30 July 1996
I am a 38 year old male, married 11 years with four young children. I guess my experience actually started on Wed. Feb. 21, 1996. I was at work, as usual, in the machine shop. I remember I had a bad headache and seemed to have a sinus infection starting. I used to smoke a pipe occasionally and I remember that the pipe tasted lousy. I went to my family Dr. Wednesday afternoon and he said that I indeed had a sinus infection and said my headache was probably from a holdover of the flu bug we had in our household a couple of weeks before. I worked Thursday and Friday. Friday my headache was so bad, I went home at 2pm. I called the Dr. to tell him that my headache was worse and he told me to use some of the Tylenol 3 left over from my knee surgery and to get some sleep.
Saturday morning (Feb. 24) at 10 am or so I woke up in bed and saw two men sitting on the side of my bed. I can't describe them at all except I remember they were dressed in blue. I can't describe their faces (I couldn't pick them out in a police line up) but I could actually feel their presence in the room. It was like when one of the kids gets up in the night and stands by your bed, kind of in your space. You sense them then see them. At the same time both of their heads turned to look at me and the one sitting in front said "Paul, everything will be all right." They both then stood up and left the room. I don't know how they left, they were just gone. My wife came into the room and I told her what happened. She said "Honey, maybe they were angels." I guess my faith was not as strong, as I remember I kind of sloughed off the happening.
The only other thing I remember about Saturday is that my kids were squabbling over the entrance to my oldest daughter's (Meaghan's) room. In the ensuing struggle, they broke the door. I removed the door from the playroom and put it on Meaghan's room. It wouldn't close right, but I remember I promised her that if I felt better on Sunday, I would try to glue up her door.
Sunday morning I woke up and went upstairs to lay in my recliner. I felt very sick. My wife would come by from time to time to see if I needed anything. Around 10:30 or so I thought I needed to pee, so I tried to stand up and found I had no balance and fell back into my chair. Then I started to feel as though an auger was turning inside me pulling me down. I felt terrible and thought I was about to die. I called to my wife and told her to call 911.
While we were waiting for the paramedics, I called my 3 older children to me and told them "I love you, good-by". I thought I was about to die and that I would not see them again. Then I had the most severe head pain you can ever imagine. So bad it was, that all I could do was to grab the back of my head and scream "Help me! Help me Jesus!". It seemed like forever before the paramedics got there.
They pulled off my shirt and put oxygen on me. I felt a little better. Then one of the medics was checking my eyes and I "Blew a fuse"". My left eye dilated completely. About that time I remember hearing my own breathing started to sound raspy and hoarse. Then I remember I couldn't breath. The paramedic said "He's coding, we have a code". I can still feel them lifting me out of my chair and putting me on the floor next to the fish tank. I heard and felt a foghorn-like buzzing sound vibrating through my body. I was no longer fearful and I remember thinking "Wow! this is pretty bad" almost in a detached way. Then I heard a voice speak to me clearly and strongly. The voice said "Paul, you have taught your Sunday School classes that they do not take their next breath unless God wills it. See, I have brought you to the brink, so you will know that you do not take your next breath unless I will it."
The next thing I can remember is the young paramedic (I have found out he is age 18) over my face squeezing the bag. I can still feel the air forcing into my lungs. Then the young man is talking to the other paramedics and I'm thinking "Hey squeeze that bag!". I don't know how much time went by, but the next thing I remember I can breath now and one of the medics is asking me if I can walk out the door to the gurney. (We have a split level home and there is much difficulty for the fire department personnel in making the turn at the top of the stairs.) The next thing I know I am walking out my front door. It's cold and I am bare chested and barefoot. I climb on the gurney and when they cover me I told them I was cold. One of the guys told me it would be warmer in the ambulance. It was warmer.
They told me the ambulance would take me to the nearby grade school and a helicopter would airlift me to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane. While I was laying in the ambulance the voice spoke to me again. It pointed out to me that I was living a dual life, behaving as a good Christian on Sunday, yet when Monday rolled around, I might find myself on a loading dock or in a shop, joining in on the coarse talk and joking. The voice said, "You need to choose who you are going to serve." The choice was mine with surprisingly no pressure. I said "I will choose to serve the Lord."" The voice said "You spend too much time worrying about things that are not important; job problems, someone cutting you off on the freeway, money worries... These are not important. The time is short! You need to tell people God loves them and they need the Lord." I told the voice, "I am weak. I always get into situations and I buckle and don't stand firm." The voice then said very strongly and firmly, "You will never be weak again! I will make you strong!"
The ambulance drove to the school and I remember the helicopter. They kind of put me in sideways with my feet up in the nose of the helicopter. Then they slid me over until I was next to the pilot up front. The helicopter took off and as we flew east to Spokane, I had a spectacular view of the mountains to the north covered with snow in the sunshine. There were small fluffy clouds flying by the window also. This is when I heard the voice for the last time. It asked me, "Paul, on your best day, could you or you and your buddies make one of those clouds?" I said "No, Lord, I cannot make a cloud." Then the Lord said, "Do you know that is child's play for me?"
I remember we arrived at the hospital and I remember riding on a stretcher to the emergency room. In the emergency room I remember a Doctor coming in and I asked him, "What's the matter with me, Doc?" He said, "Well it could be viral encephalitis. That's very painful, but should not be fatal and you're in the right place to handle that ..... or it could be something else." He kind of let that statement hang, then said he was going to send me for a CAT Scan. That's the last thing I remember until nine (9) days later, Tuesday March 5 when I was in my room at Harborview Hospital in Seattle and was telling my cousins about the voice I heard.
Here is what happened during those lost days. After the CAT Scan, the doctor came out and told my wife, "His whole head is full of blood. There is old blood and new blood, it's so cloudy, we can't see what happened. They transferred me on Feb. 26 to Harbourview Hospital where Dr. Richard Winn took over my care. The Drs. told my wife that the window for operation on aneurysms is within 72 hours. or after 6 days. I had bled, they determined, on Wed. when my head pain started. So I could not be operated on till Sat. March 2. They operated after doing tests all week long. They found a massive fusiform aneurysm.
When they got into the site the vessel was more distorted that they believed and had to install 4 clips and totally obliterate the artery. After my surgery my CSF would not drain properly and they kept doing spinal taps to relieve the pressure (7 taps in 5 days I am told). On day six they attempted 8 tries in 2 locations but were unable to get a good tap. On March 13, I believe, they did surgery and put in a shunt which they say I will have for the rest of my life. I went home and was home for exactly 2 weeks when one day I got up and the whole back of my head was swollen up.
We were flown immediately to Seattle and the Drs. said I had a dura leak. I surely didn't want to have another surgery and I prayed earnestly for help. I was checked into the hospital at about 4pm and when the junior doctors came around at about 9:30pm my swelling was down. Praise God. They observed me for a couple of days then sent me home. I was back in a week, swollen at the back of my head again. This time the doctors kind of ticked me off. There was a bulge on the back of my neck and my white count was something like 12.3, but the main doctors never came around to check me. The residents did and declared that I had a dura leak. My wife was worried that I had an infection, but the resident on duty said the white under my skin was just the tissue stretching. Well, he was wrong, as the next morning I woke up with puss pouring out of a hole in the back of my neck. It took Dr. Newell about 3 hours to clean out the surgical abscess. My wife overheard the chief resident tell another doctor, "I've never seen a neck infection that bad."
I've been back to Harborview one time with dizziness and numbness in my lips. Also, I had a feeling of dread in my chest. They didn't find any vascular reason for my symptoms and seemed to hint that they were just in my head. I'm at home recuperating. I have headaches, dizziness, depression and a dreadful fear that something bad is happening sometimes. I feel lonely a lot, even though my wife is right here and greatly supportive. I just wish I could feel good again and get on with my life. So often I just can't do much.
I am very awe-struck by the mighty work God has done to save and protect me. I kind of feel guilty when I get depressed about not feeling good. I tell myself I shouldn't complain, because God has done a mighty work to save me for my family, but I do feel bad. Sometimes I can't remember what it was like to feel good. I wonder if I will ever be able to work and contribute to my family and society. I don't want to be a drain on my family or society. I am anxious to get back to work (whatever form that will take after some retraining). The doctors say I will probably not be able to return to machine work. Sometimes my emotions bother me. I was never a horribly emotional guy, even though I was no cold stone. Now I cry very easily and it embarrasses me. Yet when I cry my anxiety and fear is lessened. This is all very confusing and I wonder if I will ever just feel good again.
Update 4 Nov 97
I wanted to submit this supplement to my narrative to let people know how I am now doing. Not that I am counting, but October 25, marked 20 months since my aneurysm burst twice. There followed three brain surgeries:
March 2, 1996: Three clips were installed
effectively closing off my left vertebral artery and obliterating
October 30, 1996: My body decided I hadn't had enough fun yet in 1996, so my gall bladder got infected and I had to have emergency surgery to have it and three large stones removed.
Most of the last 20 months have been spent in some sort of rehab or rest. Following my aneurysm, I can only describe the first 6-8 months as pure Hell. I thought I would NEVER feel good again. Several survivors and Bill Maples from this page helped me greatly with their words of support and encouragement. If you are going through this experience, you know how lonely and painful it is. I experienced the following "deficits":
Extreme Fatigue -- early on I was much
more fatigued than now. Much of the rehab battle has revolved
around learning just what is too much and avoiding over fatiguing
I must be getting better because I am getting ornery. I have started a class at the local university. The doctor OKed one class to test my ability to read and retain information. So far I am doing pretty well although reading is difficult and this one class takes up most of my time.
I am growing stronger. Praise God! I have a promise that everything will be all right. The rehab types say I will never work more than half time. I say maybe that is true, but I will strive to get back to work full time and retrain for another job.
Much of the suffering of the last 20 months has as much to do with the 'system' as it does to do with my aneurysm. Social Security still has not come through. Welfare send only $800 a month for our family of six. Praise the Lord for family and friends who have kept our cars running, paid bills, cut firewood, kept us afloat. I am blessed by many faithful hands to help me up. God has been faithful to provide for me and my family. I am told that it will take 3-5 years to get back what I will get back. I will work hard to get back on my feet and am determined to work (at something) when I am strong enough. It is nothing short of a miracle that I am alive and as functional as I am. I praise God for his help for me and my family. If you are going through this experience and want to talk, email me and we will correspond.
God bless you all!
Discussion, comments, or questions: Paul Stevens
© Copyright 1996 Paul Stevens