The Next Chapter

Yesterday was my 12th cerebral angiogram in 16 years. That’s a lot of images, a lot of stress, many procedures, successes, and even failures. Brain aneurysms don’t care what else is going on your life…they show up whether it’s snowing or not.

It was snow that greeted Dave and I yesterday morning as we were up before the sun rose to hit the road to Portland, a 60 mile drive south. Thankfully, we drove out of the snow about a quarter of the way there as a driving rain greeted us at the door of Maine Medical Center.

When multiple members of the hospital staff remember you from previous visits over the years, that should never be a good thing, but it is what it is in my case. I supposed it’s a comfort to see familiar faces who know my story.

Down in radiology, I was prepped for the procedure, hooked up to an IV, and answered everyone’s questions. Dr. Ecker came in to greet me and indicated he was excited to see how the flow diverter he deployed back in April was doing. Well…yes, I was too! He even opened up the images from the procedure on the computer in the prep area to view them with me and Jack, the PA, who has assisted Dr. Ecker with several of my other angiograms. Again…they know me here.

The procedure itself went very well. No issues and no pain or major discomfort. I was a good girl and didn’t move this time as some lovely classical music accompanied the staff in the endovascular suite.

While still on the table and hooked up to everything, Dr. Ecker said that things looked great, then he said “What Eddie Kwan started 16 years ago, ends today!”. Dr. Eddie Kwan was the doctor who performed the original coiling on my ruptured brain aneurysm in 2006 with 16 coils.

What Eddie Kwan started 16 years ago, ends today!”

Dr. Robert Ecker

At first, hearing those words brought tremendous relief and joy, then I saw the last 16 years flash before my eyes in a rapid succession of images…the fear when it ruptured, the loss of my husbands niece, the loss of my sister…my second brain aneurysm, the clipping, the recoiling, the stents…all of it in a millisecond of memories and feelings indelibly etched into my heart, brain, and soul.

20 coils, 1 clip, 1 stent, and 1 flow diverter

After that wonderful declaration by the doctor, a few more images were taken to get a good look at everything else then the doctors left and went to speak with Dave in the waiting room. While the rest of the staff were busily performing their post-procedure routines and unhooking things and cleaning me up, the tears started to unexpectedly flow.

My arms were still hooked up to things and down at my side within the arm guards, so one of the nurses touchingly came and dabbed the tears away from my eyes and face with a tissue for me. They were very comforting, in what was quite a personal and emotional moment for me, and I’m very thankful.

Dave was very surprised and concerned to see tears in my eyes when he joined me in the post-op area about an hour and a half from last seeing me. I assured him they were tears of joy, but he also knew why it was emotional for me because he has been with me through it all.

I was glad to learn what I heard from Dr. Ecker in the radiology suite matched up with what he told Dave seeing how I was a little drugged at the time. The flow diverter (pipeline) did it’s job. It adhered nicely inside the old stent and had paused the flow of blood from getting back into the neck of the aneurysm. He said it was “Done” and I wouldn’t need to go back for five years and it would just be the less invasive MRA scan next time.

The images that were taken yesterday will need to be closely looked at again just to make sure there isn’t anything else we should be concerned about, but during the doctor’s first look on the table, things looked good and it was a great report. I’ll have another follow-up in his office in December.

I pray this is a start of a new chapter in my life where I don’t have to worry about this damn aneurysm anymore. The rest is up to me…live life better and take better care of myself. I am lucky to be here at all.

I am so grateful, thankful, and blessed for the improved medical advancements in treating brain aneurysms and the skilled hands of Dr. Ecker and his stellar care over the last 10+ years. He knows what I’ve been through.

Two Fun Side Notes: Stephanie, my nurse in the pre & post care area is a Buffalo Bills fan and shared photos of her dogs dressed in Bills attire. What are the odds that two Bills fan, in Patriots country, run into each other in the hospital? Then I ran into Sara, our former brain aneurysm support group facilitator on our way out of the hospital. It was great to see her face. Again…they know me here. 🙂

Angiogram’s R’ Us

I’ve been scheduled to have my follow-up angiogram in a couple of weeks. It’s to check that the stent (flow diverter) we placed in April is doing well. Then it dawned on me that it’s not only to check on the stent, but to also check to see if it is preventing more blood from getting into the aneurysm.

One would hope that a stent placed inside of another stent would finally do the trick, but with this particular aneurysm, you just never know. It has been a thorn in my side, or a thorn in my brain for 16 years.

Let the scanxiety begin!

Happy Annie-Versary

16 years ago today I didn’t know if I’d survive to see another sunset after suffering a rupture brain aneurysm. Tonight I was greeted by this stunning rainbow shard over the water and two cardinals at the feeder. I am blessed. My brain is wicked tired, but I am blessed.

Medicine for the Brain

I discovered last night that laughter can be exhausting for a brain 3-weeks out from receiving more metal. More to the point, laughter for 90-minutes straight is exhausting. But it was so worth it as we enjoyed a rollicking night of improv at the Waterville Opera House. Fans of the television show “Whose Line Is It Anyway” will recognize the touring show called “Whose Live Anyway?”, which includes many of the same performers seen on the TV show but performing live. They did NOT disappoint.

Prior to the show we enjoyed a tasty dinner at a Greek restaurant down the street from the theater. It was the first time we’ve been out to eat in a legit restaurant for long, long time. The restaurant was full up with other attendees for the show and the background noises and activity stimulated my brain for sure. THEN add 90-minutes of solid laughter and needless to say the nerve endings in my brain were WOUND UP.

I know the saying is “Laughter is the best medicine”, but I was curious as to what the science was behind that. According to the Mayo Clinic

Short-Term Benefits of Laughter Can:

  • Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
  • Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.

Long-Term Benefits of Laughter May:

  • Improve your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your stress, depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier. It can also improve your self-esteem.

So, it’s no wonder I seek out two of my favorite situational comedy television shows time and time again when I’m feeling down or stressed: “I Love Lucy” and “Friends”. They’re both a sort of “comfort food” for me. They’re familiar, they’re still funny even after seeing them multiple times, and they provide a respite from whatever is going on my life and brain. I also prefer funny plays, musicals, movies, and television series over the more serious criminal dramas. There is enough hate and killing in the world – let me find the humor and love instead.

I am also reminded of what my late mother used to tell me every day before leaving for school: Have fun!”. I certainly try to. I certainly try.

To bring a little laughter into YOUR lives, here is a short clip of some of the best lines from Season 2 of “I Love Lucy”. Enjoy, laugh, and HAVE FUN!