Tuesday, February 5, 2019


It's been a while, hasn't it?

After it was all said and done, 2018 turned out to be a little more interesting than I would have liked. Some key events from last year are:

  • I served on a jury for the first time.
  • My son was diagnosed with autism. His twin brother will likely be diagnosed this month.
  • My grandmother passed away at age 94. She was my last remaining grandparent.
  • I re-started martial arts training again, briefly.
  • I had a brain haemorrhage that could have easily killed me or left me permanently disabled.
  • I stopped martial arts training, most likely permanently.
  • I've been completely caffeine free since the brain event.
  • I've been making significant changes to my lifestyle and eating habits, and have lost about 30 pounds since the summer of 2018.
Yeah ... 2018 was pretty crazy.

Of course, the event that holds the most attention in my thoughts at present is the brain haemorrhage, and so I want to give some more details on that in this post. It also precipitated the events in the list that followed, so that plan kind of makes sense, I guess.

Sometime around noon on December 4th, 2018, I experienced what I later discovered was called a "thunderclap headache." It came on very suddenly and was the worst headache I have ever had. I have never had a true migraine headache before, so I thought that was what was happening. I took some ibuprofen and lay down for about an hour to let it kick in. That didn't help, and it kept getting worse. At one point, it was so bad I started to feel a little nauseated, and so I panicked due to my latent emetophobia.

At that point, I suggested maybe I should go to the emergency room and get checked out, just to make sure it was really a migraine and not something worse. I figured they'd laugh at me for going to the ER for a headache, maybe give me some medicine, and send me home. Well ... that's not exactly what happened.

I was immediately taken back for a CAT scan of my head, which is standard procedure when someone presents with "the worst headache ever." Much to my surprise and fright, the scan showed evidence of a sub-arachnoid haemorrhage near my left vertebral artery. A Sub-Arachnoid Haemorrhage (SAH from now on) is a life-threatening condition and a form of stroke that can put massive amounts of pressure on the brain and cause severe damage to it. From what I read later, most people who have them don't survive, and most who do survive are permanently disabled.

The small hospital where I had gone was not equipped to handle my condition, so I was taken via ambulance to a bigger, better-equipped facility in Dearborn. So far, I hadn't had any other symptoms besides the headache, but by now I was pretty worried. At the Dearborn hospital, I had another CAT scan, this time with an IV delivering an iodine-based contrast solution to help light up the blood vessels on the scan. This one confirmed there was, indeed, blood leaking into my brain.

All Wired Up
Now, I had seen people who had brain bleeds before. In hospitals and rehab facilities, they lay paralyzed, unable to speak, some unable to see or possibly even think. I was now pretty terrified to think that I might end up in a similar situation, and I can't even imagine what was going through the mind of my poor wife who had followed me to the Dearborn facility.

By this time, several hours had passed since the start of the event, and the doctors at Dearborn told me they, too, were not equipped to handle my condition. I was taken to another ambulance and transferred to Henry Ford Hospital in downtown Detroit, and that's where I'd stay for the next 10 days.

The next few days were kind of a blur, partly because they started giving me morphine and Dilaudid for pain management. For those that don't know, that's the "good stuff" that makes you pretty loopy. Since I am opiate naive, meaning I don't have opiates in my system on a regular basis, they had a pretty strong effect on me.

After several procedures, including more CAT scans, an MRI, and an angiogram, they confirmed that there was bleeding in the brain, but it appeared to have stopped on its own. They couldn't tell whether I had an aneurysm that burst, or a small cut on the artery in question. In any case, whatever had caused the bleed was too small for any kind of surgical intervention, so the plan became "wait and see what happens."  Since I was still not showing any neurological symptoms, that was the path of least risk.

The Human Pin Cushion
Well, basically, nothing happened. After a few days, the headaches went away. I later realized that these headaches, unlike the one that precipitated this whole thing, were the result of my body detoxing from caffeine. I hadn't had a cup of coffee since the morning of the event! In light of that, I decided to stick with it and stay off of caffeine permanently. "After all," I told one of my nurses, "if the zombie apocalypse ever happens, I won't have time to feel like crap for a week. Besides, most of the zombies will probably be hanging out at Starbucks, anyway."

When I wasn't being wheeled off for the next procedure, or poked with a toothpick in various places to make sure my central nervous system was still operational, or being quizzed about the current year, where I was, who was president, and what color his hair is, I had a lot of time to think about things. Truthfully, I was terrified (I kind of still am). I kept thinking that, in spite of being okay now, I could suddenly slip away. One wrong move of my head or neck could re-open the artery that had bled, and this time it could kill me before I even realized what was happening. Then, I'd imagine my wife and kids having to attend my funeral with Christmas just around the corner. Since I'm the sole income provider to our household, I wondered if I had enough life insurance for them to get by for a while.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what would happen to me, and what I'd experience if I died, or if I became paralyzed or lost my cognitive abilities. I'd love to say that, as a Christian, I wasn't too worried about where I'd go if I died, but to be honest, that's not entirely true. I've had my doubts before, and now, when it looked like the rubber was about to meet the road, they were popping up again. For many years, I have not been as devoted a follower of the Messiah as I should have been. Sometimes I've wondered if God is even real at all, or if I've just deluded myself as my atheist friends would suggest. Well, let me tell you, dear readers (yes, all ten of you): laying in a hospital bed in the ICU and hearing "code blues" being announced several times a day for some of your fellow patients is not a comfortable place to be having a crisis of faith, but it's probably one of the more effective ones.

One of the things I wrestled with the most was my apparent abject terror at the thought of dying versus the faith I claim that is supposed to give me peace and conquer the fear of death. I still don't think I have fully come to terms with it, but I did work out a few things in my mind. Mainly, the difference between being prepared and being ready. If I were 95, like my grandma who had passed away in August, I reasoned, I'd be a lot more accepting of all this. I'd be saying "ok, Jesus, let's do this thing." I'd be ready.  I have my faith - a precious gift from God in its own right. I have placed my complete trust in Christ alone, and believe that when my time comes, He will have mercy on me, forgive whatever sins I've committed, and allow me into His kingdom.  In that sense, I am prepared for death.

Me and My Girls
However, I'm "only" 43 years old. I have a young family that depends on me. I still want to have as many years as I can with my wife and kids because I love them all so much. They depend on me for their livelihood, and I don't want to leave them in that state. There are still a lot of things I want to do and experience in my life. I want to see my grandchildren. I want to have many years together with my wonderful wife after all the kids have established their independence and moved out. I don't want to miss any of that ... I may be prepared, but I am not ready to die, and you know what?  That's okay. What I do need to work on is to trust that, if my time does come prematurely, God will look after my family and they will be okay eventually, too. That's pretty hard for me right now, if I'm being honest, but I feel like it's the next step in my spiritual growth that I need to take.

Two weeks ago, I had my 30-day followup appointment with the neurologist who oversaw my care in the hospital, and everything was still looking great. We came to the conclusion that I had come through the incident unharmed, with the exception that I seem to have lost that irrational sense of immortality that had carried over from my youth. The SAH had done nothing to me except scare the crap out of me, jolting me into making some much-needed changes in my life, both physically and spiritually. Among them, I'm monitoring my blood pressure closely, making smarter food choices, studying my Bible on a regular basis again, and looking to drop another 50 or so pounds in a healthy, gradual manner.  Unfortunately, my doctor has suggested that martial arts training may be too risky for the time being so I will have to find something else to do for exercise. I'm still working on that, and trying to come to terms with the idea that I may have to settle for a green belt instead of a black one.

Booga Booga!
A week ago today, I had a follow-up CAT scan, again with the contrast fluid, to make sure everything is still okay. I got the final results yesterday and was very surprised. It turns out, they can't even find evidence that anything happened. There are no signs of aneurysms, no signs of any blockages, no evidence of dissections. There isn't even any evidence that any of those conditions existed and then healed. It's literally as if nothing ever happened at all. All the blood vessels in my brain are as normal as can be, and all my functionality is 100 per cent intact. Neither I, nor my doctor, can explain this, but the results are clear and have been triple checked .. and I'm not about to argue with them!

If you're still with me, dear readers, I thank you. Even if you're not, that's okay, too. I needed to get this down on "paper" somewhere, so thank you for sharing in my mini-catharsis. Now, get off my lawn.

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