I am Charlotta Norby. I grew up in Denmark and lived there until I was 19 years old. I have lived in Atlanta, on and off (mostly on) since 1977. I was 37 years old when my brain aneurysm ruptured in January 1995. At that point I had been a lawyer for seven years. I practiced in a highly technical and difficult area of law which requires a lot of concentration, ability to manipulate many facts at one time, and good writing skills. I have been able to go back to work, but cannot work at the pace I previously could, not can I work as many hours as I was used to working. I am married and have no children. I have been extremely fortunate in that my employer and colleagues have been so very understanding and supportive even when I have not been able to carry my full share.
My e-mail address is not a private one but rather one which is shared by others at my office. Nevertheless, feel free to write me. I have visited the support page many times over the past year and long pondered whether to write a narrative. I guess I have waited because I feel that I am not yet ready, I do not yet know all that I want to say. But I decided to give it a shot and perhaps can update it later. The most dramatic thing about my aneurysm, surgery, and recovery, seems to be how undramatic it all is to me. How can something so devastating, which so suddenly changed my life completely, be so undramatic?
My right middle cerebral aneurysm ruptured, without any warning at all, in January 1995. Luckily I was at home with my husband and was, therefore, from the very beginning well cared for. I say luckily tongue in cheek because I am a little tired of having to feel so "lucky" all the time. I know that relatively speaking, I have been lucky because I have received very good care, have come through the surgery well, and am continuint to recover well. But I do not feel all that lucky. Having brain surgery never was on my list of lucky events.
I had a brief headache, lost consciousness and went into a seizure. Grand mal. My husband got help from neighbor friends and they called 911. The next thing I remember I woke up, confused and very sick to my stomach. I was reassured by my friends and by the EMTs who appeared shortly. One of the interesting things, I think, is that I was never scared or worried. I always felt I was in good hands and well taken care of. And I somehow really didn't care all that much either. The EMTs quickly decided that I ought to go to the hospital and feeling very poorly, I thought that would be a fine idea.
At the hospital, I felt very well treated again both by ER doctors and the neurosurgery residents who were called in. A CT scan showed a sub-arachnoid bleed and we were told it was probably a ruptured aneurysm which would need surgery to repair. Again, I was not scared at all. I don't understand why as I know that had I been in my right mind, I would ahve been scared to death. Instead I remembre trying to be funny and even feeling that my husband should not call my parents until after the surgery. I saw no need to worry them until it was over. Neither then or at any other time did it even occur to me that I would not be absolutely fine. I guess that was OK as a panicking patient probably would not have been a very easy one to deal with.
The following day I had an angiogram which showed a ruptured aneurysm and gave the doctors what they called the road map they needed to do the surgery. The day after that they clipped my aneurysm in what they considered a very successful surgery. I have very little recollection of the first week after surgery, but apparently came out of it in a pretty good mood, still cracking jokes, and seeming very much like myself. The next day I was sitting up, eating and talking. The following day I had a minor stroke, probably caused by swelling and vasospasms. This left me with some weakness in the left side all of which dissipated by the time I was released from the hospital 2 weeks after the rupture. I was in intensive care for 11 days and a regular room 3 days before I was released.
I feel that I was very well cared for and have much respect and appreciation for the nurses who took very good care of me. Even more so, I can never fully thank my family and friends who were there constantly visiting, cheeting, bringing me milkshakes (the only thing I wanted to eat) and being good to my family and husband. The support and love I have felt ever since this happened has been incredible and without it I am not at all sure I would have made it. My husband especially has been incredible and wonderful. He spent every single night by my side in a chair and made me feel so secure and protected.
One of my worries was that I would not have enough energy to write everything in one setting and indeed, I am now to tired, so I will break and finish this another time.
Update 7 Sep 96
This is a continuation of my narative which I begain some time ago. I never got to the things which really puzzle me and which have been a source of much more confusion and difficulty than the actual event and surgery.
After I was released from the hospital I continued to recover well and was feeling pretty good. I had some initial problems with balance and could not walk well for a short while, but that was mostly due to atrophied muscles from being in bed so long. I was, however, very very tired. And fatigue has been my most constant and troublesome side effect which continues to this day, more than 1 1/2 years after my surgery.
I was able to read, but could only stand to read very simple and not demanding matters. Mostly I read true crime books. I also visited with friends and family and watched TV. And I slept a lot. After a month I returned for a follow up visit with my surgeon who cleared me to drive and go back to work, but start slowly. By then I had gotten pretty bored and lonely sitting at home by myself every day and was anxious to return to work.
I was however, extremely surprised when I found that it was very difficult for me to work, I am an attorney and I work in an area of law which requires much legal research and writing, good organizational skills and much concentration. At first I found that just being in my office, sorting through old mail, would completely tire me out in about two hours.
I decided to go to work 2/3 hours a day three days a week. And that worked well for a short while, as long as I was mostly sorting mail, answering old correspendence, etc. As soon as I tried to do any "real" legal work, researching and in particular, legal writing, I drew a complete blank. I just could not do it. It felt incredibly strange and scary. I did not know what was happening or why, but I just could not write. My brain felt too small, it felt as if I was not at all as smart as I used to be, and I just could not wrap my brain around the issues.
I kept trying, some days a little, some days really forcing myself to try hard. But to no avail. I just could not do it and would become totally exhausted when I tried. There would be things I know I in the past could have done in 1/2 to 1 hours and now I could sit with it for 2-3 hours, get nothing done, and be completely worn out nevertheless.
Three months after my surgery I went back for a follow-up visit with the surgeon. I had had no contact with him in the meantime and had not talked to anybody else either. I just did not know that I would need to or whom to call. I explained to the surgeon what problems I was having and his response was very disappointing. More so in retrospect now that I know how insufficient it was. He basically seemed very disinterested in me and my situation. I got the distinct impression that now that there was no more surgery to be done and since the surgery had been a success, he had no more interest in me as a project or patient. When I told him that I could not think or write the way I used to be able to, he just said, "well, a lot of people can't think like that."
That is true, of course, and I have always known that to be true. But the problem was that I was not supposed to be and I did not used to be one of them. I was telling him that there were things I used to be able to do that I now could not do. He also said that since I could walk and talk and was doing very well, there was no rehabilitation available and he could not refer me to anybody. When I kept "nagging" him, his basic response was, "you know, you could have died." I know that now, and I know I was fortunate that I did not die. I was and I am grateful to him for helping save my life. But I never felt or thought or knew that I was about to or close to dying, so it was and is hard for me constantly to be thankful that I am alive. I feel that I could have died in the same way that everybody in the world could have died every day in a car accident or by other means. That knowledge is not one I feel in my bones and it is not one that can make me feel constantly happy and thankful. And, the fact of the matter is that I did not die, so, it seemed to me. The surgeon and I ought to deal with that issue.
But, clearly he had no interest in that. He told me I could slowly get off Dilantin and that might make me feel better. So I started going off Dilantin. But at first, that actually did not make me feel better. My body sort of went through withdrawal and getting used to being off the sedative was not easy. I was still very tired, and now could not sleep at night.
I have to quit now, sorry to have to do this in installments. I will write more later. Thanks to those of you who have written to me. It is fun and enlightening to be in touch with others who have been through this.
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