Seize The Day?

The Latin saying Carpe diem means seize the day or live each day to the fullest.

Do I Carpe diem? If I’m honest, no I don’t. Being a double brain aneurysm survivor, I SHOULD seize each day, but I don’t. Am I grateful? Of course, I am.  Do I wake up each morning and think “I am so grateful and blessed to be here”? No, I do not. I should…but I don’t. And those people who say they DO wake up each morning and actually think about how blessed they are, the skeptic in me thinks, “Really?”

MY first thoughts every morning are that I’m very tired, or my back or head aches, or that I slept far too long on my left side, which is a bad thing because of where my craniotomy is. No, my first thought usually isn’t how grateful I am.

I wish I could live each day to it’s fullest and feel grateful every day. Although I am one of the fortunate ones who still can, I need to work to pay the bills and secure good health insurance. I think more about those things. And I do more work than Carping that diem.

What I DO think about every day is brain aneurysms. How can I not? I think about my own aneurysms and the issues I still face. I think about the paths people’s lives, not just mine, have been forced to take as a result of brain aneurysms.

The parents who has lost a child. The husband who has lost a wife. The child who has lost a mother.  All of those people I have met and they are a part of my life now due to our shared experiences of losing a loved one to a brain aneurysm.

Brain aneurysm survivors are also a part of my life. We share a bond. We share our fears. We share our frustrations and scars with one another.

I’m not crazy about the month of October, so I’m always happy when I make it through the month. It’s VERY stressful at work in October and my family history has many sad occasions and memories that have happened in October. I suppose I should be grateful the month goes by in a snap…suddenly it’s November. It’s cold. All of the colorful leaves have fallen off the trees. One of these years, I WILL get to the mountains of Maine, stay in a hill-top cabin and view the fall foliage. Something I have yet to do since moving here in 2000.

September is the month when I FEEL the most grateful for being alive and being able to share my brain aneurysm story and help anyone I can. It’s the month chosen for our annual walk and run to honor the lives of two beautiful young women taken far too soon by ruptured brain aneurysms.

Then that pesky cynic within me thinks…I’m pretty sure no one I know would have organized a walk or run in MY honor. That’s how loved and adored these two young women were and how many friends they had. I couldn’t even get one person to visit me at home during both of my recovery periods….which were 6 and 3 months respectively. Yeah…I’m pretty sure I would have still remained just part of the statistics had I not survived. Which makes MY survival even more difficult to take. Why did these two young, vibrant, popular women have to die and I’m still here? I guess it’s to share my story and theirs. Lucky me? I’m grateful? Yeah…sometime’s it’s very difficult to feel that.

BEING grateful every day is a given in my case. If I wake up…yeah, that’s good! FEELING grateful is a whole other animal and it hits me at moments, rather than an every day thought.

I remember feeling grateful at the end of October when my devoted husband and I pulled into the driveway after two weeks in the hospital after my rupture in 2006. Although I wouldn’t return to work for another six months, it was a relief to be home. I was grateful to see the inside of the house I had come to love and to pet my kitty cats again.

I was overcome with emotion that following spring when I walked out to my garden for the first time and it hit me that things were starting to come alive again, as they do every year and that I was grateful, lucky, and blessed to be able to see my garden again. To smell the wet soil. Feel the wind on my face. Yes….I WAS grateful and very emotional as a result. It could have all ended in early October for me.

I feel grateful every September during our annual photograph of brain aneurysm survivors at the KAT-Walk & Karo-5k. I am grateful to be alive and to share this photo with other survivors from all over the state of Maine, New England and the country. I FEEL those moments tremendously.

It’s far too easy to assume someone who survived a life-threatening illness or medical emergency is grateful and lives each day to the fullest. Many don’t have the luxury to do so. Many have such horrible deficits that just living each hour is a struggle. Do they have time or the capacity to even THINK about being grateful? I doubt it.

Without even knowing it, I do believe I am grateful on a daily basis. I can rattle off a list of the things I am grateful for. It’s that seizing the day thing I still have to work on. I’m very tired.

 

Life. Support. Music.

At last month’s brain aneurysm support group, we watched a documentary about a musician from New York City who, against all odds, survived a ruptured AVM. Through the amazing support group around him including family and friends, he was able to not only recover, but prove most of the doctors wrong with their devastating diagnosis’.  Watch a brief follow-up online about the documentary with Jason and his sister HERE.

Tonight, we were able to meet Jason Crigler in person, hear his story first hand, and ask him questions. There truly aren’t enough descriptive adjectives to convey what one feels after hearing and seeing Jason’s story.

In 2005, soon after he returned home from a year-long stay in the hospital, Jason's family (his daughter, wife and father) take him for a walk in the woods.

He is a soft-spoken, warm, and funny man. If you didn’t know his story, one would never know the extent of the struggles he and his young family have had to endure.

Jason’s story was documented by a friend who video taped much of his early recovery and made it into a critically-acclaimed documentary called LIFE. SUPPORT. MUSIC. It’s painful to watch, especially as a survivor of a brain injury myself. He could be me…I could be him. The uphill battles are all very similar, but Jason was very motivate to recover with a new-born baby girl, a budding music career in New York City and a family that sacrificed their own lives and comfort to care for him on an hourly basis.

Tonight was very special and it’s a damn shame more people (even from our own groups) could not attend this widely publicized event. The old adage, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, held true tonight I guess. You get what you give…and some people give more than they have to give, but receive very little in return. It’s a damn shame.

Jason’s story is a story that needs to be heard and obsorbed. I only wish I could speak as eloquently and effectively as Jason does, or I’d take my little stent, coil & clip show on the road too. But who the hell would show up to listen to me? Probably only just a few. I know my story isn’t nearly as compelling. We can’t even get an article written about our group.

There was one article written a couple of years ago. About a woman who only came to our meetings maybe two times. She was certainly very attractive & photogenic and lived in an influential area, so that right there was two up on me. Even the one small TV spot we DID have ended up being shared by a completely un-related disease, so we couldn’t even get a full 2-minute spot for ourselves. Really? What DO we have to do????

But…even if we did…would it make any difference? We met a few new people tonight and we welcomed them with open arms as we always do. I hope we see them again and that they spread the word about our group and our efforts to raise brain aneurysm awareness in the state. Exposure could save lives….WE could save lives.

I think you’d be hard pressed to find a group like ours (or at least that one special person) that gives such personal attention to those who have reached out to us. I don’t think the president of many organizations would send personalized emails complete with moving letters and related photos to someone who writes and donates and expressed great regret they’ll be unable to attend this year’s event after having attended all of the other previous ones. I think it’s the personal touch that sets us apart from other groups. The behind-the-scenes workings are amazing and the hard work that goes into every event, every email, every newsletter, and meeting follow up, is more than most are doing. Does it matter?

People need to DO more. They are not and it could mean lives of people are being lost as a result. Picking up food for an event will feed the volunteers and participants. For one day out of YOUR life, you could help an event run smoothly and make it a success, meaning those who attended and those who heard about it and read our materials will remember what the event was about and LEARN….and potentially save a life of the next person who has the “worst headache of my life”.

(stepping down off my soap-box now)……back to Jason Crigler.

Jason’s positive & simple attitude about his AVM and recovery is truly inspirational. Many things he spoke about tonight touched me deeply and certainly would have touched a lot more people if they had taken the long hour and a half out of their busy lives.

One thing he said was that there is “strength & power in thought”. We can choose to think we’re failing or think we’re succeeding and it can truly effect the rest of your body. He admits to bad days and depression and despair just like the rest of us, but it’s reminding yourself of the struggles you HAVE overcome and how far you have come that one needs to be reminded of. We all have struggles on a day-to-day basis, but it’s how you deal with, and think about them, that can lead you to a path of strength and power.

I needed to hear those words tonight. My 10-year Annie-versary of my ruptured brain aneurysm is coming up on Oct. 4th. I’m lucky to be here. I know that. I also know others haven’t been so lucky and if sharing my story can save one life, I’m going to do it. If complaining about a lack of support can garner a little bit more, then I’m going to do it.

My sister died from a ruptured brain aneurysm. I had to see her lying in a hospital bed completely unresponsive on a ventilator, with her head shaved, with wires in her open skull and a drain relieving blood from her brain. She was basically gone at that point but we held out hope for a miracle. It never came. I may have failed saving my own sister in educating her enough on the signs and symptoms, but I MAY be able to save one other person. I MAY be able to help one person recognize the symptoms and get them to a hospital in time.

I have to hold on to that…otherwise, why was I saved and Dori wasn’t and why was I saved and Dave’s beautiful 32-year old niece Kim wasn’t? Two beautiful, sweet, funny souls who did nothing but good for others. I’m not nearly as beautiful or sweet, so I have funny going for me…and a chance to DO something in this world and get the word out and share my story.

I may not have friends who care enough about me to film a  documentary, come to our events and support me, tour the country and make money from it, but I DO know I am blessed to be here still.

THANK YOU Jason, for sharing your story, answering our questions, and driving all the way up to Portland to meet with us. And thank you for making people aware of the struggles people with brain injuries can endure…and more importantly, can overcome. You’re a true inspiration!

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Tired

Tonight was my first time back to our brain aneurysm support group meeting since probably last September, possibly August. During catalog season I’m always working late and far too tired to go anywhere during the week. Ironically, fatigue and memory is a common theme at many of our meetings as it was tonight.

As always, it was good to see returning faces and I missed a few who weren’t there. We’re getting a nice “core” of survivors, care-givers, and those who have lost loved ones. The support is always there and we all try to listen to each other’s stories and offer validation for feelings and emotions that only those who have gone through the same thing can appreciate.

Unfortunately, I’ve had the brain aneurysm double-whammy; I myself, have suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm, and I have lost two loved ones to ruptures. I’ve seen both sides of the caregiving aspect, or those left behind, and I’ve also been a part of the survival and recovery part. Each part has struggles and pain.

Tonight, a father shared the story of the night his adult son’s brain aneurysm ruptured. It was a violent rupture and if he had been home alone, he would not have survived. His wife was able to revive him briefly – twice. He survived surgeries and a little bit of rehab and multiple rounds of different medications. He was at our meeting tonight while his father described the night it all happened to us. Even though his short-term memory has basically been lost, he cannot work or drive, and his family continues to endure a level of frustration and pain I cannot even begin to understand for several years now. But he IS alive, walking, talking, and able to function in some capacity.

Hearing a caregiver, and a father, talk about what happened that night, was difficult for me. My sister and Dave’s niece went through very similar experiences….or we can assume. My mind immediately raced to Dori’s rupture and how she lost consciousness on Mother’s Day and her husband was able to revive her while their 15-year old son called 911. But by that point it was too late. The damage from the rupture had already been done.

Then I thought about Kim, who was home alone when her rupture occurred. I can only hope and pray it was quick, but I also always wonder if someone had been there and found her sooner, if she’d be here today and if she were, what kind of life would she be living. The severity of her rupture and the location of it, leads me to believe Kim would not be the same person if she had survived. The same can be said for Dori.

We witnessed tonight the amazement in seeing a survivor of such a devastating rupture, but also the heart-wrenching pain in knowing their loved one will never be the same. That they can no long take care of themselves or their children. That they need major supervision. That they need to be reminded of things on an hourly basis to get through the day…yes, they DID survive, but in a sad way, they’re only a shell of the person they once were.

Is it only by the grace of God, that I am here today? Why did I survive and they did not? Why did I survive with very few deficits when others have continued issues and pain, even years after their ruptures?

I don’t like it when I come away from one of our meetings with these kind of questions. I should just be grateful and keep my mouth shut and never complain about anything, ever again. I AM one of the lucky ones…or one of the chosen ones…or just a person who was in the right place at the right time, with the right set of doctors. Fate? I don’t know.

I suppose those are all questions that will have to remain unanswered. Kind of like “Why doesn’t Fred Flinstone have horribly bloody feet when he has to stop his rock car with his heels?” Why? Why?

Two-Year Clip-Aversary

Me! Brain Aneurysm Survivor
On the anniversary of my ruptured brain aneurysm in 2006 and subsequent coiling, I call it my “Annie-versary” stealing the phrase from other survivors from the Brain Talk Community online who helped me through my recovery. For some reason I feel I need to give my 2nd brain aneurysm procedure (the clipping) a different annual name. Like I’ll be criticized for calling that an Annie-versary too? LOL I doubt it, but I do.

Saturday is the two-year anniversary of the clipping on my second, unruptured brain aneurysm. It turned out to be a delicate aneurysm and it was a delicate time. I had lost my other sister just a few weeks prior to my scheduled surgery and I was wrestling with whether I should go through with the surgery or not. It wasn’t until my niece and mother (who we lost last year) spoke to me and encouraged me to proceed, that I made the final decision to keep the date and proceed. I truly didn’t want to put them through anymore.

I think some angels were watching over me because it was a good thing I DID get the craniotomy & clipping. It was an ugly, thin-walled brain aneurysm that would have surely caused me issues, if not caused my death, at some point down the road.

For my two-year update I’ll recall an earlier format I used to update my family and a few friends on my blog about my recovery process.

FATIGUE: There are still days I KNOW my brain had too much stimulation. It’s difficult to describe other than my brain is tired. I suppose that is something that will never go away. It does get better, but I’ll be able to realize when I need to rest my brain. Not just sleep, but do nothing…think about nothing…just nothing. I need those days still. I also notice my left eye lid will get a bit droopy when I’m overly tired and haven’t eaten much.

PAIN: 
These days, the only pain I feel that is associated directly to the clipping is on the left side of my skull. I have no idea what triggers the pain and I often have difficulty laying on the left side of my head. It “feels” like my brain shifts to the left against my skull and there is pressure there. It’s not a daily pain, but I certainly notice it when it is bothering me and I have to roll over and lay on the right side. Sneezing doesn’t bother me, but coughing really does. I feel it throughout my head and it makes me tired.

NUMBNESS:
 As many people said, including the Dr., this may or may not go away. The skin on my skull hasn’t completely “reconnected” all of the nerves, so a great chunk of it is still numb. I only notice it when others touch my head now. My hair dresser or Dave. At least it’s not painful….just odd. I certainly could have worse issues, so I consider myself lucky.

STITCHES/INCISION:
 I can feel the incision under my hair line and the hair has all grown back so that part isn’t even visible anymore. As the swelling went down and I lost a little bit of weight (20 lbs at one point), the bone flap area “settled” into the skull quite a bit and a dent has appeared. The pins and small plates that secured the bone flap back onto the skull area are also visible and sticking out under the skin on the skull and I most certainly feel them. I’m not crazy about the dent or the brain “bling”, but it is what it is and I doubt anyone but me would really notice them. Although when I have my hair parted differently and the light hits it just right, Dave will notice and always points it out. I’ve seen much worse dents on other survivors I have met, so in comparison, I’m lucky.

Found this great PDF: https://profiles.utsouthwestern.edu/profile/67812/assets/patient-information.pdf

And this one: http://www.mayfieldclinic.com/PE-Craniotomy.htm

BRAIN FUNCTION:
Well, I have survived two more catalog seasons, so I guess my brain function is doing okay. I certainly feel tired at times, but I’m very, VERY lucky that I can drive, work, read, and function on a daily basis. I’m a little slower and a little more careful when walking and traversing walkways, hills or paths because I have a bit of a fear of slipping or falling and hitting my head.


I do still struggle with some survivor’s guilt. Why, dear Lord, am I so lucky with my multiple brain aneurysms when two (and possibly three) people I loved so much were victims of the same ailment? One can say because God has other plans for me to help others. If that’s the burden I have to carry, then so be it. I can’t say I’m crazy about it though. I’d rather have Kim, Dori, my mom and Rhonda back.

So, I will celebrate my clip-aversary in some fashion I’m sure. I’m glad I’m still here and I hope a few others are as well.