TALK TO A
Established April 15, 1995
University of West Georgia Disclaimer
23 August 1996
My aneurysm evidenced itself while I was a graduate student in a Chicago area seminary in March 1982. I woke up in the intensive care unit of Evanston Hospital, Evanston, IL. I knew something major had happened because (a) I was in a hospital bed and (b) though my arms were strapped down, I could feel that my fingernails had grown significantly.
What had occurred was a sub-arachnoid cerebral anterior communicating (A-1) berry aneurysm. Immediate results: severe short-term memory loss (I couldn't even remember a nurse's name from when she came in the last time) and the doctors' extreme worry that the aneurysm would rupture again before surgery. About 50% of the people who have one rupture are dead on the spot. I survived.
Family came from around the country. The pre-surgery prognosis did not look good. The first surgery was done by a great neurosurgeon, Dr. Ted Eller, about 8-12 days later. It lasted 13 hours. What I remember most about the first surgery was having to say good-by to my three small children before-hand. I could tell that they thought I might not come back. During surgery, because I had a peculiar anatomy in my Circle of Willis, the Dr. clipped the aneurysm with a clip that was meant for another part of the brain. While still under general anesthesia, I was taken down to the angiography suite where another Cerebral Angiogram was done. It showed that the tail of the aneurysm clip had occluded an artery behind the A-1. Back to neurosurgery and the clip was removed.
Several days later, through God-inspired miraculous events, I was flown on a Lear jet air ambulance from Evanston, IL to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Dr. Thor Sundt operated on me there and during surgery, the aneurysm ruptured again. Once again, I survived.
Three to four weeks later, while recuperating in Nebraska, my forehead surgical incision opened slightly, leaking cerebro-spinal fluid. In consultation with my neurosurgeon in Evanston, he told me to get back right away. After my plane flight, I went into immediate surgery where the doctor discovered massive infection in my forehead bone flap. He stated that if I had waited 24 more hrs., the infection would have gone through the dura to the brain - resulting in death. They removed the bone flap and I stayed hospitalized for 2 more weeks to receive massive IV doses of antibiotics. 6 months later, I had a plastic forehead bone flap put into place.
In 1982, at least in the settings where I had the surgeries, there wasn't much counsel offered as to the prognosis of aneurysm patients. I was alive, apparently with intellect intact. No remarkable deficits from the surgeries. Everyone thought I was a walking miracle - and, I was / am to some extent.
I began a new career in 9/82 (six months after the initial rupture). Unlike my 'pre-aneurysm days,' over the next 9-10 years, I struggled with depression, continued memory loss, and an inability to handle hardly any stress in my life. I was hypersensitive to criticism. I handled finances poorly. Self-doubt and feelings of failure were paramount. Marriage tension and stresses mounted and in 6/91, I separated from my wife and three children - divorced finally in 12/95.
At the suggestion of my children, wife and her extended family, in 6/91 I grudgingly went for the first time to one of the premier brain trauma / injury research programs in the country at the Department of Neurology, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Ames, IA. In a program developed by Dr. Antonio Damasio, I was thoroughly tested and evaluated.
My interpretation of their conclusions at that time: I presented a fairly 'normal' post-surgical pattern based on the brain site trauma of the 3/82 surgery. Intellect was marvelously intact. However, my ability to deal with life issues was lacking. It was at the UIHC in 6/91 that I began to learn that it was possible to have a high intellect and yet have emotional / insight struggles in life - especially with regard to how I, personally, fit into life.
Still wanting some kind of empirical verification, I went back to the UIHC two more times, once each in 11/91 and in 5/94. Though the doctors took CT scans at each of the first two visits, the metal aneurysm clip created a sunburst effect in the x-rays. Blood vessels at the aneurysm site were obscured in those first CT scans. In 5/94, by using a very peculiar physical contortion, the doctors were finally able to get a clear slice of the aneurysm site. They discovered a very small, unilateral scar (lesion) from the 3/82 surgery.
With the discovery of the brain scar, the doctors and program at the UIHC answered many of my questions about puzzling events/feelings/failures that I'd had since the surgery in 3/82. After being at the UIHC in 5/94, I spent about 8 months on state disability income, evaluating just what I needed to do with my life. I went down into the depths of depression.
I chose to become part of the QuaLife Wellness Community in Denver, where I could work out some of my grief over the losses I'd suffered. In 2/95 I ventured out into the work force once more, with carefully designed parameters to protect myself and those with whom I worked. As I write this in 7/97, I've had several jobs since 2/95. I have been painfully reminded that my drive and commitment on the job won't successfully compensate for my need to stay away from intensive administrative work. During these months, I have been terminated from one position and resigned from another. And, I wonder if I couldn't have done things better. Some specific struggles that I continue to carry with me: problems in behavior initiation (when depressed, it's really hard to get-going); tendency to rely on feelings more than logic (putting criticism into proper perspective, taking the good, tossing the bad); the danger of taking on more than I can handle (at times, lacking a realistic perspective on what I can do / not do over the long term.)
The 'costs' of these last 15 years since brain surgery? (And by no means do I believe these are 'normative' for everyone. They are MY life circumstances - no one else's.)
I still get depressed. I still experience the loneliness at being gone from my three children (now 22, 20 & 19.) I DO get to see them but I'm not in their home. If I'm not very careful with my finances I can still mismanage them. I find that I continue to need alone, private 're-charging' that pre-aneurysm I didn't need. Self-doubt pops up much too often. It seems simple 'negatives' in life too easily put me on the track of severe depression. (I'll probably continue to battle this friend, depression, all of my life.) In spite of all of this, however, I now am more at peace and fulfilled than I ever have been.
The journey continues . . . share it together?
© Copyright 1996 Rick Mayer
All Rights Reserved - Fair Use acknowledged
Discussion, comments, or questions: Rick