I recently returned from a one-week visit with my best friend Andy Bristol, who suffered a ruptured aneurysm in his left frontal lobe about four weeks ago. Andy was my boyfriend (first and only) for seven years before he moved away (from Michigan to Georgia) several months ago. Although we had separated, we remained best of friends. So I was unlucky to lose him, but lucky to not lose him entirely. That theme has been coming up a lot in my mind lately.
Andy was unlucky in that he didn't get surgery immediately after it happened. I'm not sure exactly when his aneurysm ruptured, but he lived alone, and I know that at least a few days passed before surgery was performed. Part of the delay was flying him to Atlanta where he could receive the care he'd need to survive the complications that would probably follow the surgery itself (vasospasm in particular, a constriction of the blood vessels in the brain in response to the trauma). But he was lucky to have been found by his father, a pediatrician, who understood how serious his condition was, and got him to the hospital in time to save his life.
He was lucky that the surgery went well. He was even somewhat lucid the next day, and we were all very optimistic. But he was unlucky that vasospasm then struck, badly. I'm told by his parents (who were with him this whole time; I was stuck worrying by myself 650 miles away) that he nearly died, more than once, as the medical staff at Emory University struggled for nearly two weeks to keep the blood vessels in his brain open.
(Andy's family have all sorts of wonderful things to say about the Emory staff. His brother is planning to make a t-shirt that reads "They saved my brother's life at Emory University Hospital and all I got is this lousy t-shirt".
When Andy woke up (when they finally let him wake up, that is) his right leg was paralyzed and his right arm was very weak. This was from one of the strokes he suffered during vasospasm. He was capable of only very simple speech, and could not identify people by name. He was alert, but thoroughly uncomprehending and incomprehensible. But he was alive! This is when I finally got to see him.
He gave no indication of recognizing me, and had considerable trouble with his own name at times. He seemed like a shadow of the man I loved, a helpless oversized infant, looking like a half-machine Borg from the latest Star Trek movie. If I hadn't been so thrilled to actually see him (alive) again, I would have been devastated. I barely slept that night, tossing and turning over and over.
Over the following five days, his condition improved noticeably. His right arm got strong enough for him to start using it to mess with his various tubes and monitors. He managed to move his right leg a little. His lungs started to clear up. His swallowing got good enough that he was able to start eating strained, pureed, and other liquid foods. He succeeded in remembering my name overnight once. When he and I both concentrated on it, he could carry on something resembling a conversation, in which he seemed to demonstrate some awareness of his situation. (The repeated, "Oh God" during one of our better discussions gave it away.) And he moved out of intensive care, with a move to a rehab hospital coming soon.
He's unlucky to have months of recovery and rehab ahead of him, without any clear indication of how much he'll actually recover. He's unlucky to have to give up his newfound independence. But (cliche or not) he's lucky to be alive. And I'm damn lucky to have another chance to show him just how much I love him.
Update 15 Jan 96
Shortly after the end of my first visit, Andy's family got him into one of the most-recommended rehab facilities in the region... but took him out less than a week later. They didn't feel he was getting enough attention, and that the attention he did get was inconsiderate and even cruel.
When he wasn't with a family member or getting therapy (which was most of the time), he was restrained in bed, which wasn't doing him any good recovery-wise. One staff member insisted that Andy had to eat his meals with the rest of the brain trauma patients (some of whom were so severely impaired that they did little more than thrash about and wail) "because he needs to learn to socialise with his own kind." Reasoning that this environment was more of a warehouse than a place for Andy to grow and learn, they took him home. This was a big commitment, and caring for him would not be easy, but for anyone who can do this, I strongly recommend it.
In a more humane and nurturing environment, Andy's physical condition improved dramatically. A month after he awoke from his drug-induced coma (unable to move his right leg or lift his right arm) he was walking with the aid of a walker and a person to help him balance. I was able to spend the first six days of 1997 with him, and was very encouraged by his progress. The grip strength of his right hand was up to 35lbs. (compared to 49lbs. for his left hand). A week after I left, he was starting to get by without the walker (for short distances, with a person to "spot" him).
His long-term memory is pretty much intact and functional (although it's rather confused at times and not very reliable). He knows who I am, that we lived together, and that I'm not much of a cook. And his personality is largely unchanged, allowing for the attention and retention problems he still has.
The biggest remaining problem (and the one that threatens to trouble him - and us - the longest) is his lack of short-term memory. He cannot remember what year or month it is, and usually thinks that he's in Michigan (which he left several months before the bleed), not Georgia. One of his best friends stopped by to visit, and a few minutes after he left, Andy had forgotten all about it. He frequently gets up out of his chair, not remembering that he still needs help walkig. I'm clinging to the hope that this, too, will improve. For now, he's left twisting in the winds of time. And so are we.
Please visit A Tribute to Andy.
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