I was a 28 year old law-student when visiting the United States in March 1994. It was term-break and I was looking forward to visit my family that hosted me as an exchange-student 1982/83. After a one-week-stay in Ohio I intended to meet my friend Casimir at Daytona, Florida at the annual bike-week.
I was very exited when leaving Frankfurt/Germany and it was a very warm welcome arriving this Monday, Feb. 28th, 1994 at the airport in Columbus, Ohio. Even though I hadn't seen my folks for eight years it was just like they still were "my family".
The first night I had a hard time to find some rest. It was the jet-lag, I figured, and I didn't worry much. The next night's rest was about as bad but I forced myself through the day as I couldn't sleep either. As I remember we talked until 10:30 p.m. that night when I went to bed to force myself to get some rest. I already had a headache as I hadn't slept enough (as I thought then) and had taken some aspirin. I just remember standing at the bathroom sink, getting ready for bed when I got this strange feeling coming up my spines and I passed out.
Waking up I found myself lying across the bathroom floor, face to the ground, somebody calling me. I recognized the voice of my "mom" but couldn't turn my head or move. My whole body felt like a foot that had gone to sleep. I was scared as I instantly thought I had suffered a stroke. I have been having high blood-pressure since I was 14 and had several occurrences of sudden, headaches in the years before which had been very scary. I never talked about this with my doctor as I didn't want to appear being hypochondriac.
I don't remember much of being taken to the small Morrow-County-Hospital by ambulance that night. This, the surgery and my recovery could have been the story if there was not the wrong diagnosis that night. After an hour or so I had recovered and could move again. The doctors figured that I had just been overtired and thus passed out (I never passed out in my entire life before). They diagnosed a concussion and send me to bed for the next four days.
It was Saturday, March 5, that I had my first good night rest. I insisted on a sleeping-pill the night before and it was a relief to have slept a whole night until I was woken-up at 9:30 a.m. (usually I get up at 6:00 a.m. and wake up the whole house by whistling under the shower). This morning I agreed to stay at home alone while my folks went shopping for the week-end. To see them leave is all I remember. The rest I was told.
When they came back I must have been very confused and suffered a lot of pain. The emergency-squad took me to the County-Hospital again. This time they used an angiography and diagnosed a bleeding in the brain. I was taken to Ohio-State-University-Hospital (OSUH) right away. This night Dr. Lawrence Mervis, the neurosurgeon who was in charge of me, called my parents in Germany and informed them. They were celebrating my father's 57th birthday that evening with some friends.
Probably most people haven't heard of an aneurysm before if it wasn't for a loved one suffering from it. Well, at least my parents didn't understand exactly what happened to me and decided to let my German physician call back and get some better understanding. As they realized my serious condition they decided to take the next available plane and stay with me until my recovery. They called my girl-friend, Christine, who was visiting my brother. She also insisted to come along. On the way home she wrecked her car, luckily stayed uninjured. And she did join my parents to visit me in the States and stayed until I could return to Germany.
It was quite busy at the OSUH waiting room for the next weeks. I had to wait for surgery for about two weeks until the swelling of my brain was reduced. My father wrote a diary during the time, and I at times, must have gone through incredible pain, and often was totally confused, didn't know what happened. But there were also times that I was clear in my mind, that my father and I talked like never before. My parents decided to think positives, they didn't allow negative thoughts about my surgery and later recovery. Finally surgery was planed for March 16. I thought too late of donating my own blood to be given through surgery. I wanted to reduce any further risks. I asked my parents to turn off machines in case of not regaining consciousness. Casimir came from Florida and visited me for two days. When he left he said: "See you later, bud!", not "fare-well" or just "good-bye". He wanted me to think positive.
Then the surgeons Dr. Mervis, Dr. Zerrick and Dr. Pikul started to work to clip the aneurysm. The surgery took more than eight hours. A hemorrhage during surgery made it necessary to clip the (A1) artery for 7 min and 30 sec. This is a critical time so the doctors "loaded" me with pentobarbital to place me in a pentobarbital coma. During all this time my family and friends waiting in the waiting-area were regularly informed about the progress made.
As surgery was over a long time of waiting began. Would I wake up from coma? Would I be the same as before? The operation affected the speech-area of the brain: Would I be able to speak again? A lot of worries for my loved ones and friends. That's part of the story, too, not just my suffering. Finally I woke up three days later. The answers to all the questions should come slowly.
Obviously I didn't know where I was. I believed I was in Germany. Well, as I wasn't in Germany (my father convinced me) I must be in Switzerland (I live just 300 yrds. from the German-Swiss-boarder and often patients are brought to ). It took a long time for me to realize what happened. Until today the last thing I remember is my folks leaving this Saturday, March 5. Strangely enough I differed between German and English and spoke both languages appropriately with the different visitors/staff.
I did not regain any memory of the time until I woke up from coma, two weeks later. Even my memory of this time is fairly poor. Just single occasions are still vivid to my mind. Upon discharge I was put on Dilantin (300 mg per day, in Germany we continued with same dose of ZENTROPIL) for almost one year. For the first month they also put me on Tylenol and Diamox. I lost about 30 pounds during my stay in hospital, basically muscles, and had to learn walking again. I got very forgetful and told the same things over and over, sometimes didn't recall things I experienced just a few minutes before. Even today I have this problem sometimes.
After just four months I tried to continue with my studies, in vain, as I realized a year later. My neurologist urged me to go this way even though he knew I would not be able to do so successfully, as he told me later. But at least I continued going to the university, building up social contacts again and training my brain to memorize, analyse - work again.
Nevertheless it was and is very frustrating sometimes. I tried to work on term-papers but had to resign over and over, couldn't pass tests until last spring. Since last fall I'm trying to pass my last term-paper to be admitted for exams but it seems a hurdle I can't overcome yet. Maybe it takes just more time to heal and recover. Or is it just an excuse for myself? - sometimes that's what I struggle with.
The relation-ship to my parents got much closer. We care even more for each other.
In the meanwhile I decided to use the given time better than before. Christine and I married on my birthday 1994. My friend Casimir is my brother-in-law now. We've been visiting Hawaii in spring 1995 instead of Daytona bike-week 1994. Last summer Christine and I had been visiting my parents in China. My father decided to finish his career working for a joint-venture in China. Maybe I finish my law-studies within the next year or so.
My chances in finding a job look bad at the moment as we have the highest unemployment-rate ever in Germany. My chances to survive were worse, three years ago!
Konstanz, Germany, February 10, 1997
In front of the Cancer Hospital of OSUH there is a statue called HOPE. The artist, Alfred Tibor, a Holocaust survivor, created the 13-foot statue as a symbol of hope for cancer victims - and all humanity. My father got in contact with the artist and purchased for me a miniature of bronze. An engraving on the base of the statue says:
"As a survivor of a great many hardships in my life, I never lost faith and I never gave up hope that tomorrow would bring a better, and more beautiful future for all."
Update 19 Dec 98
It´s been almost two years that I wrote my narrative. At that time I didn´t believe anymore that I could make it to final law-exams. Of course there´re worse things after a ruptured aneurysm than not completing your studies - but I already had invested so much time, efforts, believe and hope into this. The support-group helped me to understand that I was one of the lucky guys out there who not only survived but also got pretty much back into normal life. Wasn´t it indicated at least to try to pass?!
Well, another half year passed and I, again, flunked this important qualification-test that was necessary to be admitted for exam. Exactly a year ago I finally took the hurdle and was able to go for the 1/2 year preparatory-course for final exams. September 01 - 11 I took the seven 5-hour-exams. Not the topics, but to concentrate for 5 hours was hard.
Yesterday we finally got the results - and I passed! You´d say "of course he did - why else would he add on to his narrative?" I answer you: This little add-on took 4 1/2 years of my life and with this I like to encourage anyone who suffered an aneurysm-rupture to aim for the highest goals. You might not reach them in the time you expected, you might not reach them at all. But since four years I have this sticker at my desk that helped me through all of this:
Not everyone who fights for his goals can win. But those who do not fight have lost right in the beginning.
This kept me going!
*Note: The author of this narrative has an excellent web site, Verein für Hirn-Aneurysma-Erkrankte - Der Lebenszweig - e.V., with links to numerous aneurysm and stroke related sites, worldwide.
Update 16 Apr 2001
Iīm happy to announce that I passed my 2nd exam and am permitted to be an attorney-at-law starting in May (I believe that I explained our complicate admission that requires everybody in the law-business to qualify for a judges job - in order to forget most after the exam again ;-) ).
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