I almost died last night

I was standing at the stove, cooking a couple of turkey burgers for dinner, when suddenly I felt a  sharp headache, very dizzy, and my hand looked strange. Colored with bright speckles.

I laid down on the floor so that I wouldn’t fall down – and that turned out to be the first of several ways in which I saved my own life.

I passed out briefly. When I woke up, I turned off the stove. I had a splitting headache. I crawl-staggered to the table where my mobile phone was and, slumped in the chair, speed-dialed the main gate security for our community. “I need the medics right away,” I told them.

“They’re on the way.”

I was terrified. My head felt like an ax had been driven through it, I was nauseated, and too dizzy to walk.

On the remote chance that it was propane poisoning, I crawled to the gas fireplace and cranked off the valve; then grabbed a fleece blanket and went outside to breathe fresh mountain air while I waited for the medics.

I heard the sirens, but they didn’t seem to be getting closer. Our mountain community is all winding roads, and I knew that on a normal day route it takes eight minutes to get to my house from the main station.

After the longest eight minutes ever, I called the main gate security again in a panic. “They’re almost there,” they reassured me – and within a minute, the medics finally arrived. I was hysterical, at that point, though still trying to breathe deeply and narrate all my symptoms in detail.

They checked my vitals and oxygen levels, and they checked the C02 levels in the house, but they had no idea what was wrong with me.

They needed to hear the key symptom in what I was saying: a level-10-severe, whole-head, abrupt-onset headache, “the thunderclap” as it’s known in medical shorthand.

Of people walking into an emergency room with the thunderclap, 10 percent have a brain aneurysm. It can only be diagnosed by a CAT scan.

I heard how they described me to the new arrivals and on the radio, “Headache.” It makes me mad, looking back, to think of how dismissive they were.

The medics said, “We can take you to the hospital in Jasper, or not. What’s your decision?”

Even knowing, with every fiber in my body, that I was in the midst of a severe health emergency, I hesitated. Don’t want to cause trouble. Don’t want to make a fuss. They don’t think it’s a big deal.

“Please, I need to go to the hospital,” I managed to say.

I had finally done what I needed to do to ensure that I would not die in my house. Thirty percent of people with ruptured brain aneurysms do.

There was some maneuvering necessary to deal with the various vehicles on our steep street and tight-curve of a driveway. It was more than half an hour between their arrival and our departure for the hospital. I asked them to call my dear friend Sara, who called Tom in Atlanta and then drove to the Jasper hospital.

When I was finally underway, I learned that the county ambulance attendant, unaccustomed to North Georgia’s mountainous roads, was car sick and would not be much help to me – he could barely throw a blanket over my legs.

I felt every bump on the interminable drive to Jasper. When I got there, the ER staff seemed unimpressed: “We’re seeing a lot of flu cases,” they said.

I nearly screamed at them. “This is not the flu!”

Thank God, the ER doctor actually listened to me and immediately realized the seriousness of my condition. She sent me for a CAT scan and diagnosed the hemorrhagic stroke.

Sara had been there comforting me, holding my hand as I exclaimed about my fear. At one point I squeezed her hand and said, “God, what if I die!”

Sara, who’s been in a Stage IV recurrence of breast cancer for more than three years, said she’d meet me on the other side soon enough. She and I have frank conversations about death often, and in this context her remark was a comfort.

The nurse Рnot knowing our history  Рrushed to push us away from such negative talk.

When the doctor gave me her diagnosis in somber tones, I said (or maybe just thought?), “Oh, I really could die.” And I became completely calm.

From years of reading Buddhist philosophy, I believed that it was important to be in the right frame of mind when approaching death. And, in any case, I knew that being calm would help my condition even if I didn’t die.

The ER doc knew the best place to send me. Emory Hospital’s Neuroscience ICU specializes in dealing with brain aneurysms, and they were just a Life Flight away in Atlanta.

From there on, everything went as smoothly as it can go with a head full of blood. I was strapped down, flown to Emory, had a more detailed CAT scan, and by that time Tom had found the place and was there to watch over me.

With the clear and expert information from the Emory staff, I understood my situation completely. An angiogram was scheduled for the morning.

I slept secure in the knowledge that I was fully in competent hands.

The surgery took almost five hours. But I was, at last, out of the worst danger.

I’ve been writing this post in my head all week, laying here in a hospital bed. It is being published under the date which it would have been published if I’d been physically able to type and publish it.

17 thoughts on “I almost died last night”

  1. Wow, Lisa, that’s scary — and impressive that you could keep your wits about you and get proper care! I’d say take care of yourself, but you already are!

  2. Lisa, So glad to hear you are on the road to recovery. I know you aren’t out of the woods yet but you are on your way. Sending positive healing thoughts your way….

  3. Hey Lisa, obviously Michelle and I have been worrying about you and sending you our positive energy. We really appreciate the information your husband put out – he is quite a good writer, and I’ve been Michelle’s medical consultant telling her what she needed to know about this condition.

    I recall an incident when I was in Lubbock Texas heading to the airport after interviewing at the medical school there on a frigidly cold winter day. The taxi driver was going way too fast and as we accelerated onto the freeway he hit a patch of ice and the car flipped over and ended up on the far side of the highway upside down. I hadn’t been able to find a seat belt in the beat up old taxi when I got in and I remember as we flipped over and were airborne all time seemed to slow down and I felt this strange sense of calmness and had the thought ‘so, this is it, interesting’. Your story reminded me a bit of that odd feeling of peace with the prospect of an impending and unexpected death.

    Luckily for us, sounds like we’ve got you for a long time to come. You still need to be sharing some tropical beverages with us on the lanai!

  4. OMG! So thankful you got to the hospital and treated!!! I took care of patients in ICU in Germany post op of cerebral aneurysm. They always described it as worst headache ever.
    God Bless! If l can help, let me know!

  5. Praying for you! I saw a post from a friend. I have endured a head injury recently myself and it’s been tough to say the least. But the one thing I wanted to pass on, besides some positive vibes, was that Frankincense oil and Helichrysum oil helped alot! Anytime I felt weak and just not right while healing I would sniff them both, rub them where I hit my head, and often put some under my nose. Frankincense has been the best to lift me up, decrease symptoms immediately, etc. Prayers for a speedy recovery!

  6. So glad you made all the right decisions and are able to share your experience so articulately. The world needs to keep hearing what you have to say, Lisa. Get completely well soon!

  7. Lisa, your post blew me away. What an incredible post which illustrates once again what an incredible person you are and it is an honor to know you.

  8. Lisa, the effort you made in recording your evening may well save many lives. It a great job as usual. Hang in there, please.

  9. Hi Lisa…i have to curse myself that i got it late, i am stunned reading ur accounts, all my prayers are with u. Sure Al Mighty will take as nice and sincere human as u to early, stay blessed and praying for ur fast recovery

  10. Lisa, I consider you inspirational many ways, so fearless when many of us live in fear. Sharing this life threating experience with such rawness hits hard. Heal quickly, we want you to stick around!

    You are a beautiful soul, the world still needs you:)

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