Brain’s healing, lessons were learned

An unused basketball hoop standing at the end of a driveway is a common suburban sight. The weathered backboard, bent rim and mossy nylon mesh are so unremarkable we hardly give them a second thought as we pass by.

But when one of those hoops jumps in front of your bumper in the wee hours of a warm summer evening, reality as you know it is undergoing a dramatic change. Such was my experience one muggy night last July and I am still recovering from the ordeal.

The day started out normally. I worked a production day at the Now, and then returned home where I fed the dog and began to make dinner. My wife was in Toronto on business, so warmed up leftovers was the plat du jour. Straightforward enough, just another day in suburbia – until the headache hit.

There is no way to describe the pain other than to say it was the worst headache I have ever experienced. I have been hit in the melon with pucks and baseballs, had my helmet slam into goal posts and endured um, “one or two” hangovers in my past, but nothing can compare with the blinding agony I felt when this headache hit.

I had to grab the countertop to keep from falling – not the best idea since my left arm was suddenly numb. My lips were also numb aside from an odd tingling sensation. Needless to say I was confused about what was happening, but when the numbness and tingling subsided after roughly 10 minutes, I thought I was fine again. You know, good Canadian boy, just skate it off.

Except I wasn’t fine. The headache was still a dull throbbing and I couldn’t manage more than a couple bites of my dinner without being physically sick.

I took a couple of Tylenol and tried to sleep it off, but while I lay there, I began thinking of what my colleague Amy Reid had been going through with her father, who was hospitalized

after suffering a series of strokes. Is that what was happening to me?

I managed to fall asleep only to be awakened by feelings of nausea at 3 a.m. It was now eight hours since the headache hit and as I hopped out of bed and headed for the bathroom, I promptly walked into a wall. With Amy’s description of her father’s condition in mind, I immediately grabbed a pair of cargo shorts and headed for the hospital.

Not thinking clearly, I never thought of calling an ambulance and instead got in my truck and proceeded to drive. Don’t try this at home folks. After dodging the basketball hoop, I managed to use landmarks – gas stations, coffee shops, and banks – to find my way at slow speed down 16th Avenue until I saw the neon emergency sign at Peace Arch Hospital. Still not cognizant of how serious my condition was, I paid for parking and reeled into the emergency room.

I remember bumping into a partition as I approached the desk, and that caught the attention of the nurse on duty. She asked what the problem was, and I replied, “Something isn’t right.”

She asked for my medical card and when I pulled out my wallet, I couldn’t figure out how to open it. That’s when things started to become a blur. A buddy of mine told me later that when you see the B.C. medical system moving fast, you know you’re in trouble.

The nurse at the receiving desk found my medical info and another nurse, Gord, came over to evaluate me. I described the headache as the worst I had ever experienced and told him about the numbness and tingling. He also discovered that I had lost all peripheral vision in my left eye and within 15 minutes I was in a CT scanner.

They discovered I had sustained an intracranial hemorrhage – bleeding in the brain – brought on by high blood pressure, which registered 225 when I was admitted.

My brain was swelling, which put pressure on the optic nerve resulting in the vision loss.

I don’t remember a lot about what happened next. Gord filled me in as to how sick I was – and how I should not have tried to drive – and the next thing I knew I was in an

ambulance on my way to the neurology unit at Royal Columbian Hospital. I was met there by neurological wizard Dr. Richard Chan, who immediately booked me in for surgery. Not in three weeks, not in three months – within three hours.

Less than 17 hours after wandering into the Peace Arch Hospital emergency room, I woke up in the neurology ward’s recovery unit at Royal Columbian Hospital.

The recovery since then has been slow but steady. The headaches are less frequent now and my vision has returned but I still have a ways to go. My doctor said it will take a full year to recover so right now I am just over the halfway point.

I have, however, learned a few lessons from my experience.

1. Don’t ignore the signs. The vicious headache, the numbness, tingling and disorientation are all ways your brain is telling you something is broken.

As guys we sometimes have a hard time accepting when we are sick. Several female friends, including my sister, have told me that their husbands would just try and sleep it off. I did too. If I hadn’t been aware of what Amy Reid’s father was going through, I probably would have waited until it was too late.

2. Get help fast. The sooner the better. I was told by my doctor that one of the things in my favour was the surgeon was able to treat it as a bleed and not a clot or worse. How much worse? I was told a woman came into RCH the day after me with the same condition, but she waited before seeking treatment. The bleed moved into her brain stem and she died.

3. We are blessed with an amazing medical system staffed by incredibly talented and dedicated people. I can’t say enough good things about the way I was treated during my ordeal. Even the hospital food wasn’t that bad. Well, except the vegetarian quiche. That’s just nasty.

4. If you are sitting in the emergency room for four hours, don’t get upset. The system works as a triage where the most urgent cases get treated first and the nicks, sprains and other owies can wait. Instead of being angry after the fifth hour, be thankful.

It means you’re going home tonight.