TALK TO A
Established April 15, 1995
University of West Georgia Disclaimer
19 April 1997
I was a healthy person with much to look forward to. I spent the day like many previous fall Sundays. I went to church with my family. I watched my beloved Chicago Bears on television (they beat Atlanta 41 - 31). My youngest son and I insulated the newly framed walls in the basement. Dinner was served and we discussed how to spend the rest of this wonderful day. The weather was pleasant so I decided to check windows and doors for areas where caulk repairs should be made in preparation for the harsh winter to come. I went to the basement to get tools and caulk.
I suddenly had a headache. I never had headaches. It was intense. I sat down and dropped my tools and the bag containing caulk tubes. I must have realized I was in trouble, so I started toward the stairwell. I fell forward into my tool bench. My headache was extremely painful. I called out to my wife, Rita. All I could think of was getting to the "feel better chair". The "feel better chair" is a rocker-recliner Rita and I purchased when she was pregnant with our first child, thirteen years earlier. Since then it has always been a refuge to anyone feeling badly. It is a place of comfort. I made several attempts to pull myself up and get to the chair. I pulled down tools and supplies from a shelving unit trying to get the stairs.
Rita came down and stopped my attempts to get up. I remember her looking into my eyes. I remember her speaking with emergency personnel on the telephone. I remember her pushing on my chest to keep me down - for I am a very willful person. I needed and wanted to get to the chair.
I remember the first rescue person as he implored me to remain awake, to focus on his instructions. He told me his name, Captain Bill Sohn . Questions and answers were relayed between the hospital and paramedics through the emergency communication system. Mentally, I seemed to be somewhere else, but I was aware of what was happening around me. Rita was answering when I couldn't respond. All the while, Captain Sohn kept after me to stay awake and focus.
I remember other firemen in a quiet frenzy trying to determine a means of getting me out of the basement. Building materials, especially drywall panels blocked clear passage up the stairwell. The Captain was seemingly in my face trying to keep me conscious. That was about 7:30 PM September 27, 1992.
The morning of October 16, 1992, Rita walked into my hospital room. I was amazed to see her. I asked if she had been "here" all the while. At that time I wasn't sure where "here" was. "Here" was the University of Minnesota Health Center. I think I meant at the hospital. All I knew was that I was in a hospital. I know the date very well since a daily calendar hung on the wall just under the television, facing me in the bed. This was the first time I was cognizant of my surroundings. I'm not sure if I was cognizant of what had transpired over the previous three weeks.
There were a few memories, but I questioned the reality of them. As it turned out, some were hallucinations; others were real. One was uncanny, and not shared with others before. From conversations and my Mother-in-laws log book I put together what was imagined and what really took place.
I do remember the second time I went for an MRI. I remember Rita telling me to be calm and still. I don't remember being frightened and violent the first time. I remember when the doctor entered my room one dark early morning with all his resident students following like ducklings into my room. I had a device on my finger that glowed more or less brightly with the oxygen Contents of my blood. Being a joker, I held up my finger with the device and said ... "ET phone home!" The residents all chuckled except for one prune-face in the back. I remember Rita writing a letter home to my sons. I don't remember much of what I said, but I do remember telling the boys that the doctors were going to "pop the top and see what makes me tick." I said something else about the doctors fixing all the broken parts. I discovered later, she never wrote that into the letters. She felt it was too much dark humor.
Hallucinations are funny things. They seem so real. If you don't probe into them, you may believe they are true. Sometimes they blend fact and imagination.
One memory was of being moved in the hospital. I "remember" being left in a hallway. Someone came through and pushed my gurney under the stairs into a closet. I was very panicked. I felt as if I had been abandoned. I was screaming out and no one could hear me. Rita thinks this was the night I was moved from the intensive care unit to a private room. She was called in the middle of the night from her residence room to try to calm me.
I "remember" being on a picnic. Members of my family were seated around a table as I faced a grassy knoll where bikers and joggers passed along the top of a knoll in the distance. The sun was bright casting long shadows along the hill. I "remember" a man coming to the table to talk to us. I thought "what the hell is he talking about that everyone is listening to so intently". This man later turns out to be my neurosurgeon, Dr. Roberto Heros. We presume this hallucination occurred during or shortly after the time when Dr. Heros explained to my family how the surgery was to proceed the next day. My family was there and they were around my bed, much like being around a table. The rest was in my mind.
I am unsure of one incidents validity. Real or not - it is special for me. Reality in this instance is not an issue. The night prior to surgery, I was looking down on my bed from above the television, - the one on the wall above the calendar. There were no bright lights or angels or eerie happenings. I just watched as Rita tearfully got into bed with me and held me gently. Much later, I subtly asked details of that evening. Nothing in my "vision" was incongruent with her recollection. I truly do not know what happened that evening. Some may think of this as an out of body experience or supernatural phenomenon. I'm thankful I shared the moment with her in some way. I've never told her of this "vision".
I was born with, and subsequently, suffered the rupture of a giant basilar aneurysm. I cannot escape those facts. Now, I am blind in one eye and impaired in the other. I am nearly deaf in one ear. I have an impaired gag and swallowing reflex which causes frequent coughing / choking spells. I seem to become depressed more easily than ever before. I tend to be emotional about things that previously I would not have responded to. These are not inappropriate emotional displays - just out of character in comparison to my personality prior to the aneurysm.
Seventy one days after the incident I returned to work on a part time basis. A month later I was back to work full time. I am an engineer, and thankfully, had no memory loss except for those three weeks in the hospital and that loss we normally experience as we age.
I do not remember most of the ordeal. I was told much of the following or read it in my mother-in-laws log book. The following chronicle begins when I lose memory for nearly three weeks.
The rescue personnel rigged a sling to get me around the construction materials and up the stairs. I was transported to St. Joseph Hospital, the local trauma center in Elgin IL. A CAT scan and angiogram confirmed an aneurysm. It was at the brain stem. There was blood throughout the cranial area. Dr. Chung, the neurologist, was familiar with a doctor capable of handling aneurysms in that area of the brain. His son had recently graduated from the University of Minnesota where he studied under one of the leading neurosurgeons in the country, Dr. Roberto Heros. No doctor in the Chicago area and surrounding Midwest areas would or could repair my aneurysm. Dr. Heros was contacted and accepted me as a patient. I was at St. Joseph Hospital for another day while my condition stabilized enough for me to be transported.
While at St. Joseph Hospital I was very unruly. I wanted to go to work. I insisted on going for a shower and then to work. (My friends really knew I was sick then !) The nurse assigned to me kept me from getting up until, finally, I had enough and hit her to get my way. Then I was restrained. I wish I knew who she was so I could apologize. I was told the incident was not important and the nurse understood I was not rational. I continued to be a problem. Twice, I pulled out my IVs and monitors. I was then more heavily sedated. At one point I had congestive heart failure and bleeding behind my eyes. A lung collapsed and my body temperature was fluctuating The prognosis was not good.
My supervisor from work came to see me. He is a good friend - a tough man. The sight of me disturbed him greatly. After his visit, he went back to my office and started throwing things out. He thought he would never see me alive again. This was triggered by the memory of a mutual friend who, several years earlier, died from an aneurysm.
Rita and I were flown to Minneapolis by air ambulance. It was a beautiful day to fly along the Mississippi River. The trees were in splendid autumn colors. We flew low because the pressure in my head was intense even with the cabin pressurization system.
Once at UMHC, I was placed in a special ICU room with minimal light and sound stimulation. Rita could be there but was not to talk. Rita's mother, Doris, traveled from Ventura CA to be part of this vigil. She was a great support and companion to Rita. There was waiting and more waiting. The swelling needed to subside before attempting surgery to clip the aneurysm. Rita and Doris spent numerous hours reading, walking halls, walking along the Mississippi River, or just sitting with me.
The next day an MRI was attempted. I was too agitated or frightened and did not cooperate with the procedure. The following day I was better behaved and the MRI was completed. The doctors had a plan about how to get to and clip the aneurysm. By then, they knew I was blind in my left eye. There was concern about possible further sight damage. This was monitored daily.
Several days later, I was moved to a regular ICU room. That night I became very disturbed and disoriented. Rita was called in the middle of the night to settle me down.
On Friday, October 9, 1992, eleven days after the aneurysm ruptured, the doctors operated on me. They clipped the aneurysm. The surgery took nearly twelve hours. My family and the doctors were very pleased with the outcome. Still, everyone expected a lengthy recovery. Thankfully, I didn't know I was supposed to be a semi-invalid. I was weak, but I was no invalid.
I had tubes out my arms; a tube from my back; a device in my ears to keep me erect; a device (uniboots ?) on my legs (for circulation) that squeezed and retracted making irritating plastic grating noises; and devices and wires attached to my chest and fingers. My arms had huge bruises; my head was partially shaved, bruised and swollen. There were staples around my ear and down my neck. What a sight - right out of a torture chamber.
The big surprise came six days after surgery, October 16, 1992. Rita walked into my room and I was amazed to see her there. I asked "Have you been here the entire time?" I remembered almost nothing of the past eighteen days. I gave no indication that I was not cognizant of people and things happening around me. I had carried on lucid conversations and responded appropriately whenever questioned or requested to perform tasks.
No one expected what occurred over the next twelve days. I was walking the hospital halls. I could bathe and shave with no help. I sat up at night and watched the World Series with the night nurse — Tom. I ate well. Doctors scheduled physical therapy for me but it wasn't needed. I was called the "miracle man". I did not like that label. I still don't.
My therapy was walking. I walked the halls of the hospital as often and as much as I could. I walked my neighborhood streets more each day. At first my wife or mother-in-law walked with me. As my confidence and strength grew, I went out on my own. I had up and down days, but I kept going.
After gaining adequate strength, I went on to finish my basement project. I was very hesitant about going down there. It took two months before I went into my work shop area and even longer before I moved anything back where it belonged. The tubes of caulk were still sitting next to the chair where I dropped them. The area was a wreck as I left it.
Because of my sight problems I had to give up many activities in Boy Scouts. I can not work on my model trains. Playing catch with my sons is out of the question. But I do enjoy life. One son plays football and wrestles. I take great pleasure in watching him excel. My eldest son is about to enter the army. His commitment brings great pride to me. I love my wife because I've always loved her. These are the things that make me grateful to be alive today.
Today, I remember and thank many people. - From Captain Sohn to Doctor Heros to Nurse Tom ... they and many others played a part in saving my life. I guess as I started this remembrance I thought of dedicating it to my wife, Rita. She was my foundation. But she is here with me and I can tell her this every day. I remember my mother-in-law, Doris Josephson, who traveled from California to be with my wife and helped her through the daily rough spots I brought upon them. Doris stayed with me at home for several weeks as I recovered. Doris recently passed away. I hope she knew how much she endeared herself to me through her actions in being with my love - her daughter. I remember you, Doris.
After reading other remembrances on this Internet page I realize I'm not as alone as I once thought. I am more fortunate than most. I have many of the same questions and concerns as those others who have written. I will help if I can.
Discussion, comments, or questions: Tom Yaeger
© Copyright 1997 Tom Yaeger
All Rights Reserved - Fair Use acknowledged