There was no warning. Most nights consisted of tossing and turning. Some fits of movement woke me up no matter how deep the sleep was. Wrestling the blankets, fidgeting until my boyfriend woke up. A handful of mornings I sincerely prayed to God thanking Him for the rest provided, even though unruly. Until November 25th.
November 25th. That early morning I woke up to a seizure possessing my young, and healthy body. To my knowledge this didn’t happen often. However, after spending a few days in the hospital I learned every other person I spoke with knew someone taking Keppra. Keppra is the medication that was prescribed for my seizure, after the stroke.
Stroke. That’s a word that sits on the tongue longer than others. A word my mother used to inform our family, and friends of the situation. A word doctors, and nurses spoke with ease. A word I have repeated silently in my mind while I laid in bed. But, it could’ve been worse. Worse. Another word that lingers. I was the lucky one.
Then why did it still feel like I was dealt a terrible hand?
And then I remembered. I am allowed to feel this way. I am a healthy young adult. Twenty-one years old. I am allowed to feel the pain. I am allowed to feel the grief. I am allowed to mourn my normal. I am allowed to feel. This experience has pushed me to acknowledge the blessings in everyday life. My stroke has given me the power to overcome hardship I naively only thought happened to other people.
Some days were better than others I’ll admit. I cried tears of frustration, and pain until the throbbing in my head aligned with the beat of my heart. I cried tears of joy with the people I love. I caressed the face of my lover while we talked about how strong I will seem when we tell our grandchildren about my brain surgery. But there were still tough moments. Mountains that needed to be climbed both on the inside, and out.
I am independent. This is something I showed my parents at a young age. My nickname is monkey. No leap was too big. I climbed to the top of the playground, and jumped off. I didn’t wait for people to catch me. We moved across town while I was in high school. I woke up an hour earlier to make the drive alone every morning. This was because I felt passionate about finishing my high school career with friends that would follow me for life. Softball was something that came naturally to me. However, when I discovered the sport didn’t bring the same joy it had while I was young, I put down my gear, and stepped away. Since that day, I never looked back. There wasn’t a single doubt in mind when I walked into that preschool for my first job, rather than pursuing a softball scholarship. I accepted the position with honor, and gratitude. The owners would not be sorry when they hired me. Although I lacked the experience; my strong will to do good overcame any obstacle that was thrown my way.
That was something I had to continuously remind myself through this season of life. There were many deficits I needed to accept. Not permanent physical deficits, which I was grateful for, but mentally. Independence is important, yes. But my health is more important. So, what if I can’t drive a car for months? At least I can feel kisses brush against my left cheek. My smile is still intact. I can see out of both eyes. So, what if I have to wake earlier to take seizure medication each day? Well, at least I woke up at all. So, what if the fear of another seizure, or worse, a stroke lingers? At least each good day will be rewarded with genuine gratitude.
When my boyfriend and I first arrived at the Emergency Room, I was in denial anything could be wrong. The entire duration of our waiting room stay I insisted he over-exaggerated. In my mind, it was a nightmare that caused my tossing and turning. I was healthy, and there couldn’t possibly be anything wrong with me. Right? Like I said, things like this only happened to other people.
My dad worked at the hospital we wandered into, but he wasn’t on the schedule for that evening. Even more frustrating. The woman that registered me at the desk asked basic questions about myself, and insurance plan. She paused and looked up at us when I mentioned there was no past history of seizures. We waited no longer than ten minutes before getting called back. I was instructed to put on a gown, and several bodies entered my curtain room. My boyfriend went through the same events of what he saw over, and over. I could tell he was nervous. There was a mix of fear, and impatience. Some of the details were blurring together. We were both exhausted. After a handful of different tests, and casual banter with a nurse who happened to know my dad… A doctor entered. Until that moment exactly… I had thought we spent an early morning in the Emergency Room for nothing.
“There is blood in your brain.”
Those six words did not feel real.
My surroundings were less gentle. The faces I saw were now irritating.
I wanted to shake the nurses who intruded our space.
STOP POKING MY ARMS,
DIDN’T YOU HEAR?
I HAVE BLOOD. IN MY BRAIN.
Questions arose immediately from the two of us. Calls were made to family. More tests were lined up. We needed to rule out life threatening issues like cancer, and malignant tumors. We needed to get to the bottom of what was causing this seizure. I didn’t have any permanent paralysis, but while I waited in a hospital bed for the results of my CT scan my body might as well have been paralyzed.
The neurosurgeon discovered my issue was a Cavernous Angioma of my inferior right temporal lobe. Cav-mal. Cavernous Malformation. An isolated event. In summary, I had a benign growth in my brain. Which meant there was a cure. Hallelujah. These skilled doctors would then proceed to remove the growth, and all of the sitting blood in my brain. After the recovery, there was an eighty-five percent chance of never again having another seizure, or stroke caused by this monster.
Days were spent in a rotation of hospital beds. This was the case for doctors, and nurses also. Leaving the hospital was a new kind of triumph. After just a few days, we drove home. Normal. To an extent.
Everything was fragile. My mood. My body. My brain. I did not know this person in the mirror. She stared back at me blankly. Hair greasy. Hadn’t showered in days. Is this what life had come to?
Why me? God. Why?
Now, six weeks post operation I understand. God, you were on my side. Oh, in hindsight I can see it so clearly. You were always on my side. If it weren’t for your plan, this may have never happened. A very skilled Neurosurgeon was able to see us almost immediately. He took out the Angioma beautifully. I say us, as in my boyfriend and I. It was never me. It was us. It is us. This man stepped up in unimaginable ways. I will spend the rest of my life with him, and for that I am so thankful.
Sitting by my bed while I cried in pain. Waiting for me after surgery. Kissing my antiseptic forehead after rolling into the ICU. Sleeping on the hospital couch. Speeding home when my suppository kicked in (Okay, TMI). Waking up every few hours to administer my medication. Fighting for me when my nurses didn’t know how to manage the pain. Holding my hand as I cried in worship from a hospital bed. Loving me in a way I didn’t know existed.
I thought I knew real love. Until this. This is real love.
It’s amazing that after all of the pain I had to overcome through this experience, I am stronger than ever. My body may be weak, but my heart is whole. Some days are harder than others, but I am better because of these circumstances. I have learned things about myself only a hardship this tough could present. There really is beauty in pain. I may not have been able to see that at first, but the mirror is clearer now. God only asks us to fight battles he is confident we can win, and this was one of mine. Now instead of a trophy, there is a quarter-sized titanium plate in my head as proof of victory.
I may have felt this was a terrible hand at first, sure. But the perspective gained was worth every play. That girl with greasy hair, staring back in the mirror, would have never guessed she could win a battle this tough. But here we are.