Dr. Mary Edwardsen
9 July 1995
I had sworn to myself that I would quit smoking when I completed the dissertation, so in April of '87, at the age of 37, I joined a group of fellow hopefuls. I was in the grocery store buying cinnamon sticks--they kind of helped--when I experienced a pain so severe that I grabbed the store's manager and told him to call the hospital because something was "very wrong with my brain." Fortunately, the manager was a Vietnam vet, and he had experience with people in severe trauma. He put his arms around me, and continued to hold me as I collapsed to the floor. The police came soon and asked me, "What are you on, lady?" I tried to convince them that I was not on drugs--they didn't believe me, and it was the store that had to call an ambulance. The grocery was only twenty blocks away from Columbia Presbyterian Hospital Neurological Institute, so I was taken, by sheer luck, to the place I needed to be. There had been no prior symptoms; I had never had a headache.
Apparently, I never loss consciousness. Indeed, I was, apparently, very funny when first brought in. The pain was, however, so severe that I have no memory of most everything for the next three or four weeks.
I had a cerebral aneurysm that had ruptured. Its exact location was the posterior communicating artery--a subarachnoid hemorrhage. All this odd language. I was operated on within 24 hours by Robert Solomon, who looked barely old enough to drive. The neurologist was Matthew Fink, now, I think, at Mt. Sanai. Solomon did not believe in waiting for one to "stabilize." Again, I remember very little. I do remember being given Tylenol after the operation and thinking that this was no time for a commercial. I not only have no memory of the event as a whole, I apparently, as a result of the pain, had no memory from day to day. I was conscious but only in the present tense.
The aneurysm had been small, but there was quite a bit of blood. When they removed the spinal needle, I quickly became delusional. Hydrocephalus is not subtle. Though they had tried to avoid a second operation, Solomon quickly put in a shunt.
I was sent home shorly after I was out of intensive care. I was a graduate student at Union Theological Seminary, and my insurance was under the policy of Columbia University. I soon found out that there was an 80 percent cap on the insurance. I was incapable of paying the 20 percent of almost $200,000. I had no idea what "in-hospital" medicaid was. As a very poor grad student, I was eligible for medicaid, which is how I thought I would have to pay for the operation. The next few months were hard and humiliating, as I was forced to go through the incredible, harsh bureaucracy of the New York City welfare system. I will never get rid of that ID card. I cannot tell you how odd the fates appeared when I got my Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion and my welfare card during the exact same week. It took me four months to learn that I was on the wrong type of medicaid.
I had to get a full-time job as soon as possible. I was absolutely unable to get insurance of any kind on my own. I took an administrative job at a small liberal arts college. I am still doing administrative work, now in Claremont California.
I was extremely fortunate--I have no "deficits." There is, however, much depression associated with this experience. There was a part of me that was angry that I had to live through and after an event for which I was completely unprepared. These surgeons had intervened, and I was not sure that that was such a good thing. The panic episodes that have followed are almost humorous--fortunately, I was already on Tofranil, and hence I have been lessed crippled than most by these odd episodes of terror. Eight years after the surgery, I have developed epilepsy, centered in the area of the clip--this is, I have learned, rather common.
Discussion, comments, or questions: Mary Edwardsen
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