I love the month of May.
So many life events took place in May. I have to admit, some were a tad scary . . . but there is just a sense that something is going to happen in May.
Today is the 30th anniversary of my first date with my husband. It was Spring Formal, our Christian school version of Prom. That wasn’t one of the scary occasions . . . although it was Friday the 13th . . . maybe we should have been scared.
It was also May when I kicked him out . . .
. . . but his appendix burst before he even started packing. He was in the hospital for two days before he had surgery.
I was so young and naïve and overwhelmed by it all, but looking back, I suspect the doctor may have intended to let him die because he was a drug addict.
An angelic nurse, alarmed and incensed by the situation, began calling the doctor continuously about his duties. He seemed more than a little perturbed when he had to come in on Mother’s Day to do the appendectomy on my not-dead husband. My mother-in-law and I were not sympathetic to his plight. People in the medical field think I am exaggerating when I say he waited 48 hours for surgery (but I am not) . . . he really should have died.
If I had a nickel for every time I heard that . . .
It was May when the AVM in my brain burst. It was 48 hours before I was even hospitalized . . . and then another three days before surgery. I should have died too.
You may be getting the impression that medical care is a bit “sketchy” in this town (as my 14-year old would say). It sure is a good thing that God apparently has some more plans for the two of us!
A few years ago I wrote an account of my “brain event” in story form. I am going to share that again here.
My husband and I settled into our seats along the third base line at the Modesto A’s stadium that warm, late-spring evening. I stashed the coats and blankets as we chatted with my co-worker, Zoe, and her boyfriend. I scanned the program we received on entering the park after the Rotary Club’s tri-tip barbeque in the parking lot.
I anticipated getting out of the house with my husband for the first time since the birth of our third daughter eight weeks earlier. It wasn’t wonderfully romantic, but it was a fun and welcome break.
“Oh, look!” I said. “My uncle and cousins are singing the national anthem tonight. I didn’t even know they did that.”
Zoe checked her program and chuckled, “Really? That’s your family?” followed by her infectious belly laugh. “How cool.”
I searched the stadium. “Hey, there they are! Opposite us on the first base line.”
“You should go over and say ‘hi’,” my husband suggested.
“Sure, I’ve got time before the game. Be back in a bit.”
Across the stadium, my aunt and I exchanged status updates on our families. This was pre-facebook era. When she asked about my husband, I said he was fine and turned to point him out. Suddenly, the back of my head exploded with excruciating pain.
I tried to continue the conversation, but struggling I said, “I’m sorry. It feels like my head just exploded.” My aunt looked alarmed beyond all proportion and shouted, “Well sit down! Sit down, right now!” and pushed on my shoulders. It seemed inappropriate to sit down on the walkway and I didn’t want to cause a scene, but I finally complied and dropped to the pavement.
My husband was suddenly there. Medics were there. I threw-up in a trash can. I was lying on a cot, screaming in pain, embarrassed by the fuss. I was in an ambulance and then the hospital.
Following my two previous child births, I experienced a severe “migraine” headache which lasted about twelve hours. Believing this headache was simply my usual postpartum migraine, I assured everyone I would be fine. My husband continually maintained this was no migraine and my minimizing frustrated him.
The CT scan showed “a small cyst”, but nothing of concern. The doctor sent me home with a prescription for pain medication and instructions to return if I experienced worsening symptoms and/or vomiting…both of which happened as a nurse wheeled me to our car.
My husband watched me through that night while his mother cared for the baby. I was never able to keep any pain medication down and by morning my headache was screaming again.
On my return to the emergency room, the staff assigned a “med seeking” designation and shuffled me into a tiny cubicle (more like a closet, according to my husband) on a Morphine and anti-nausea drip. My husband was furious and kept insisting there was a serious problem. The doctor dismissed his appeal for another CT scan as unnecessary. I knew my husband was beyond upset, but I did not care about anything that day. Eight hours later the doctor released me again with the same instructions.
The next day was Monday and my husband made a solemn oath that nothing could prevent him from getting me admitted to the hospital that day. I still believed he was over-reacting, however my condition had so deteriorated that I did not know the day or where our children were. There was a delay in processing what people said to me and my response. People began shouting at me.
At one point I went into the restroom and almost immediately my husband was banging on the door demanding to know if I was o.k. I thought he was completely insane and swore at him (something I don’t do). It had actually been over thirty minutes and the string of profanities I screamed at him sent a sickening chill through his whole body. During his military career he had seen a lot of head injuries and now his concerns became an all-out panic.
Our “work families” were now alerted. One of my husband’s co-workers, a former E.R. physician, suspected the truth . . . an AVM bleed. He made this assumption based on my age and the fact that I had just had a baby. He suggested my husband request my primary care physician admit me to the hospital.
My husband drove to my doctor’s office and demanded he see me immediately. My annoyed doctor made a preliminary diagnosis of post-partum depression and sent us back to the E.R. for admission and probable transfer to a mental health facility!
On our third arrival, I could no longer walk and my husband carried me into the E.R. The physician from Saturday night was now on duty again. Alarmed at my condition, she ordered another CT scan. The “small cyst” was now a “massive bleed” caused by a burst AVM, or tangle of veins in my brain. I was finally admitted to the hospital, but now with little hope of survival.
The initial plan was to keep watch and hope the bleed would resolve. The neurosurgeon gave my husband the grim prognosis that I would most likely die, and if not, I would have the functioning of a small child. The size and location of the bleed made surgery to repair it unlikely to succeed. The slim chance of mere survival as a “vegetable” was not considered a good enough outcome to warrant the cost of a risky surgery.
My husband’s physician friend knew surgical repair was strictly a last-ditch effort and the fifth day was the last chance to do it with any hope of survival. However, he and my husband felt every possible effort should be made. He helped bring enough pressure to bear on the neurosurgeon that he finally attempted to clip the veins . . . five days after the bleed began.
The surgery was a success!
Discharged ten days later, I began therapy to learn to walk and to think logically. I had also lost some language and a lot of conversational ability.
The rehabilitation experience gave me new empathy for people with mental illness. Our brain tells us what is real and a malfunction causes a lot of difficulty! Several times during my hospitalization I believed I heard people talking who were not there and believed that events occurred that did not.
According to medical types who know this stuff, I experienced a remarkably speedy recovery. I returned to work part-time four months after the surgery. Eight months after surgery I was about 99% recovered and returned to work full-time.
What a relief it is to me that God is orchestrating and sustaining life. Regardless of how careful and responsible I am, I could not prevent the AVM bleed. I was born with it. I was also helpless to save myself. God made it clear to me that He is actually the one accomplishing His will in my life as surely as He caused the walls of Jericho to fall by His own might, not by Joshua’s brilliant military strategy or the fighting skills of the bad-to-the-bone Israeli soldiers. God put them in a ridiculous situation to show that they weren’t responsible for winning battles. They were responsible for showing up and following orders.
If the medical community had handled my case correctly, they would have taken credit for the outcome. Their mistakes allowed God’s power and command of the situation to clearly shine through. God was not limited by circumstances or doctors or insurance companies. What an opportunity to experience the awesome power of God! How can I worry about what tomorrow will bring when the All Powerful, All Knowing, Everywhere Present God of the Universe has my days already numbered and perfectly in his hands?
As it turns out, this was only the beginning of a difficult era for my family, and God has continually brought me back to the same comforting truth of his plan, purpose, and power in my life; and then shown me something new.