TALK TO A
Established April 15, 1995
University of West Georgia Disclaimer
28 May 1997
I have been a spacecraft analyst on the Galileo project since 1988. Besides exploring space, I tend my garden, my kitties, and my husband of 24 years. I was the consummate couch potato for 28 years, but now I am a trail runner/triathlete and plan to celebrate my 50th birthday with a 50k run (yikes!) I also love birding and hiking. As the list of aneurysm narrations grows, the resiliency of the human body and spirit continues to amaze me.
It was a very warm early December afternoon in 1989, two weeks after my 40th birthday. I'd been working in the yard most of the day after picking up my new glasses (to get rid of those darned headaches I'd been having). I was covered in dirt, had compost in my shoes, and was fifteen minutes from taking a shower and going to the movies with my husband. I was stacking some stones for future use when an indescribable feeling formed in my head. A burning sensation erupted on my left cheek. As I ran for the house, my gait was clumsy and almost staggering. I passed my husband and muttered something about needing a doctor. I flung myself on the bed and was horrified that I was slowly getting paralyzed and deaf on the right side.
After an exasperating attempt to wade through HMO voice mail, my husband gave up and drove me to the nearest hospital. I barfed on the way there. They CAT-scanned me (showed nothing), but by that time the paralysis had diminished and I walked to the restroom like a normal person. Still, they transferred me to a larger hospital for observation overnight.
I was discharged in the morning, was home fifteen minutes (making coffee--they had been *out* of it at the hospital!), and had a greater stroke. Back in the hospital-- for a week this time--I had many tests (3 MRIs, cerebral angiogram, others), few doctor visits, no information, surly nurses, and a bland diet (because the doctor was convinced something was wrong with my stomach because I had thrown up!) I was released with no diagnosis and no instructions.
For six weeks we tried to get my HMO's attention. They gave vague hints of MS, brain tumors, clotting diseases, but *no* test results indicated any of these. And I was getting better physically, but emotionally I was a wreck from all this professional apathy. Finally, we went on our own to UCLA School of Neurosurgery. I was diagnosed in about 10 minutes. Vertebral-basilar dissections are rare but they see them enough at UCLA to recognize them quickly. Two weeks of bed rest were prescribed, and a transcranial Doppler ultrasound at the end of this time confirmed the dissection was resolving. I returned to work in March and saw my spacecraft all the way to Jupiter (a milestone I was sure I'd miss).
This event marked me forever, of course. The good--I learned my husband is great in a crisis, I have become a confirmed hedonist, I don't sweat the small stuff, I dare to be eccentric. Near-death can be very liberating. The less good--I get motion-sick really easily, have worse balance than before, am probably locked into big group insurance forever. OTOH, I have done a marathon and several triathlons since then and probably will always be trying to prove "I'm really ok now, right?" Oh yes, and 40 can be (nearly) fatal. I have proof.
Update: 29 July 2009
This fall will mark my 60th birthday and 20 years since my aneurysm adventure. I am planning something special and will do a real update at the end of the year.
Discussion, comments, or questions: Eileen Clark
© Copyright 1997 Eileen Clark
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