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.



Unknown said...

So very thankful you are here to share your journey!!! Praising GOD for what HE has done for you and your family!!!Continued prayers as your body heals! <3

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing Steve. You made me cry. You know I don't like to smear my makeup! You and Jeannie mean so much to me and I thank the Lord for His healing touch. He has given us a gift. It makes me wonder who needs your story to write theirs. Only God knows. Love you friend!

Unknown said...

Thanks, Emily!

Unknown said...

Love you back. Thanks.

ChristyKaye said...

I am so thankful to see God doing a good work & healing in you. I did not know what you had been going through until Dec 21 when I read a post on FB. When you were going thru your most dufficult days, Don was feeling very ill, & I hadn't been on FB as much. He started getting sick when we were on vacation the very end of Nov & was sick again the first part of Dec after we returned home. Trips to the dr did not produce any results. More trips to the dr lead to a CT scan which the dr thought would show that Don had picked up parasites in Mexico. On Christmas Eve, the dr called with news we were totally unprepared for & totally not expecting: there was a tumor on Don's pancreas. The dr wanted Don to be able to be at home for Christmas, but he wanted him to be at the hospital first thing Dec 26 for a biopsy & to place a stent in his bile duct (to hopefully decrease his jaundice), since the tumor was placing pressure on the bile duct. The stent was placed in the bile duct, but the biopsy didn't go as planned, so the results were "inconclusive with possible suspect cancerous cells." Don was released from the hospital 3 days later after his jaundice improved. He was then scheduled at a hospital in Beaverton for an endoscopic ultrasound to get a really clear picture of the tumor, to perform a more complete needle biopsy & to place a new stent. The preliminary results of the biopsy showed no cancer cells; but we will have the complete results of the biopsy & the results of the ultrasound in 1-2 weeks. We are very encouraged by the initial results & the very positive attitude of the dr. Your blog has encouraged us, too. Going thru a crisis & receiving a second chance changes your perspective & attitude forevermore. I know what that is like, as it happened to me in 1987. I am praying God continues completing the healing in you. --Christy & Don Sullivan