TALK TO A
Established April 15, 1995
University of West Georgia Disclaimer
I am a 29 year old female. Graduated with honors from Montgomery County Community College in May, 1997. Was just accepted to Temple University, and I plan on getting my BA in Psychology. Temple has offered me "scholar grants" because of my GPA (3.85). I was also offered more in scholar grants from the state of PA. Love to write short stories, poetry, etc. Have had 2 brain hemorrhages due to an AVM. The 1st was in Feb., 1983, and the 2nd was in July, 1997. I am now fully recovered from the 2nd hemorrhage and I feel just great. Went back to work as a bartender about 6 weeks ago, and, I never thought I'd say this...but I am really glad to be working again.
11 December 1997
Tuesday, February 1, 1983 started out like any other day. The annoying buzz of the alarm clock woke me up, and I threw it across the room, like I do every morning. I wondered how many more times I was going to have to throw the clock in order to break it. I drug myself out of bed, took a shower, and got dressed. When I got to school, I met my friends in the bathroom to smoke cigarettes, and apply the forbidden make-up. (I was not allowed to wear make-up at the age of 13). The morning classes were just as boring and uneventful as usual. At lunchtime, I went to the cafeteria, met my friends, and ate a popsicle. Reluctantly, I went to my afternoon classes.
I was sitting in class, bored as ever, when I started to feel heat rush up through my face. It was a searing heat that started at my jaw line, traveled up through my cheekbones, and settled at my temples. My head started to throb with the force of a jackhammer, and I started to feel nauseous. I figured that I must be coming down with a flu or something. So, I decided to go to the bathroom, and lie down on the cool, cement floor.
I got up from my chair to get the hall pass and sign out of the classroom. When I tried to walk, I discovered that my legs wouldn't work. I had to use other students' desks as crutches to get to my destination at the back of the room. The fire in my head was becoming unbearable, but I couldn't tell if it was a fever, or the fact that almost everyone in the room was staring at me. When I finally reached the hall pass and tried to write my name down, I found that I could not write. I also found that my legs would no longer hold me up. So, I leaned against the wall to keep from falling. The teacher noticed me and said, "Is there something wrong, Miss Gretz?" I simply nodded my head, and slid down to the floor.
The teacher cleared the classroom, and came to my side. I started to intermittently vomit and faint. I tried to figure out what could possibly be wrong, but trying to figure things out made my head hurt more, and I was becoming increasingly delirious. So I stopped trying to learn what was wrong, and simply lay there, waiting to wake up from this nightmare. Unfortunately, that never happened.
By now, I could hear 3 or 4 voices around me. In between faints, I tried to see who was in the room. My vision was blurred, but I could vaguely recognize 3 other teachers in the room. They were arguing about the fact that the nurse was not at the school. I heard someone say, "The nurse should be here at all times, she should not be allowed to take off 2 afternoons a week!" Someone else said, "Okay, call the paramedics!" "Oh God," I thought, "they're calling the hospital! I'm a goner!"
The next thing I knew, I was in an ambulance, surrounded by unfamiliar voices. "Victim keeps losing consciousness...Victim is vomiting..." I thought, "Am I the victim? Are these people talking about me? Am I dying?" I never gave voice to any of these questions, as I was afraid of hearing the answers.
The next thing I knew, I was in the Emergency Room. There was a Doctor on my left, and a Nurse on my right. "You're going through a drug overdose, dear. We need to know what drugs you've taken, so we can help you." the nurse said.
I replied, "I haven't taken any drugs! Just let me lay down and go to sleep!" My voice was slurred, but I didn't try to figure out why. The Doctors wouldn't believe me, and pumped my stomach anyway. All they came up with was the popsicle I had eaten for lunch that day.
I woke up in a very dark room that smelled of disinfectants. After a few minutes, I realized that I was in the hospital. There were tubes coming out of everywhere, and wires attached to suction cups on my chest. "What the hell happened?" I asked no one.
Just then , the Doctor came in the room, and explained what was wrong. He said, "You showed the signs of a typical drug overdose when you were brought in. That is why they pumped your stomach. That was 6 days ago. You slipped into a coma right after they pumped your stomach, your family has been very worried about you. They will be happy to hear that you are awake." "When are you gonna' tell me what happened?" I slurred. "Right now. You've had a brain hemorrhage. Do you know what that is?" "Isn't that when your brain bleeds on the inside?" I asked. "Yes, it is." He said. "Am I gonna' get better? My voice is slurred, my right side is hardly working, and my eyes are messed up..." "Well," he said, "however good your body is in about a year, is probably how good it's going to get."
I didn't want to hear any more, so I turned on my side and closed my eyes. I guess the Doctor figured out my body language, because he left the room. All I kept thinking was, "What about gymnastics? What about running track? What about field hockey? How am I gonna' write?" These questions were spinning through my head non-stop.
A week later, I was taken out of ICU, and put in a regular room. My mother and father visited me every day. And my spirits were getting a little better. One day, right after I was moved into a regular room, the Doctor and my mother came to talk to me.
The Doctor began, "Your mother has already told me of your concern about physical abilities, especially because of your love for sports. But try to remember that you are lucky to be alive." "Lucky!? Why don't you trade places with me for a few days, see how lucky you feel!" I cried.
After ignoring my outburst, the Doctor said, "The bleed caused some pretty extensive damage to your motor nerve, which is the nerve that provides you with your coordination. With the proper therapy, you will regain the strength in your right side, but I'm afraid you won't be able to participate in sports like hockey, and gymnastics anymore. These sports require much agility and balance, which are talents you don't posess at this time. But there is a good chance that you will regain much of your coordination, given time."
I lay on the hospital bed, staring at the ceiling. The Doctor's words were like a punch in the gut. I wanted to make everyone else feel the pain I was going through. I hated everyone! But I decided to fight this hemorrhage, and get as physically well as I could.
After 4 weeks, I was released from the hospital. but before I left, the doctor told me that I needed brain surgery to clip off the AVM and insure that it would not hemorrhage again. The idea of brain surgery scared me, but it was something that was necessary, so I really didn't have a choice.
Two months later, after searching the country, my mother found a doctor in New York who was willing to do this complicated operation. We all (my mother, step-father, and father) went to New York in April of the same year for the operation.
After 12 grueling hours, the doctor announced that the surgery was successful. I was released from the hospital and went home to finish the 12 month recovery period from the hemorrhage 2 1/2 months earlier.
I taught myself to write with my left hand, and to live without sports. My speech returned to normal, and, after about 2 years, I could walk without anyone detecting that my right side was less than perfect. The only things that remained to be a problem were my eyes. School became very difficult because of the sight problems, but I persevered and managed to graduate with the rest of my class in 1987.
After taking a few years off, I went to community college. After about 4 years, I got my associates degree with a 3.85 in May, 1997. I was awarded the William A. Bradley award for getting a 4.0 in my psychology classes. I was planning on continuing my education at Temple in September. I decided to take a summer class to get a head start earning credits towards my bachelor's degree.
On Tuesday, July 1, 1997, I was sitting on my couch in my apartment studying for a final. I started to feel really hot. Figuring it was a fever, I stretched out on the couch. As I lay there, waiting for the heat to pass, I wondered where I could have caught this flu. No one that I know was sick...I couldn't figure it out.
Just then, my head started to throb...with the force of a jackhammer. The heat that I was feeling throughout my body traveled up to my head, and was becoming unbearable. I decided to bring the fever down by soaking in the bathtub, filled with cold water. When I got up to go into the bathroom, my legs wouldn't hold me up. So I crawled into the bathroom and turned on the faucet in the bathtub. I was so hot that I didn't want to waste any time getting undressed. So I got in the tub with all my clothes on. I was only in the tub for about 5 minutes when I started feeling faint. Not wanting to drown, I got out of the tub. My legs were even weaker at this point, so I continued to crawl. I crawled across the bathroom floor, and into the bedroom.
I lay on the bed, thinking that the last time I felt this bad, I was having a brain hemorrhage. But I was sure it wasn't a hemorrhage, as I was told that nothing like that would ever happen again. I thought about calling 911, but if nothing was wrong, I would have felt stupid. I was pretty sure it was just a flu that I would be able to get over by myself. So I just went to sleep with the hope that I would wake up feeling better... that never happened.
My boyfriend came home about 8 hours later, and found me unconscious. He called 911, and I was rushed to the hospital. I spent a few days on life support in a coma. When I was coherent (about 2 weeks later) one of the ICU nurses asked me if I knew why I was in the hospital. I told her that I had no idea why I was there. She told me that my brain bled again. I was really confused, I was told that a hemorrhage would never happen again...
As it turned out, the doctor who performed the surgery in 1983 accidentally left a microscopic piece of the AVM. So, it grew back over 14 years and ruptured again. It was a fluke that was not supposed to happen. All the nightmares that I had after the 1st hemorrhage came true, and I was forced to recover from my 2nd brain hemorrhage.
Update 16 Jan 98
The other day, I looked in the mirror and saw "Liesl" for the 1st time in 6 months. That sick girl has been the only person I've seen for a long time. I probably feel about 98% "normal". I moved out of my other apt. last weekend and it did wonders for me. The 2nd hemmorhage occured there, and I think the apt. held too many bad memories for me. Picking up my new Jeep today, and school starts next Wed. I feel like I'm finally getting my life back! I never thought I'd be so happy to feel "right" again. It has been a bigger deal than I thought it would be. I was beginning to think I was going to feel terrible forever. I thank your site, and all the caring people I've met there who contributed to my recovery. I know that I'm not fully recovered yet, but I'm close.
Update 14 Feb 99
I got out of the hospital this AM. Had to have another angiogram (my 9th one!), The angio sucked ( as usual) but I got some great news! The residual AVM is now 90% smaller than it was a year ago. I am soooo happy!
I'll have to get another angio in about 6 months, just so the doctor can be sure, but it looks like this nightmare is finally coming to a close. No more hemorrhages!
Update 11 Dec 1999
Well, it's official, I'm completely cured! I had my 10th and final Angiogram on Dec. 9. My neurosurgeon said that the last AVM is completely gone. I'm going to get one more Angiogram in about 2 years, but that's just for my own piece of mind, the neurosurgeon said it's not necessary. (I think my narrative explains my "paranoia").
My nightmare has finally come to a close (hopefully for good this time), and my life is better for all of it. Believe it or not, if I could live my life over, I wouldn't change anything. The hemorrhages have allowed me to grow so much as a person. I have met some really wonderful people who I otherwise would not have had the privilege of knowing.
I may not be the same person I was two and a half years ago, but I don't want to be that person anymore. I think I like who I've become... clumsier perhaps, but much wiser.
Well, I'll give another update when I'm finished celebrating (should be in a year or so. LOL)
Update 17 Jul 2000
Well, I saw my eye surgeon at Wills Eye Hospital yesterday for what I thought was to be the appt. to set up my eye muscle surgery. But, after examining my eye movement recordings, the doctor has decided that he would like me to give a new contact a try. He said that the surgery was pretty experimental & risky, so he would like to exhaust all other options before he does it.
I have to go see him in a month, & if the contact isn't doing the job, we'll talk about surgery. But even then, he can't promise that the surgery will help at all.
I was pretty upset at first, b/c I felt like, "Okay, so what you're basically telling me is that you can't do much more than you could 15 years ago!" But, after a little while, I realized that the doctors are doing their best. I'm going to go ahead with school. If the contact doesn't help, I'll just wear an eye patch.
Update 5 May 2001
Well, I'm starting a new chapter in my life next month. I'm moving from my hometown of Philadelphia to Scottsdale, Az. It'll suck to leave my family. I've been through so much with them over the past 18 years, but they're all behind me 110%, which makes it a little easier (I guess).
My boyfriend was offered a promotion to transfer out there within his company. I work for my brothers mortgage company, & he just opened an office in Phoenix. So I'll be "set" for work also. As you can see, we cannot pass up this opportunity.
Eric & I have been through hell over the past few years, & now we get to go live "happily ever after" in the sunshine! Just like a fairy tale, isn't it?
Update 8 Sep 2001
Well, here's proof that slow and steady wins the race: I've spent the last 4 years of my life searching for a neuro-opthalmologist who could help me with my vision. They all said the same thing to me, "You're eyes are inoperable and no glasses can fix them." I never bought that diagnosis and kept searching anyway, even with my friends and family telling me to give up. I don't blame them for that, because I'm sure they were just tired of seeing me get my hopes up only to have them dashed when I spoke to the doctor. Many people have accused me of being stubborn and delusional about my vision problems. Well, they're all eating their words now! hee hee I found a neuro-opthalmologist here in AZ who can help me! He's going to perform eye muscle surgery on Sept. 24.
The moral of the story: If you really want something, don't ever give up...and don't take "no" for an answer!
Update 17 Oct 2001
It's really tough to say if my eyes have improved or not. Because, as the dr. said, I've got a long road ahead of me. My brain has to "relearn" how to use both eyes at once again. They haven't worked together in 18 years, that's over 1/2 my life. Anyway, I still have to close the right eye a lot, but less and less often. And I've been forcing myself to read a Dean Koontz (my favorite author) novel without winking my eye closed. It's a pain, and it takes a little longer than if I were to close my eye, but I think this hard work will be rewarded (at least it better be!)
BTW, this is the 1st novel I've read in over 4 years, and I've rediscovered my love of books. I used to get lost in books all the time. Now I remember why I did! :)
And one more thing....Arizona is the bestest place on earth! This is the happiest I've ever been.
Update: 8 Feb 2003
Just before my stepfather passed away (3 years ago), he asked me to promise him that I would get an Angiogram every 3 years for the rest of my life. As illustrated in my narrative, if I had gotten just one Angiogram in the 15 years between the two bleeds, the 2nd bleed could have been prevented. Hindsight can really suck... hehe
Well, I kept my promise & had an Angiogram 3 years and 1 month after my last one. It came out that I am still AVM-free! I just know he's up there smiling from ear to ear right now.
Oh, Feb. 1, 2003 was the 20-year anniversary of the 1st hemorrhage. To celebrate, I climbed to the top of Squaw Peak Mountain. Oh what a feeling!
Well, I hope everyone is happy & healthy. I'm usually very happy, but not necessarily healthy. Now I know for a fact that I'm both!! Life is a hoot!
Update: 19 September 2006
Well, it's been a while, so I think it's time for an update: For starters, I earned my 1 year sobriety chip in AA on September 5, 2006. This past year has been tough, but I wouldn't trade it for anything! Sobriety is a hoot!
I've repaired my relationship with my boyfriend, my brother has given me a vehicle, and I've started working full time at a hotel. I haven't been sick in over a year, and my movements are not as "unbalanced" as they used to be. And all I had to do was sober up!!
Now I feel as though NOTHING can get the best of me! :) I've survived 2 brain hemorrhages, 3 brain surgeries, and Alcoholism. I only wish my father was here to see my triumphs. But it's all good...I know that he sees me, and I know that he's proud. I am happier, and healthier (now there's a switch! lol) than I've ever been in my life.
Hope everyone is doing well!
Update: 19 April 2010
I have returned to school. I go to Brown-Mackie College in Phoenix. The courses are quite accelerated (a 4 credit course each month). Needless to say, it's got me super-busy! But I wouldn't have it any other way. I am in their OTA (Occupational Therapy Assistant) program, and in 2 years, I'll be a certified, licensed OTA. I'm getting a positive twist out of my negative experiences. And that twist is: Perspective. I know, only too well, what OT is all about from a patient's point of view, & now I get to use that as a way to relate to, & hopefully inspire, my future patients.
I truly believe that I would not be able to succeed in any of this if I weren't sober, & I DO NOT take that for granted. I'll have 5 years of sobriety in September, & these have been the best 5 years of my life.
©Copyright 1997 Liesl Gretz
All Rights Reserved - Fair Use acknowledged
Liesl was highlighted in an article, "But Doctor I Can't Have That", in the June 2002 issue of "Women's Day" magazine.
Also please read the news release regarding Liesl, who, in an effort to get increased appropriations for Heart & Stroke research, gave testimony to Congress on April 14, 1999. Thank you, Liesl, for helping all of us!
Discussion, comments, or questions: Liesl