The night was just like any other: we were entertaining friends and having a good time. Wherever Jamaicans are gathered outside their island there shall be laughter, food and fun. Nothing seemed out of the norm at the time. In retrospect though, I remember a dull ache in the back of my head the size of a US quarter. Nothing to worry about: In my mind I was probably tired and furthermore I was laughing too much to worry about it.
Our guests left and hubby and I did the typical: took showers, kissed good night and snuggled the way we normally do to fall asleep (unless we are mad at each other). But it turned out to be less than a normal night. In the wee hours of the morning I woke up to the dull quarter-like pain extending itself to the nape of my neck and along the lower right quadrant of my head. I woke hubby up and he looked at my head and not seeing anything he told me to go back to bed and it would be fine. I once again snuggled in his arms (the place on earth I feel safest). Morning came and it was not fine, not fine at all. The pain had gotten worst and I had lost use of the right side of my body. In my head I was thinking, “this can’t be happening, I can’t be having a stroke, I am only 33 years old.” If only we knew that a possible stroke was the least of what we should fear.
Hubby, being the great guy he is remained calm, helped me get dress and brushed my teeth as within a split second I became incapable of these basic actions. At this time I cannot even remember if he woke the kids or simply left them with our live-in nanny and raced me to the hospital. Not sure why we had not called an ambulance. If I were to garner a guess I think hubby felt he needed to do everything and be everything at that moment because no one could care for me like he could. The drive from McLean Virginia to the hospital in Fairfax was uneventful except for the moment when I realized that my face felt funny and hubby was looking at me strangely. By the time we got to the ER and I was whisked passed everyone waiting I knew I was in trouble. But the actual trouble was more than we could have imagined.
I was prodded, poked and everyone suspected a stroke but low and behold it was not a stroke. In a few hours my symptoms disappeared, my face no longer drooped, I could again use my right hand and I felt fair to fine. My stroke-like symptoms had gone. The doctor came by and explained to us in a calm voice that in the process of trying to evaluate my situation they found an aneurysm in my head. WHAT? I looked at hubby and wondered if I was hearing things. Get real….I have none of the usual symptoms or possible causes of an aneurysm. I was told it was probably genetic and that it may have been there for most or all of my life. This is where the term, “ignorance is bliss” becomes most applicable. I did not care how long it had been there, I just knew it could not stay. The doctor said she doubted the aneurysm caused my earlier symptoms and that finding it was purely accidental. She sent me home with a copy of the scan and suggested that I see my family doctor the next day.
We were confused at this point. We called my mom in Jamaica and she was traumatized and got on a flight to see me. My family doctor agreed with the ER doctor that the aneurysm did not seem to pose any risk. It was very small and seemed stable. I guess the same way many of us viewed Egypt (the stable part not the small part) before the recent events.
Fast forward 2 weeks later and I was still having the headaches of my life. Our family doctor referred me to a neurologist (she wanted to avoid neurosurgeons, who tend to be ‘surgery happy’ as are most surgeons, I think). The neurologist tried medicines, injections in my neck, patches etc. – all to no avail. The mega headaches continued. At this point the doctors all felt that the aneurysm was too small to be causing the problems but they couldn’t figure it out. By this point I was a hot mess. I was in panic mode, hubby tried hard to hide his fears and my mom was even more of a mess. I think hubby felt at this point that it was his duty to maintain some semblance of calm but knowing him the way I do I know he was hurting.
Fast forward to October 4, 2008. The neurologist decided to refer me to a neurosurgeon and in his wisdom he thought it best to recommend one who no longer performed surgeries. This he thought would be in my best interest as he was not convinced that I needed surgery. How wrong we all were. By this time my mom had returned to Jamaica and hubby was back at work doing his weekly trips to his office in New York and coming home on Thursday nights. So I was off to the neurosurgeon on my own because it was nothing more than routine. I saw the neurosurgeon and I left with only a thought as to why he wore the ugliest shoes I had ever seen. These guys make serious money so why in heaven’s name were his shoes so ugly? Anyway, that aside, he told me to head home and he would call me after he had consulted with another neurosurgeon who had also been present for my examination in his office.
I drove myself home and did not even get a chance to wait as my cell rang as I made my way up the stairs to our bedroom. It remains the worst phone call I have ever received. “Mrs. Rodriques, we feel your aneurysm has started leaking. We cannot be sure and it is too late to do a spinal tap to confirm so you need to go to the hospital immediately. Have someone drive you to the Georgetown Hospital; I will inform the ER of your pending arrival. See you in a short while Natalie.” The tears flowed from my eyes like never before. What was he really saying? I called hubby, I called my mom and then tried to figure out how to get to the hospital. The nanny had to stay with the kids so I immediately called friends and in no time I was at the hospital, care of Patrice Ford (the best person to have at your bedside during a crisis – can you all say kickass: that’s Patrice). She was shortly joined by Michael, my hubby’s friend from childhood. Those two human beings distracted me until and even after hubby arrived. My mom got there by the next morning on the first flight out of Jamaica to DC.
The story is stretching too long so I will cut to the chase and tell you that I was sent to the ICU and introduced to Dr. McGrail who saved my life. On October 6, 2008 he opened my head (to my mom’s dismay – she maintained that I should not do the surgery. The fear of the unknown was too much for her. Not to mention the scary stories we had read about brain surgeries from the internet). Thank God I had trusted my instincts and agreed to the surgery. When they opened my head they confirmed that the aneurysm had actually been leaking. I could have and would have slowly died without knowing it.
The surgery itself was successful. I will forever live with the scar across my forehead and head, I will forever think back on those many hours they spent clipping my aneurysm, I will always have to do CT scans every few years and I will always have periodic headaches. That bone they could not restore perfectly in my head will always cause a bulge to the side of my face (hardly noticeable now) but I am alive. I am alive and well. I get to see my children grow and to snuggle with my hubby at nights. I get to argue with my mom (it’s like a sport between us) as often as we wish and I get to laugh with my friends, my dad, my mom and my siblings. I get to live my life the way hubby and I choose. For this I will be forever grateful. For this I sometimes shed a tear of gratefulness and other times it is tears of fear. Fear that another aneurysm will rear its ugly head (the risk exists and is real). Fear for my girls who stand a strong chance of inheriting this from me. Every time they complain of a headache I wince and worry but by the power vested in me I will not allow this blemish in my life to control me. Unlike the many athletic races I lost in high school, I will outrun my medical history so that I can live to see my husband’s hair turn gray and my grandkids. Take that aneurysm!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Until next time……ONE LOVE!!!!!!!