go home tonight, or tomorrow morning?”
I heard angels singing. Well, actually his question circled around my head for a bit. I wasn’t expecting to hear that question at all. I eagerly said “tonight!” He said he’d be back in a few minutes and left. The chaplain continued our talk, said a prayer for me and went on her way. The doctor returned to go over plans for getting me out of there. I was so euphoric. The nurse came in to go over more plans to get me out of there. I was still so euphoric. I called my parents for a ride home, and after that spent the next 15-minutes crying my ass off. The emotions of the whole experience just overwhelmed me at that point. I went from thinking I just had a migraine, to spending 13 days in the hospital. Even though I knew I still had a bunch of limits and pills in my foreseeable future, being able to battle through that at home was obviously a magical moment.
We then got my meds from the pharmacy, my parents came and got me, and I was brought home. I was pretty much still limited to what I was doing in the hospital. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t lift more than 10 pounds. I had to pretty much just lay around not doing much. I also still had to take pills every four hours. That’s right, I had to set an alarm for every 4 hours of the day. But I was home.
It’s now over a month since the initial injury and I am able to drive as I’m done with most of my meds. I still have blood pressure meds, and will be adding cholesterol pills too. Neither is because I have bad numbers, both are to keep them in line while my brain is still healing. And there is a chance I might have to take these for the rest of my life, which I am very lucky to still have. I still cannot lift more than 10-pounds. I still cannot work or do anything strenuous. But for the most part, I feel pretty damn good. I actually feel like I am thinking clearer than I was before this happened. I do get tired really easily, and I still get headaches that are never really bad, but they do let me know they are there. I kind of describe them as the Northern Lights. Sometimes I don’t have them, sometimes they are there but constantly moving around, sometimes sending sharp points of pain to different parts of my head. But they are thankfully not bad at all, at least compared to the ones I had back on March 10th.
They never did find the source of my injury, which isn’t that uncommon. In fact, if you have the “good” kind of aneurysm (which they think I had) that happens in your blood vessels instead of an artery, they won’t ever find it. But that still means it COULD have happened in an artery, and that means I might be at risk of it happening again in the next few months.
I see the neurosurgeon in 10 days on the 20th (it was later pushed back to the 27th). When I left the hospital they had given me a return to work date of 4/21. I won’t know until I see the neurosurgeon if that will be when I can go back to work, and if so, if it will be full-time or part-time. There’s a chance I might not be able to work full time until August or later. I might not be able to work-out or ride my bike until then either.
If you have made it this far, please take this to heart. If you or anyone you know suffers their worst headache ever, GET TO THE HOSPITAL! Things could have been so much worse for me. The odds say not everyone will pull through an injury like this as well as I have. Waiting or delaying going to the hospital could very well make things worse. As they said when they first found the blood on my brain, half the people who suffer this die before making it to the hospital. Do not delay as I did. Please.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank everyone who came to visit me at the hospital, and who have visited me at home, and who has donated any money to the gofundme account. All of it very much helped me get through it all.
**** 5-year update ****
That 4/21 date that I was originally set as my final visit to see the neurosurgeon ended up being the day Prince passed. If I had seen the surgeon and he gave me the ok to go to work, I don't think I would have been able to as I was a mess that day. The following week when I did see him, he told me I would never have to see him again, and that I could return to work part-time for one week, and full time the following week.
A few weeks later I did find a new job. I got out of the restaurant business and became a food broker. Which, to be honest, is a job I had never heard of beforehand. Basically, for this new job I went in and out of restaurants all day showing them new food items and helping them with their menu. The hours are regular business hours so I no longer had those crazy restaurant hours and I had time to work on my photography.
I do still have the food broker job, but this photography passion of mine is growing by leaps and bounds and maybe in the near future will provide enough for me to retire from work and just enjoy being a photographer.
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