Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Subarachnoid Hemorrhage

Subarachnoid hemorrhage...that's what I was diagnosed with last Tuesday evening, two days before Thanksgiving.  It all began Monday night after 10 while watching "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell."  I felt an intense headache hit me out of nowhere.  I stood up and actually shouted, "What the hell?  What is this?  What is going on?"  I couldn't believe what was happening.  I sipped some green tea but that did nothing, so I turned off the television and went to bed, leaving my dog Sandy on the couch to fend for herself.  The intensity of the headache was so strong that I had trouble sleeping.  The throbbing pain lasted all night.  I thought about calling someone but it was getting late and I had absolutely no energy to talk to anyone.  I hoped I was simply experiencing my first migraine, even though I've never had a migraine before.  All I knew was that I was having the headache of my life and didn't have a clue why.

The next morning I felt awful.  My headache had lost about half its intensity but was still very much there.  I remained in bed until 8:30 a.m., then took a shower and got ready for work.  I took Sandy to Rhonda's and was given a migraine pill, though Rhonda warned me it might not kick in for a while, since my headache had begun several hours ago.  At work, my coworkers told me to call my doctor.  Alice called and scolded me for not telling her what had happened sooner.  I called Dr. Lawrence and scheduled an appointment for mid-afternoon.  I worked only an hour, then headed back home and went to bed.  I slept soundly for two hours, then drove to my doctor's office ten minutes away. 

I saw Dr. Lawrence at 2:45.  He called the Emergency Room to see if they could check me over and run a few tests.  I arrived at the ER at 3:10 p.m. and stayed until a little past 1 a.m.  They gave me a CT Scan which showed nothing unusual.  They then administered a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) that showed blood in my spinal fluid, which apparently is an indicator that there may be bleeding in the brain.  They drew four vials of fluid and the blood wasn't dissipating.  That's when I was told I was going to the hospital. 

I hit Wikipedia hard on my iphone, studying up on brain issues like the nerd that I am until my phone battery hit the red zone.  Alice and Richard arrived soon afterward around 9ish.  A nurse hooked me up to antiseizure medication and other personnel made arrangements for my hospital stay.  I was told I would be transported via ambulance to Eden Hospital in Castro Valley because they had a top neurology center.  All I could think of was how disappointed and worried my family would be because I wasn't flying to Seattle for Thanksgiving.  It was surreal.

While we waited for the ambulance, Alice, Richard and I chatted for several hours in the tiny ER room.  They sat in chairs and I was on my back in a thin bed with wheels.  They were both so calm and kind, and I'll never forget how comforting it was talking and laughing with them.  After midnight, I was placed on a gurney and wheeled into an ambulance.  The medic riding in back with me had recently graduated from Mills College, so we talked about Julia Morgan and creative writing teachers.  Twenty minutes later I entered Eden Hospital's Emergency Room and was placed inside a waiting station next to an old drunk vet behind a curtain who sang nutty sailor songs while harassing his attending nurse ("Can you please keep still," the nurse insisted. "Don't touch me!  I can't give you anything if you keep wiggling like that!").  I bet that happens a lot.  Meanwhile, I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.  I spoke with two doctors before they wheeled me out of ER to room 1223 of the ICU wing.  An entire team of nurses moved me from the ER bed to my ICU bed.  That's when I was told I was being treated like a stroke victim.  They gave me a battery of mental and physical tests.  Everything was fine.  The guy in the ICU room next to me was yelling and screaming like a raging maniac, which apparently he was (a security guard stood near his door).  I felt tired but clear-headed and fully functional.  My headache was tolerable so long as I was lying on my back.  Once I was hooked up to machines I was left alone. It was impossible to imagine anything was seriously wrong with me.  Maybe I was in denial, but I also knew it was my destiny to live to be 100, so I figured everything would be fine.  Because of this, I wasn't worried at all.

I hadn't eaten in over 24 hours and was getting hungry, but couldn't eat anything until after the angiogram that was scheduled around 11 a.m.  I had another CT Scan early in the morning, which again came up negative for anything abnormal.  I slept for an hour or so until Alice arrived at 9:30 a.m.  I called Gwen and told her what was happening.  We were supposed to fly to Seattle out of San Francisco that afternoon at 4:30.  I couldn't believe we weren't spending Thanksgiving in Seattle. 

At 11 a.m., I was taken to a large room for my cerebral angiogram and walked through what would happen and the various scenarios that would occur if an aneurysm was found.  They gave me a sedative that kept me awake but had me drifting off into my own happy place, complete with the soundtrack of my choice, courtesy of Pandora.  I had requested something by Handel, but instead I got something by Rogers & Hammerstein.  Before I knew it the procedure was over and I was back in my ICU room.  Alice told me everything was fine.  No aneurysm, no surgery, nothing out of the ordinary.  Whatever it was that had affected me Monday night was not showing up on any image or x-ray.  I felt incredibly relieved and started texting and talking with my friends and chatting on my iPad with my family, who by this time were already at Gwen's.  I was still loopy from the procedure but didn't realize it until later.  The nurses monitored me throughout the afternoon and evening, and by 10:00 p.m. I was sound asleep for the rest of the night. 

The next day (Thanksgiving) I had an MRI, which also came up negative for anything abnormal.  Everything looked fine.  I was taken to a regular room with my own bathroom (nice!) for the rest of the afternoon, and discharged from the hospital (thanks to Alice and Dr. Kim!) later that evening at 7:45 p.m., just in time for pumpkin pie at the Youngs.  It was the best piece of pie I think I've ever had.  It felt so good to be alive and well with great friends and family.  I took a seat on Lisa's awesome art deco chair near the fireplace (which used to be Neil's chair) and assumed a reclining position with my eyes closed and my mouth wide open.  I was sound asleep for what felt like several hours.

The nurses at ICU (Danni, Israel, Daniel and Rebecca) and Max on the 5th floor took excellent care of me and were truly fantastic.  I stayed at Alice's over the weekend and Jill came out to visit from Reno for two days.  I was tired and sore from all the poking and prodding, but our sibling time together was wonderful.  We went to see the new Martin Scorsese film Hugo in 3D in Daly City with Alice and Austin, and it was wonderful.  Jill and Alice thought the movie was a bit longer than it needed to be, but Austin and I thought the film was pure magic.

Since we didn't make it for Thanksgiving, Alice, Austin, and I are going to Seattle for Christmas!  We plan to do everything we were going to do over Thanksgiving, plus we get to hang out with the gang, which will be so great!  My lower back is still very sore from the spinal tap and I still have a slight headache, but I hope to be good as new within another week or so.  I had to forfeit my semi-final singles match to Tyrone the other night, and that was perhaps the most painful part of this past week.  No racquetball for a while...ugh!

Dr. Lawrence and I went over everything Monday afternoon in his office.  It's hard to know for sure exactly what had happened to me because nothing serious was discovered in the CT Scan, MRI or angiogram.  Whatever happened may have cleared itself, or I may have had my first migraine ever, followed by a spinal tap that included blood from a punctured blood vessel.  Whatever happened, it's very bizarre and hopefully a one-time thing.  I'd like to think my 18 years of playing racquetball saved my life.  My body had some crazy event happen Monday night, but because my blood pressure and heart rate are so low and my inner workings are naturally pretty efficient, my body simply cleared out whatever the distraction was.  This event has certainly changed me, but one thing it hasn't changed is my steadfast belief that I will be on this planet playing games, listening to Handel and Vivaldi and Beethoven (and Rogers & Hammerstein), writing, reading, watching movies, hanging out with my wonderful family, friends and coworkers, terrorizing my opps on the racquetball courts, and laughing with my sweet Alice until I live to be 100.  If this is my midlife wakeup call, I'd say I've taken the message to heart!


Curt said...

I used to think that doctors actually understood what was happening inside your body when a malady such as yours struck. About 25 years ago, Megan had a serious neurological pathology which our family doctor couldn't diagnose. So he sent us to the UW neuropathy clinic in Seattle where they removed a nerve from Megan's leg to study it under the microscope to see if they could figure out what was wrong with her. No luck. Then we were sent to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota to consult with the smartest doctors in the world. Though they tried several treatment regimes but ultimately they could not find an answer. I asked the doctor at the Mayo how often they come across a case like Megan's where they can offer no significant help or understanding. He said about 50% of the time, they come up empty. I was astonished. These are the best doctors in the world and half the time they are totally clueless. It was an eye-opening experience for me. The bright side of the story is that Megan finally recovered from her ideopathic chronic demylenating pathology after 20 years (nerves grow back very slowly). The benefit I gained from this experience was a better understanding of the limitations of our medical professionals. They are good at what they do; you just need to keep in mind that they are guessing about half the time.

Michael Hagan said...

Hi Curt: I remember the issues with Megan's hands very well. The human body is so mysterious so much of the time. I'm still processing the mysteries of mine. I went through your drawings on Facebook over the summer and they sure are fantastic! I hope to make that journey to New Zealand soon. My best to Megan and the family!