Of all of the experiences, emotions and excitement I’ve had in the past 17 months, this past weekend was a personal milestone in my recovery from a ruptured brain aneurysm. What started out to be a simple “rehab reunion” in Atlanta turned into a turning point for me in so many ways.
- Sense of Closure. When we got to Atlanta, especially Shepherd, I felt like I was home. For over two months, it was my
“safe place.” You become quite close to the people who help you eat, shower and take your first post-aneurysm steps. It was so wonderful to reconnect with the doctors, nurses and therapists who helped me return to my usual daily activities. I was able to thank them, hug them and show them how far I’d come. Then, I was able to leave. Shepherd, Pathways and Atlanta were shelters during the storm, but now that the sun is peeking out, it’s time for me to “go forth and set the world on fire.”
- Catharsis. I visited a lot of places that were significant during my rehab, and these visits were quite cathartic. Because many were food related, I call it the “Rehab Food Tour.” We went to R. Thomas, home of my first non-hospital meal; Menchies, the frozen yogurt shop I visited with my rehab team; Shorty’s, the pizza place where I ate on “graduation day;” Shepherd Cafeteria, where when I wouldn’t eat anything else, I would eat the tater tots. Not all of the stops involved food, though. We went to the Shepherd’s Secret Garden, where I took my first steps outside, planted flowers as part of therapy, visited with friends from home and played Scrabble with Mom and Sister on Mothers Day; Sam Flax, my happy shopping place; and the Buckhead Publix, where I did my first “test drive.”
- Perspective. When it comes to my recovery, I haven’t been able to see the forest for the trees. I’ve been lamenting my quiet voice, aerobic limitations, my hair and loss of muscle tone, all of which have taken a toll on my self-esteem. But just seventeen months ago, I was bedridden, unable to breathe without assistance and unable to walk. This past weekend I came to the conclusion that if given the option of not surviving or surviving as a quieter, less toned person, I would’ve taken alive any old way I could. The voice, the flab, my hair, the less strenuous workouts? Just challenges to keep me honest.
- Patience. It’s only been a year since I left rehab, 17 months since the aneurysm rupture. Doctors say that rupture patients continue to heal and improve for up to five years. The most dramatic changes occur in the first six to 12 months, but I’ll be getting better for years to come. What I complain about today – the soft voice, the fatigue, the awkwardness – may not be here tomorrow. When I would complain to my wonderful neuropsychologist, Dr. Brown, he wrote the word TEMPORARY on my white board to remind me that every day I was getting better.
- Self-confidence. Many days I feel the same insecurities I did when I was going through adolescence, and who wants to do that twice, right?! I’ve got to kick this self-doubt to the curb. If I survived the actual rupture and overcame the setbacks I encountered with MRSA, pneumonia and c Diff, I should feel unstoppable, not unsure of myself. A soft voice and a few extra lbs. is child’s play compared to the past year. And to feel nervous about a date or lack thereof? Or bothered that my hair isn’t the same as it was before? Nahhhhhh. That’s just crazy! If I made it through the last 17 months, I can do anything.
- Gratitude for friendship. There was great comfort seeing those people who helped me on my journey. With friends. People who had seen you at your absolute worst, but still love you. We all looked a little different than we did in rehab. A little more polished, a lot more refined. We had some deficits, most of which weren’t apparent from the outside, but it was okay. We swapped stories, talked about the crazy things that happened in rehab and hugged. There were a lot of hugs. Besides my rehab cohorts, I also saw a friend from high school who was very supportive during my stay in Atlanta. We grew up in the same church. (Most of my memories of him are on a church bus.) I hadn’t seen him in 30 years, except on Facebook, but he visited me during my first week at Shepherd and brought a plant. Throughout my stay, he visited, brought brownies, took Mom and I out to dinner and more. Although it took a ruptured aneurysm for us to reconnect, I realized at brunch that he (and his dashing partner) are now forever friends.
When I returned from Atlanta, I declared that I was ready to put my aneurysm behind me. My aneurysm rupture will always be a part of me, I suppose, and I can’t really change that. And I don’t want to totally forget it. It helped me become a better, albeit a little different, person – an MP 2.0, so to speak – and allows me to help others going through a similar situation. I’m thankful for the many blessings and great people that the aneurysm brought into my life, which I am now ready to live fully.