babe, my travel plans may change a little. today i had a fit and passed out, which was extremely alarming. the hotel got me a great doctor, french-trained with superb english. he says i have a respitory tract infection which, combined with weakened immune from travel, has impaired blood flow to my brain. i’m allowed to travel provided i have no further incidents tonight. i have a bastard of a headache, have bitten the inside of my mouth to shreds, and have an aching back from acupuncture, but feeling generally much better.
I read this and freaked – Kate’s optimistic assessment at the end notwithstanding. She was all the way over in Vietnam and there was nothing I could do to help. It would turn out that during this whole event, even once she got back, there would be very little I could do except puzzle and nap. But more of this later.
I learnt later that Kate had had a full seizure – the collapse on the ground and shake with loss of consciousness kind. She’d had a splitting headache for several days. And just before the seizure began to hallucinate in her peripheral vision (people who have tried acid will know what this feels like). She also began to believe that she could speak fluent Vietnamese and actually spoke some things that sounded not unlike what a fluent Vietnamese speaker sounds like – though of course it was complete gibberish. She had enough of her mind left to ask her sister to make sure she was okay before the fit happened. She was unconscious for more than a day afterward.
The Vietnamese staff at the hotel were very helpful – and they helped carry Kate back to their room. Unfortunately most of them were quite small and they struggled a bit in the task. Poor Kate received many a bruise while unconscious. All Kate knows is that they jabbed a giant needle into her and performed acupuncture on her. The acupuncture consisted largely of grating off the skin on her knuckles. We’re still not sure how this was supposed to help – but Kate appreciated the effort all the same. She can’t hold anything against the Vietnamese because their cuisine is so fine. I’m inclined to agree.
Once she regained consciousness, Kate received her diagnosis from the doctor and so decided to chance the plane ride home. I was extremely relieved to see her – as was her family. I asked her if she was going to see another doctor. She replied that she would see how the anti-viral medication worked. She still had a massive headache that wasn’t going away. Being the stubborn trooper she is, she went to work for the first three days of that week – though I implored her to take it easy.
Four days after she had returned, she had another seizure. I spoke to her on the phone later that afternoon and she said she was going to get a scan done the next day. Early next morning, Kate couldn’t sleep from the blinding headache. So she got up and did some work until it was time to go to the doctor.
I was in my apartment that day waiting for the news – looking up seizures and the like on Wikipedia, trying to find out what I could. Not surprisingly this did nothing to help my anxiety. Finally late that morning Kate called.
“Babe. It’s not good. I’m on my way to emergency. I’ve had an aneurysm. I could die.???
My response was something along the lines of:
“Shit… shit… fuck. I mean fuck. Okay. Shit.??? Etc…
Okay then – so what is an aneurysm. From Wikipedia:
An aneurysm (or aneurism) is localized, blood-filled dilation (bulge) of a blood vessel caused by disease or weakening of the vessel wall. Aneurysms most commonly occur in arteries at the base of the brain (the circle of Willis) and in the aorta (the main artery coming out of the heart) – this is an aortic aneurysm. This bulge in a blood vessel can burst and lead to death at any time, much like a bulge in an over-inflated innertube.
Strictly speaking – when Kate said she’d had an aneurysm, she meant that her aneurysm, which she’d had all along, had burst. When it happens in the brain it can be pretty bad. The statistics break down like this: 1/3 of people with ruptured aneurysms die before they get to hospital. Of the rest that make it to hospital another 1/3 die after arriving. And of the rest of this number 40% suffer severe brain damage. A good website that goes into more detail is here:
So after hitting the web for this information I was pretty worried about Kate to say the least. I met her and her family in the emergency ward of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. She was sitting upright in one of the emergency beds, smiling and chatting amiably with her folks. It was one of the weird things about this experience – throughout the whole thing she remained that Kate that I know and love. Not really knowing what to say – I cracked a joke.
“An aneurysm! I was the one supposed to get the life threatening disease. Me!???
She laughed. We had a long running joke about me being a hypochondriac. I’m always looking up weird diseases and saying that I have them. Kate turned to her folks and said:
‘See – I told you Dan would be jealous of my aneurysm.’
That afternoon they performed an angiogram on Kate – to get a clear view of her brain. They call this a minimally invasive procedure – but it never sounded that way to me. They cut a small hole in her hip and into a major artery that runs from the thigh right up into her neck. Into this they inserted a tube, at the end of which was mounted a camera. They injected her with dye so the camera could do its job better. This tube was then pushed all the way up into her neck – from her hip!
I went to see her that night after the procedure and she was again in good spirits. She couldn’t sit up to prevent the hole in her hip from bursting open – but otherwise looked well. She’d begun her life as a pin cushion – and all manner of tubes were plugged into her. But overall she looked okay.
The proper diagnosis came through the next day. The aneurysm was confirmed. She was extremely lucky to be alive. Even more lucky not to have suffered significant brain damage. She just happened to have her anneurysm in the part of brain that didn’t do that much – and it had clotted quickly enough to prevent widespread damage. She was a miracle case. She wasn’t out of danger though. It could rupture again. And if it did – she would almost certainly not survive again. They had to operate to remove the blood vessal that was causing all the problems. Brain Surgery.
The operation was scheduled for the end of January – just over a month away. In the meantime she had to make sure she took it easy. She had to avoid all situations that would make her stressed – in case it put pressure on the aneurysm and cause it to rupture again. She was put on an anti seizure medication called dilantin. It’s such strong stuff that Kate would not be allowed to smoke or drink while on it. And she will have to take that stuff for more than a year in total. Of all the things Kate has been through – the seizure, the headaches, the brain surgery, having her knuckles scraped off – the loss of alchohol has been the one thing – the only thing – that she has ever complained about. In this I’m sure we all feel for her very deeply.
The month of January was spent napping and playing puzzles. This was my time to shine. I’d been pretty useless up until that point, but I proved a good puzzling and napping companion. Kate needed to rest and nap a lot – so my shoulder was made use of as a convenient pillow.
The big issue prior to the surgery was what would be done with Kate’s hair post-op. Some, or all of it would have to be shaved for the surgery. Being not completely stupid – I stayed out of it, and let Kate and her mother discuss it at length.
Kate and I had many deep conversations about the preciousness of life, the metaphyscial implications of a soul dependent on a physical brain – and just our general hope for the future. The docs had said that Kate had survived the worst of it and now there was only a 5-10 percent chance that something would go wrong – so we were optimistic.
Finally the big day came and I was at the hospital with her family at the ungodly hour of 6:30 am. This is the hospital crowing hour for some reason – and that’s when Kate had to be there. They ran some more tests – more radiology. General prepping stuff – telling Kate what to expect. They put little spotty things on her head for the radiology machines to use. Mostly we just waited in the waiting room and cracked jokes. At one point one of us was going to get out a thick black texta and write: “Brain is Located Here!??? on the back of her head – just in case.
Eventually the waiting got too much so we went back to Kate’s house. She napped. Despite all our wise cracking – the craziness of the situation was starting to get to me. So I decided to let Kate nap in peace rather than transfer all my anxiety onto her. They returned to the hospital and the operation happened later that afternoon. I got the call from her father later that night. Kate was okay. The operation was a success.
I visited her the next day and she was still in intensive care. She looked pretty knocked about. She had a big bandage on her head. Out of it came a tube which fed into a bag that was filled with a fairly unnattractive reddish liquid. It was a drain that served to prevent her head from swelling up.
‘Look at my bag of head goo,’ she said to me proudly.
‘It’s the best in the ward,’ I replied with a smile.
But despite this moment of humour, Kate was pretty exhausted and in quite a bit of discomfort. I didn’t stay long, so as to let her get back to resting.
Her recuperation proceeded apace from there. The next day she was transferred out of intensive care and into the fine neurology wards at the hospital. We had been making jokes about the competency of the medical profession. But really – we were all floored by the professionalism and skill of the staff at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Her bag of head goo was removed as were the bandages around her head. And now you get to see the money shot…
The cut that you see is held together by metal staples. The cut goes down into her jaw – and they had to cut into her jaw muscle. This was actually the most painful bit. Skulls don’t have a lot of nerve endings – but muscles do. During the operation, the skin was peeled back and a cut in skull was made – about the shape and size of a small egg. Once they’ve cut out what they want the replace the skull and use a kind of glue to keep it in place.
Within a week she was allowed to go home – and a few days after that the staples were taken out. Recovery had its difficult moments – but like all things with Kate, she got through it amazingly. For the first couple of weeks she couldn’t do a lot – and even short car rides would totally exhaust her. But she quickly started to regain her strength.
Within four weeks Kate was almost back to normal. With respect to the really important issue – Kate’s hair – you can see in the photo that only a small section on the side of her head had been shaved. Once the rest of her hair is let free – you can’t see anything.
Now the cut in her head is just a thin line that is hard to spot. Kate is a little dissapointed that she can’t shock people with it anymore. At least we still have the photo. She goes back to work next week.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Royal Prince Alfred Hopsital and all its staff for the wonderful job they did in saving Kate’s life. My girlfriend had an aneurysm and survived!