One of a Kind
300,000 Americans have an (or multiple) arteriovenous malformation (AVM), and most don't know they do. Very few people ever experience major life threatening problems because of this, but I was a lucky hemorrhagic stroke winner and survivor. I am also one of a kind, because AVMs are rare.
January 17, 2010, started off as a normal Sunday for me. I had worked my normal six hour shift where I am employed, and felt fine all day. After I got off work, I got myself ready to go out to sing karaoke with my friends, just like we always did every Sunday evening. My friends picked me up because I decided I didn't want to drive that night, and off to the bar we went in an anticipation of a fun-filled night.
We sat at our normal table joking around, chatting and listening to each other sing. I was having my first beer of the night when about halfway through my glass I started feeling a pain in my head near my sinus left sinus cavity. I didn't really think anything of it, and was called up next to sing my usual song by Portishead. I got up behind the microphone trying to ignore this pain that was suddenly becoming more pronounced, and when my song started I began going along with my normal flow, but I also felt that something wasn't right. To this day, I have no idea how I remembered the lyrics, and managed to stay calm while I was up in front of everyone at that bar singing in pain.
My song finished, and I returned to my table. I picked up my phone to text back a friend who had asked about whether or not we were doing karaoke that night, when I noticed something a little odd. I couldn't see my right hand while I was touching the screen on my phone, and shortly after, I began seeing orange triangles flashing in the corner of my right eye.
The fact that I already had previous anxiety problems did not help me calm down at all after noticing this all going on, along with the pain in my head. I looked at my friend (we'll call her Girlfriend #1), and told her I thought something was wrong. We both assumed I was having a panic attack, and another friend (Girlfriend #2) thought I may have been experiencing a visual migraine.
Both of them tried their best to calm me down by having me step into the bathroom with them, but I absolutely could not relax. We moved outdoors, and Girlfriend #1 asked if I wanted to be taken to the hospital. Instantly I refused, because at the time I completely feared hospitals, hospitalization and surgery. I told her I would just go home to sleep off the headache, but at this point I had scared her so much, she decided we were going to the hospital anyway despite my strong desire to just go home. Girlfriend #2 strongly supported her decision at this point. This is something I will forever be thankful for. Had I not gone to the Emergency Room that night, I would not be sitting here telling this story today.
I became very emotional on the way to the ER. I did not like what was going on in my visual fields. I was tired of my head hurting, and I especially hated not knowing what was wrong with me. After what seemed like the longest car ride of my life, we finally arrived at the ER that Girlfriend #1's boyfriend had suggested going to. This is another decision I'll be forever thankful for, because it resulted in me getting the best care I could ask for. Her boyfriend dropped us off at the doors, and inside the 3 of us went, still having no idea what my problem was.
It wasn't until I got to the counter that I could really tell something was just completely wrong. The man at the desk handed me the patient information sheet to fill out, and when I looked at it, reading wasn't coming natural to me like it should have. I was so confused by this one little piece of paper, and I had to think very hard just to fill out my birth date. Eventually, I ended up handing the paper off to Girlfriend #1 to fill out, because I just wasn't understanding any of the words no matter how much thought I put into them. I was very quickly called back to have the nurse check out my symptoms. She very calmly asked me what I was experiencing, and I nervously fidgeted while explaining to her what had happened at the bar. As I was telling her my story, I noticed that the eyesight in my right eye had stopped with the visuals, but my left eye had suddenly developed a blurry looking cap over my vision. Very soon after that it suddenly felt like someone had stuffed both of my ears with cotton balls. I remember shaking my legs in extreme worry, and my voice sounding so alarmed when I told her, "Now I feel like I can barely hear anything."
She led me back to one of the rooms where I waited to be seen by a doctor, and turned off the lights at my request. I was lying on the bed in there trying my hardest to get myself to calm down, but somehow I ended up making my panic worse. I was so scared that I decided one of my friends needed to be with me in that room. I didn't care who, I just did not want to suffer by myself. I got off the bed to wander down the hallway in order to get Girlfriend #1's attention being that she was the first to come to my mind.
Something was different though. When I proceeded to walk down the hallway, it felt like I was floating. I had absolutely no feeling from my waist down, and this caused panic in a level I had never experienced before. Yet, without feeling in my legs, each step still felt so heavy. My feet would not leave the floor, it was as if I had magnetic shoes that were attached to a magnetic surface. I dragged each foot so slowly, and I felt so confused while I was crying. The man at the receptionist desk had caught sight of me, and asked what I was doing. I begged him to get my friend with the dark hair to come back into the room with me. I honestly don't remember how I got back to the room I was waiting in, but I'm pretty sure they didn't let me walk anymore.
We waited a little bit more, and suddenly I had a bad feeling that I needed to vomit. Thankfully the nurse was in with me, and was able to quickly bring a pan to my side. It seemed like the most forceful thing that had ever come out of my body, and thankfully, it only happened once. Not too long after that, I was told the doctors wanted me to go to CT so they could check out my brain due to the factor this would have been my first migraine (if it was in fact a migraine). The CT tech came to get me with a wheelchair, and off I went into the machine. I wasn't even in there for more than two minutes before he shut the machine off. He very quickly and very quietly wheeled me back to my room, and that's when I knew things were getting serious. About five minutes later, one of the female doctors came in to let me know they had discovered bleeding in my brain, and that an ambulance was coming to transport me to University of Nebraska Medical Center.
It wasn't until the next morning that I met my neurosurgeon who told me I had just suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. He was honestly surprised at how conscious and alert I still was. I could answer when my birthday was, and tell the nurses what hospital I was at when they asked.
My brain had bled due to an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) in the left occipital lobe, which ended up causing partial blindness in the right corners of both eyes (later confirmed by a neuro opthamologist). I was also later told that for the size of bleed I experienced (about a half dollar) I was very fortunate to be alive. I should at the very least be paralyzed on my right side, but I cheated death, and cheated a lot of the statistics that most stroke survivors fit into.
Never again will I take the simple things in life for granted. From being able to use the bathroom on my own, and not having to use a bedpan, to walking without feeling like I might topple over after days of bed rest. Even short-term memory is something I've learned to appreciate when I am having my good days, and not struggling with it. What doesn't kill you really does make you stronger, and to know that I survived the third leading cause of death barely bruised just makes me that much more appreciative of life.
If you would like to read more about my story, or people who have been through similar situations to mine please feel free to check out this link: My Web Page.
Learn more about hemorrhagic stroke.