February 6, 2016
Blowing A Gasket … The Day My Head Exploded!!!
Well, not a gasket maybe but how about a blood vessel? Oh ya … I kid you not! That was a day I won’t soon forget … the day my head exploded!
July 4, 2014 … Friday … my favorite work day (if there is such a thing, lol) … casual dress so jeans and a T-shirt type top … and hot … it got to about 25 degrees Celsius or more that day. Even the air conditioned office seemed warm. Myself and a co-worker were on day 3 of the company-wide annual “reserve reconciliation” project. We’d worked hard to ensure that all reserves in each of my files were reviewed over those last few days and finally, at about 5:10 pm, I put the last file back into the cabinet. I could hardly wait to close up my desk, head home and get the weekend started!
We two were among the last few people in the office that day … everyone from our side of the building was long gone. With my stuff put away and and the cabinets locked up, I made a quick stop at the biff … after all … 25 minutes on the Anthony Henday would be a long 25 minutes without a pre-trip pit stop, lol. All I needed now was my purse and the car keys.
The walk back to my desk started briskly but then, out of nowhere and like a flash of lightning, I felt an excruciating pain in the back of my head. It literally stopped me in my tracks. As my co-worker was walking out the door, I heard her say, “Have a great weekend!” … “You too!” I called back … “Man I’ve got a splitting headache.”
For the next few minutes, I just sat there at my desk. I’d never had a headache like that before … all I wanted was to get home, take a couple of Tylenol and go to bed. I finally got up to leave and as I heard the office door closing behind me, the headache got worse … much worse … I wasn’t sure if I was even going to make it to the car.
My gas tank was “empty” so I knew that I would have to take care of that before I could go home. I got into the car and started heading south on 178 Street. The pain was awful … I could barely turn my head to shoulder check. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to put the fuel in myself so I headed to the Domo Gas bar … after all, they “jump to the pump” at Domo … lol.
If you’ve ever been to the Domo on 178 Street out in the west end, you know that it takes a bit of maneuvering to get positioned at the pump if you come in from the wrong direction which is exactly what I did (wouldn’t you know it!!!). After some “to-ing and fro-ing” that seemed to take forever, I finally got close enough for the hose and nozzle to reach my car. “Twenty bucks regular please” I squeaked out. And then, about 30 seconds later, it happened …
The pain was instantaneous and crushing … my head, neck and shoulders … I could barely see. Involuntarily, my hands/arms went to my chest … my fingers curled … I couldn’t move … it truly felt like my head had just exploded!
I managed to get the attendant’s attention and whispered “Please help me … I need an ambulance … please call an ambulance.” I remember a lady coming over and asking me if I was ok … all I could say was “My head, my head … I need an ambulance”.
I closed my eyes and prayed that help would get there asap. When I heard a siren in the distance, I felt relief but even more so, I felt so very grateful because I knew they were coming for me.
The siren got really loud and then stopped abruptly. I heard the sound a large vehicle makes when the air brakes are engaging and disengaging. As I opened my eyes, there it was … a big, red EFD truck loaded with 3 or 4 firemen. I closed my eyes again and whispered, “thank you God … thank you.”
A fireman came over to me right away and started asking questions. He then gave me 2 baby aspirins telling me to chew them up quickly. A couple of minutes later, an ambulance arrived. (I didn’t know it at the time but the ambulance had been dispatched out of St. Albert … apparently there were none available in Edmonton.) The paramedic asked more questions while taking my blood pressure. He and the fireman then helped me out of my car and onto the gurney. Once in the ambulance, I was given a shot of morphine. I closed my eyes and a few seconds later, it was as if I was standing beside myself observing everything that was going on around me … the pain was still there but I felt sort of detached from it. And then, I lost all track of time …
I was taken to the Sturgeon Community Hospital in St. Albert although I have no real memory of the trip over there. I do recall being in the triage area answering a nurse’s questions as she took my blood pressure. A doctor was quickly called over. He too took my blood pressure, asked me a few questions, then left. I don’t think it was very long before he came back and said, “I just spoke to a neurosurgeon at the UofA … we need to get you over there stat.” He gave me another shot of something and the EMTs loaded me back into the ambulance.
With emergency lights on and siren blaring, I was rushed over to the University of Alberta Hospital. The morphine was causing me to go in/out of consciousness … at least I’m assuming it wa s the morphine. I remember sensing that we were on the Groat Road as the ambulance rounded each of the many curves Groat Road is known for. I could feel the ambulance heading up the hill next to William Hawrelak Park which meant we weren’t too far from the hospital.
I don’t really remember much of what was going on that night although at one point, I recall opening my eyes … surrounded by nurses and the doctor, I could hear the doctor saying something about getting my blood pressure down and getting me upstairs for a CT scan asap. I saw the blood pressure monitor … the top number was 194 … I felt panic knowing that 194 is a freakin’ high number! I couldn’t see what the bottom number was … I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. “Try to stay calm … try to relax Fern.”, I heard them saying, “We need to get your blood pressure down … just try to relax … we’re taking care of you … do you know where you are?” My eyes closed again and I was out …
As started coming back to consciousness, I was immediately aware that I was in agonizing pain. I could hear someone talking but I didn’t want to open my eyes. “Fern, the doctor will be coming by in few minutes, can you wake up?”, the male voice was quietly saying. “It’s Saturday morning … you’re in the ICU at the U … try to wake up”. It took a few minutes to orient myself … my head was pounding … there was an IV taped to my hand and a blood pressure cuff on my arm. “My head hurts … what happened to me?” Todd, the ICU nurse who became my favorite over those next 4 days, gave me a shot of morphine. He said I’d had a medical emergency last night. “Your neurosurgeon is on his way over to see you … he’ll explain everything to you.” He then asked what would become the questions asked of me each time a nurse checked on me for the next 4 days, “what’s your name … do you know what day it is … do you know where you are … how many fingers am I holding up?”
A short time later, Dr. Findlay, the neurosurgeon arrived. He explained that I’d suffered a spontaneous subarachnoid hemorrhage … a vein had burst on the left side of my brain at the back. He didn’t know whether I was going to need surgery and advised that I was booked for further investigation … another CT scan but with dye this time. He said he’d be back once the results were in. “WTF???”, I thought as he went on his way.
I called my brother Russ telling him what had happened and that I was worried about Sally, my little dog … she’d been home by herself since Friday morning. He got to the hospital as soon as he could but was only allowed to stay for a few minutes. He took my keys promising to go get Sally and take her to Mom’s place. He said that he’d get my car over to his place too. Relieved, I drifted back to sleep.
Although my blood pressure had stabilized to some degree with the medication I was being given, it was still too high. I was attached to an automatic monitor that was taking a reading every 15 minutes (and waking me up each time the cuff started to tighten around my arm!!!). I was being given Heparin, a blood thinner, to reduce the risk of blood clots. I think I was also given some kind of medication to prevent spasms of the vessels near the hemorrhage site. And morphine … oh how I needed the morphine! Every 4 hours I was on that buzzer asking for my next shot. Todd attached a “butterfly”, at least I think that’s what it was called, to my abdomen so that the morphine could be administered quickly and without having to poke me with a needle each time.
Later that day, Dr. Findlay returned as promised. “You’re very lucky.”, he told me. The vein that had burst was quite small which was good but it was very near my brain stem which was not so good. He was setting me up for an MRI and then an angiogram which would tell him what he needed to know.
Over those next 4 days in the ICU, all I could do was try to sleep … a morphine induced sleep – sporadic and light. The headache was so bad that the morphine was lasting no more than an hour or so. I was at the maximum dose so at the 2 hour after each shot mark, I was given 2 extra strength Tylenol. Light made it worse … my room was kept fairly dark with only very dim lighting whenever a nurse came in. The ICU rooms have individual temperature control … I asked that mine be set to the coolest temperature possible.
My sister Terry and my Mom came for a few minutes on Sunday. Terry, being as thoughtful as she is, brought some toiletries for me (tooth brush, tooth paste, hairbrush, face cream … she’s the best!). Mom said that Sally wouldn’t leave Russ’s side when they got to her place which was odd because she doesn’t know him. There had been a terrible thunder storm Friday night they said. My poor little Sally … she’s terrified of storms … I could only imagine how scared she must have been, all alone. “He rescued her.”, I whispered, “Russ rescued her”.
After the MRI and the angiogram were done, Dr. Findlay confirmed that the burst vein had self sealed so surgery wouldn’t be needed. “There’s a pool of blood on the lower left side between the membranes that surround your brain.”, he said. “It’s best just to let your body reabsorb the blood on its own.”
Day and night were a blur … I couldn’t eat. I tried to sip some apple juice at one point only to immediately throw it back up. Thankfully, I was able to get to the biff with assistance but it was a major endeavor every time. By Sunday, I was feeling ever so grotty and asked if I could possibly have a shower. Surprisingly, I was told that there are no bathing facilities in the ICU! I suppose though, if one is admitted to the ICU one probably isn’t in any condition to hop into the shower hence no facilities. A nurse brought me a couple of wash cloths, towels and a type of liquid soap that doesn’t have to be rinsed off so that I could wash up a bit … that was the best they could do but it was definitely better than nothing!
Dr. Findlay was in to check on me 2 to 3 times each day. He told me that they don’t really know why these events occur but now that I’d experienced such an event, I would have to be monitored by CT scan with dye every 2 years for the rest of my life.
On Tuesday morning, Todd was in checking on me. While we chatted (him mostly … I was only half awake), he said the ICU was at capacity … there’d been an ATV accident on Sunday and the driver, who’d broken his neck rendering him a complete quadriplegic, had been flown in by STARS … a man who’d had life threatening complications from a major surgery was there. “We’re packed.” he said. He smiled then and told me that at the moment, I was the healthiest patient in ICU! I smiled back and said, “I guess that means I’m going to survive this, eh …” and then, I drifted out.
When another emergency patient was admitted late Tuesday afternoon, the neurosurgeon felt that I could be moved from the ICU to the regular ward so away I went, or rather, away my bed was wheeled. I was still heavily medicated for the pain … the Heparin dose had been halved … I was still being given blood pressure medication. The pain hadn’t subsided but I think I was starting to get used to it … used to that unrelenting, blasting headache.
It was so hot and the ward was bursting at the seams. Patients were bunched up 3 to a room as opposed to the 2 per room they had been designed for. I still couldn’t eat. And those poor nurses … they were run off their feet I hadn’t been there too long when one arrived to give me my morphine. I asked first thing if I could please have a shower. She said she’d see what she could do … she was going to check with Dr. Findlay and if he said ok, she’d try to send someone to help me.
A couple of hours later, a nurse’s aid arrived. With her, a wheelchair meant for the shower, wash cloths, shampoo, soap and 4 big white towels. She then helped me, myself and that ever-present IV with stand into the wheelchair. I’ve never had a shower that felt so good!
Between hitting the call button regularly to ask for morphine and Tylenol, I slept and slept and slept, albeit a morphine induced sleep but sleep none the less. The nurses were doing their very best for all of their patients but … the bed was uncomfortable, there was only a couple of feet between me and the patient next to me and it was really, really hot. When Dr. Findlay came to see me on Thursday morning (my 6th day in the hospital), I asked if I could please go home. He said I would have to be able to handle the headache without morphine plus, I’d have to eat something. “I’ll give it a try.”, I told him. His chart orders were “extra strength Tylenol only, no more morphine and a light breakfast”.
As busy a doctor as he is, Dr. Findlay came back just before the noon hour. I hadn’t had any morphine for almost 6 hours by then and I’d eaten about 1/2 of a small bowl of Muslix with milk. “The headache’s excruciating.”, I said. “But I really think that I’d be more comfortable at home.” He no sooner said that I could be discharged, than I was on the phone to my brother Russ, “Please come get me, the neurosurgeon said I can go home!”