Updated: Apr 16
On the 11th of March an antiquated feeling hit me as I walked through the sliding glass doors at Saint Luke’s hospital. I trudged over to the resistor's desk so we could go over my financial plan (a sore subject) and as soon as I signed on the dotted line, medical bracelets were placed around my wrist. A nurse knocked on the door to see if I was ready and ushered me back to a pre-op room. I was instructed to change into a medical gown and laydown. After I changed, I positioned myself on the bed and suddenly the smell of the gown and sheets from the hospital bed conjured bad memories. As I was fighting the memories, nurses came into the room to take my vitals and insert an IV. Once I was prepped, my heart rate increased as I sat alone in the room waiting to be wheeled back.
Before I was taken to the procedure room, my angel neurosurgeon walked into the room. Her eyes lighted up and she called me “sunshine”, her nickname for me. She expressed that I looked great and began to explain the dreaded procedure. She knew this explanation was vocalized numerous times, but this was the first time I was coherent. She walked out of the room and said it would be quick before I was wheeled off. As my eyes watched her leave the room, I felt alone in the room with no distractions. It felt dangerous because my mind began to play tricks on me. It took everything in my power to squash a panic attack from the memory of what transpired from my last angiogram.
Soon, after what seemed like hours, the nurses came into the room and wheeled me down to the radiology room. I looked up to familiar faces and machines. It was not comforting. The nurses gave me a couple of warm blankets as I waited for the process to begin. Those warm blankets calmed me down for a moment and my muscles relaxed.
My angel neurosurgeon walked over to me and said they would give me fentanyl to take the edge off and numb the area near my groin to insert the catheter through my femoral artery. As soon as the medication started flowing intravenously, and I couldn’t feel the area of insertion, they began to stick the catheter up my artery. Another round of fentanyl was given to further relax me. I laid staring up into the bright lights hoping this would be quick. The bright lights made me flashback to the beginning. That’s all I saw was bright lights.
Suddenly, one of the technicians said a screen was not working properly. Everything came to a screeching halt. I sat there upset because I knew this would become prolonged. I listened to the medical team talk to technicians about fixing it. They estimated it would take thirty minutes or so to get it running again. My neurosurgeon asked one of the nurses if the next room was open. They checked and the room was open and sterilized to move me over. I was getting flustered because I had to recalibrate my mental preparation all over again because the process had to start over again. I required more fentanyl with the space of time, and I felt like I was going into the twilight zone.
Once the process started over, my angel neurosurgeon sat close to me as she did the procedure. She described to me in detail what she was doing and prepared me when contrast was added so I wasn’t caught off guard. When she was on the right side of my brain, I didn’t feel anything like I expected. It was a relief. She moved over to the left side, which is where vessel had ruptured, and initially it felt okay. Once contrast was added it felt awful. My head began to hurt, and I could feel tears coming down my face. I anticipated that this was not a good sign. All the sudden my angiogram was over.
The catheter came out and a nurse sat by my side applying pressure to the area. My head felt like it was going to combust, and my nerves were frayed. My angel neurosurgeon said she would come into my recovery room to talk about the results and suddenly I was wheeled off to the recovery room with the nurse still applying pressure to my femoral artery. I didn’t have to wait long for my neurosurgeon to walk into the room. She said that she was happy to report that my vessels looked great, the clip looks in place and there was no sign of bulging. I felt instant relief that this huge weight was off my shoulders. This test was dreaded for a long time and it was over. Suddenly, my neurosurgeon broke the news to me that she accepted a position in D.C. to be close to her parents. In my mind, I remember when I was in the NSICU last year and she said we were stuck together for the rest of my life. I was happy that my care, for the duration of life was in good hands. She is a remarkable woman affectionately nicknamed by the nurses as the, “Tiger Lady”, because of her work ethic. She had compassion but didn’t sugarcoat answers. We formed a bond in 2020, and to date she is someone I admire and hope more physicians adapt to her standards.
I could see tears welling up in her eyes as she broke the news to me, and I flat out began to cry. She told me that she would find someone in the practice that will take great care of me. I thanked her for giving me back my life and we parted ways. I still can’t picture what my care will look like without her, but I hope that other neurosurgeons in her practice id equally compassionate. I met several of them when I was in NSICU as they made their rounds, so I’m optimistic that I’m in good hands. After digesting the news, the nurse took pressure off my femoral artery to apply the bandage. Well, things did not go right.
As soon as she let pressure off, blood began to pour out. The nurse sat an extra thirty minutes to apply pressure. During the next thirty minutes, I dozed on and off. Once the bleeding stopped, and the nurse applied a mesh bandage. It was time to lay in the hospital for an extended period to make sure I was okay. I felt anxiety come back because I wanted to go home. All I could do during the dreadful hours of waiting was to try to fall asleep. It worked until the nurses came into the room for neuro checks. As time went on, I felt a massive migraine come on. They gave me Imitrex, but it takes a couple hours to kick in. So, I cried a little bit because the migraine was awful. I just wanted to go home and lay in my bed with the lights out and fans blowing on me.
Alas, I was discharged around 4 pm. They couldn’t wheel me fast enough to reach my husband who was waiting for me. As soon as the car door shut, I wanted him to drive 100 mph to get me home quickly because the migraine was intense. When we got home, I laid on the sofa, miserable. Around 11pm I started to feel normal enough to check my phone and get on social media. I declared that I was feeling great. I was foolish.
The following day, I felt pain all around my head, my groin area and muscles. I looked at the mesh bandage which was clear before I went to bed and noticed that there was some bleeding. I looked through my discharge paperwork to make sure this was expected. Nothing! I couldn’t find anything. I googled my procedure and found a reputable hospital that said a quarter size of blood is expected. The information said that if the blood increases from a quarter and begins to soak through the bandage, to seek medical help. I felt relief but couldn’t imagine why that piece of information was not on my discharge papers. I began to chuckle at myself that my original place was to take the procedure day off and logon for work the following day. My advice to everyone is DON’T go back to work the next day! Having Thursday through Sunday was essential for recovery time due to pain and migraines.
I talked to my husband the day after the procedure since I was in a fog that day. He told me that the neurosurgeon walked out to the car to talk to him. Yes, he had to wait in the car for over 8 hours hunched over doing work because of COVID protocols. My husband told me that she let him know the results and that she was leaving for D.C. My husband said that he did get bit teary eyed and told her “thank you, for giving me my wife back”. This made me tear up again as I digested that fact over again that she would no longer manage my care. I can’t express enough words with the amount of admiration, appreciation and respect I have for her. Saint Luke’s is losing one of the best, but I understand that family is important.
By Sunday, I was able to seal the final chapter of my first-year post-stroke and figuring out what my life would look like. I learned a lot about myself and the tenacity I have. I elected to display my emotions for the public to see. I wanted to erase any shame others have when coping with a medical trauma. While this may be the final chapter of my first year, there will be many stories to tell through the duration of my life because this isn’t something that all the sudden stops.
I have said this before, and I will say it again. While my medical event almost took my life and a piece of me was gone forever after that night, I have grown into something that I have always wanted to be- an advocate. My compassion has extended past those in my inner circle to anyone who is struggling. I don’t want this assault that happened to my brain define me, I want be the force of overcoming and being successful to define me. So, this isn’t over- it's just the beginning of my adventure.