Sunday, October 1, 2017

Introducing Steve 2.0...

REACH Air Ambulance
The REACH Air Ambulance pilot shared, "I remember that day really well, because it was so remarkable. We weren't flying much in December, because the cloud ceiling was so low. We weren't flying that day at all. But, the call came in for you, and as soon as I hung up, the cloud ceiling lifted. Then, when we got up to OHSU, it was so windy up on the hill, that I couldn't land."

He continued, "I realized we were going to have to take you across town to Providence, and come back to OHSU in an ambulance. I remember thinking that this wouldn't be good for you because of all the traffic and the time of day. As soon as I decided to make one more landing attempt, the wind stopped and I could land. It was remarkable."

Shift ahead to August 4, 2017, sitting in an exam room at the OHSU Neurology Office in the Center for Health and Healing.

Dr. Lui came bursting in to report on the results of my brain angiogram the day before, "Everything is excellent! It's gone!"

"What do yo mean?" I asked.

"I mean it's gone!" he replied.

I didn't understand, "But what do you MEAN?"

He finally got through to me, "I mean the aneurysm is gone and you're fine! Everything is excellent!"

"But what about the appointments I have scheduled with the neurologist in Corvallis?" I asked.

"Cancel them. You don't need them. You're fine."


Introducing Steve 2.0...

In the Eagle Cap Wilderness/July 2017

This is Steve Bittner 2.0. I have to admit, and I think the people around me will agree, that version 2.0 is an upgrade. The first version wasn't bad, but the second version has had some of the bugs worked out, and is a much better version. 

The two stories above are two chapters in the Brain Adventure of 2016-2017. If you read the two previous posts from January and February, you will read parts of the story of how I went to the edge, returned, and have continued to live and enjoy life, thanks to the God of Heaven. 

I am told by the medical community that most people who suffer a ruptured brain aneurysm don't survive to even make it to the hospital, and if they do survive, there is usually cognitive and/or physical impairment. I'm fine. 

The road back from the edge hasn't been without its bumps and twists and turns, and I was pretty crazy for the first two weeks of my recovery (My wife may say longer!), but I have to say that God has been so merciful to me and I am so grateful.

I am a better person having gone through this experience. I would never wish it on anyone, but I do now understand a bit more when someone goes through difficulty and they say they would do it again. I used to think they were just spouting off some trite, sanctimonious comments about how enlightened they now are.

Now I get it. Maybe. At least a little bit.

Having come so close to the edge has changed me in profound ways. I see people differently. I am less judgmental. Simple things are more wonderful. Going to sleep in peace is a joy. Waking up is an even greater joy. I feel so privileged to be able to do what I do each day. Morning hikes have become my sanctuary. I have lost nearly 50 pounds. My family is more precious to me.

I don't know why I was spared. I don't know why the Father rescued me. I do know that I am doing all I can to live every day the best way possible, to share His kindness wherever I am, to enjoy being in His presence and in the presence of friends, coworkers, and family.

So, here's to the next chapter and my 60th year! After August 4, 2017, and the news I received that day, I felt like I could formally introduce Steve 2.0. So, here I am! If I haven't seen you since the start of the Brain Adventure I look forward to seeing you again!

Love life.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Returning...

How does one communicate what it is like to slowly and steadily return to the daily rhythms of life after coming perilously close to leaving this world? I don't really know, but I am going to give it my best shot. 

This will surely differ from the accounts of other people who have had such experiences and I cannot compare my experience to theirs; I will make no value judgements on the experience of others and if you have graciously been given a second chance at life, I would also ask that you make no judgement on this description of my journey. 

How could our experiences ever be the same? The culmination of our life's paths results in a uniquely individual tapestry that could never be the same. One may notice colors or patterns that are similar, but they will never be identical.

In the video below and to the right, my son Scott, is playing a song that he created while I was a patient at Oregon Health Sciences University in mid-December recovering from a burst aneurysm in the right hemisphere of my brain. It reflects his feelings on what is was like to see his father returning from the fog of a brain injury. I thought it appropriate to include it here.


Returning. That's exactly what it feels like is happening and has happened over the last eight weeks. Many things are new again, and I am thankful for a more grateful perspective. Several people have said that I am more calm. One told me yesterday, "You're just so chill." I took that as a compliment! Whether it is a result of the brain injury, or intentional action on my part (I hope so!), I am grateful for peace! 

A friend recently told me that I look younger after having come through this experience. That was unexpected, since my remaining hair has turned white in the last eight weeks! For whatever positive that has happened in my persona, I am grateful.

I am grateful for time with family. Seeing my kids and being with my wife has all taken on new meaning for me. What amazing people they all are! I am only now realizing what a stressful experience this has been for them. While I have been focused on healing, they have needed to process and decompress from the stress of it all. I am so grateful for each of them.

Scotty (second son) gladly took the night shift, while I ordered him around in my jumbled brain state for a few nights. What a trooper! I know I was unreasonable at times, but he was always so patient. Jonathan, in his "fixer" kind of way, was always working on logistics and figuring out how to help me and to assist and support his mother. Annie, as always, brought a welcome bit of comic relief and kept people smiling! Jeremy (in Korea) and Hannah (in Ukraine) regularly checked in and expressed their love and support. I am so thankful for these people.

Scotty taking the night shift...
Returning to normal routines after receiving a second chance brings a renewed appreciation for the little things in life. Going to bed in a warm bed is a simple pleasure I more deeply appreciate these days! I realize my brain needs adequate space to heal, and sleep is a critical part of that, but following little, simple sleep routines is a wonderful pleasure! Warming my shoulder and neck wrap in the microwave, putting on a little chapstick, and my menthol oil from China are all simple actions that bring pleasure and I am grateful to be able to nod off to quiet music after having completed these simple routines. Going to bed. I am thankful.

Going for a walk in the snow with my wife of 37 years has been a joyful and sweet experience I will always treasure! We've had an unusual amount of snow and cold weather this winter, and shortly after I returned home, we were able to venture out for some pleasant walks. 

This is one amazing person...


Being with my students and my co-workers is a daily luxury! There are so many kind and wonderful people around us who care so deeply. From Jennifer's laugh echoing down the hallway, to Jack telling me he noticed the sunrise today...what joy there is in being a part of the lives around us. I am so thankful for the people who share our days.

The first time Jeannie and I went outside for a walk, we only went up and down the sidewalk in front of our house a time or two, and I was like a hunched over old man, unsure of his steps. It was exhilarating and discouraging at the same time. I wondered if it would always be like that. Now, I am back to a normal exercise routine up and down the hills in our neighborhood, at a normal pace, and have lost 30 pounds. I am so thankful to God for his mercy. 

Just going outside in the morning to get some  exercise is so exciting! When you've been through something like this, every time you are again able to see or do something you love brings such deep joy. I will always be so thankful for God's unmerited favor that has come my way. 

I don't know why the Lord has allowed me this second opportunity at life. I do know He is good and kind. I also know that even if i had died on the school bathroom floor that December 7th, or if I had emerged from this experience with cognitive or physical disability, He would still be good and kind. I may never understand why He allowed me this honor. I do know I am making my best attempt to steward this opportunity the best way I know how. So, if I see you in the store or at the coffee shop, don't worry if I wrap my arms around you and shed a tear. I tend to get a little emotional the first time I see people I love. You see, I am returning to normal life and I am really, really happy about it.







Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Most Epic Journey of My Life...

I'm sitting here contentedly in my comfy chair, enjoying the quietness of an Oregon winter storm. The snow is lovely, and all is quiet. This is an important part of this epic journey to which I referred in a Dec. 24 Instagram post. I wasn't sure I would ever enjoy such an experience again in this life.

The most epic journey to which I refer started on December 7, 2016, about 12:00 noon Pacific Time. I had been having some intense headaches for a few days, and on that day, I walked into the boys' bathroom of our Junior High (I am a part-time school principal.) and promptly hit the floor. I have no memory of this event. A brain aneurysm had burst deep inside the right hemisphere of my brain, sending me into a seizure on the not so clean bathroom floor.

As I understand it, after five or ten minutes, one of our students came in and found me, and immediately went to get help. The first people he came to were our science teacher and my wife, who also works in our school. So, here I was, a fairly private person, having seizure on the floor of the school bathroom. Wow. The epic journey begins.

My wife immediately called 911, and I was transported by ambulance to the local hospital, clearly in a near-death state. Once there, the neurologist on duty made the decision that I needed to be transported to OHSU (Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland) via Life Flight helicopter. His decision saved my life, and I got my first helicopter ride, though I have no recollection of it. My wife had her first helicopter ride a few weeks ago in Hawaii. Oh well. 

It is important to note that more than half of the people who experience a burst brain aneurysm don't even survive to make it to the hospital. For whatever reason, my Father decided to preserve me up to this point.

Once I was at OHSU, it was confirmed that an aneurysm had burst and that a repair was required. On Thursday, the amazing neurosurgery team at OHSU threaded a catheter from the top of my right leg, up through my body, to the site of the burst aneurysm. Once there, they inserted a small metal coil in hopes that the blood in my brain would clot around it and seal it off. That is exactly what happened. The other option was to open my skull and seal it. I am ever so grateful for their skill, that we didn't have to take that option, and for God's amazing grace.

I have no memory from Wednesday noon until Thursday late afternoon, when I found myself in an intensely agitated state, pulling with all of my might (and I'm pretty strong) against the restraints around my arms. The restraints were in place to prevent me from pulling the cranial fluid drainage tube protruding from the top of my head. I remember feeling so confused and angry at being restrained.

I opened my eyes to see my second son and immediately yelled at him to take off the restraints. Apparently I was quite combative. 


Scotty taking the night shift...
In his gentle and kind way, Scotty said, "No, Dad."

"Take them off," I yelled again.

"No, dad." It must have been so hard for Scotty to endure this.

Looking back, this experience was so difficult for my family. No one knew what to expect, and I was largely unaware of what was happening until Friday afternoon. Two of my adult sons live in the US, my daughter lives in Ukraine with her Ukrainian husband, and my third son lives in Korea. They have been in touch regularly. 

My sons and my daughter-in-law have been rock stars through this journey! They pitched in and did what needed to be done to keep me comfortable and keep Jeannie, my wife, sane and fed. In fact, my two sons in the photo below sat by my bedside for several hours arm wrestling me so I could be free of the restraints. I am so thankful for them.


Jonathan and Scott decompressing in Newport.
On Friday, Dec. 9, I started to come around and gain some awareness of what was happening. We were told I would likely be in ICU for two to four weeks, and then in a regular room for an undetermined amount of time. 

As I emerged from the fog of what was happening, my family began to realize I was in a serious manic state, talking nonstop, and being quite demanding and condescending. (If any of you received messages from me during this time, they may not have made sense and I am sorry!)

This note from one of my students touched me deeply.

As several days passed, I began to realize the enormity of what had happened to me and that I was alive and apparently without any impairment, and my heart was overwhelmed with gratitude to the Father for life. Notes and greetings began to pour in, and I realized that there was an army of people praying for me. I will forever be grateful to all of you. Thank you.

As mentioned earlier, we were told I would be in ICU for several weeks, but after eight days, I was moved to a regular room in the Neurology unit. 

I began to feel stronger and take longer and longer walks around the hospital, and after one day in that room, we were told I could go home...nine days after a burst brain aneurysm!


The view from my room...
Neither Jeannie or I  felt ready to go home, and then the doctor said we needed to wait until Monday for insurance reasons. We were actually quite relieved. I was in a pleasant room with a lovely view from OHSU across Portland to Mt. Hood, so we just decided to enjoy the recovery time.

I came home on Dec. 19, twelve days after the event, without any cognitive or physical impairment. It is a miracle and I will always thank God for His unmerited favor. 

The support from friends and family has been astounding and I am so grateful for you all. I have been resting and giving my brain space to heal, since there is no manual on how to heal a brain. 

Break a leg? Put a cast on, take an x-ray, and you can walk when it's healed. Traumatic brain injury? Recovery is very personal and individual and there is no clear timeline. Rest, do what you can do, and don't overdo it. That's my plan for the near future. So far, it is working.

What are some of the things I have learned from this experience? 

  • God's mercies are new every morning.
  • There are so many good people around us.
  • My family is remarkable.
  • Every day is a new day.
  • Appreciate small things.
  • Kindness is never overrated.
  • We only have today.
  • And so much more...
Why did I post this on Instagram? I have been posting pictures of travels, yet this has been the most epic journey I have ever been on. Very few people emerge from such an experience without impairment, hence the statement, "Not many people have completed this trip." I am thankful and wanted to share this journey with my IG community in hopes you might take something from this trip, too.
My wife-hero on our walk yesterday...

From here, any IG posts may have a distinct flavor of being grateful for small things, whether near home or far away. Everything doesn't need to be presented as spectacular or amazing because life is spectacular and amazing all by itself. 

Thanks for reading.


Feeling great!

Christmas Eve clouds...grateful for every day.