This past Friday, I resumed my conversation with mortality. It had been on the way, I suppose, since Beth had first mentioned what a pleasant time she’d had attending her first aneurysm awareness meeting. I’ve since been to one myself, and discovered from fellow attendees that a ruptured aneurysm is quite similar to a hemorrhagic stroke. That is, getting wheeled into the ER, unresponsive, late on a weekend evening, with potentially catastrophic results, and, generally, something to be avoided. Anyway, I guess that was Beth’s way of gently getting me used to the fact that the work-ups from my stroke had revealed that I had at least one aneurysm. According to the informative booklet I have from the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, a brain aneurysm is “a weak, bulging spot on the side of a brain artery very much like a thin ballon or a weak spot on a tire inner tube,” and “approximately 1 in 50 people in the United States have unruptured brain aneurysms.”
The booklet cheerily kicks off by noting that “discovering you have a brain aneurysm is a frightening and sometimes isolating experience.” Well, thanks, it certainly is now.
Notwithstanding, if you find that you have an aneurysm — in my case, from a CT scan — it’s best to get as much, good information about it as you can. Is it just the one? How big is it? What treatment options do you have? So, my doctor signed me up for a cerebral angiogram to get a better picture…. He explained that some minor discomfort was usual, although he didn’t mention that there’s a scene in The Exorcist in which the Linda Blair character gets a carotid (or neck) angiogram, and this angiography sequence was the scene in the film most likely to upset audiences, according to William Friedkin.
Beth and I wandered along to Methodist Hospital together on Friday morning for the usual check-in procedure: i.e., one designed to be as confusing to a stroke patient as possible. Still, we found the bi-plane intervention area which, disappointingly, did not have a Sopwith Camel hanging from the ceiling. The highlight of check-in was having some blood taken, and having just the right amount of my blood spattered across the floor. Enough to be crime-sceney, but not enough to swim in, y’know? Eventually, after Beth and I had a chance to sit together for a bit, I was wheeled into the OR. I was entertained to find that The Cure’s Never Enough was pounding through the OR as my procedure proceeded. My first thought was, why not throw on Unknown Pleasures and Cathy Come Home, just to get us all in the mood? But I was at least doubly entertained when I looked up the lyrics — someone had a wicked sense of humor: “However much I push it down/It’s never enough/However much I push it around/It’s never enough.” All as the miniaturized equivalent of a camera on the end of a pipe cleaner was pushed into an incision in my groin and up through my blood vessels, into my brain. Now, while I would encourage everyone to take any angiogram that is recommended to them, since it’s not horrible, and a day later, you’ll feel fine, it is about as comfortable as it sounds, groin-wise, at least. On the plus side, the drugs — valium and versed — are pretty good, even to the extent that there is a little remaining nausea when everything’s done.
I’m going back in to get the full report of what the angiography showed up on Wednesday, but in the meantime, and appropriately, given the soundtrack, the results were like a grey, British shower: depressing or reassuring, depending on your mood. The best case scenario was a single aneurysm, treatable by coiling (which removes pressure from the aneurysm). As it turns out, I have two, but they’re relatively small. The hope is that we can approach them with a watching brief, and at an applicable juncture, treat by clipping; that is, sealing off the aneurysm with a tiny titanium clip “which resembles a small clothespin”. This, at least, has the advantage of, first, preventing blood from entering into the aneurysm sac so that it can no longer pose a risk for bleeding, and, second, causing the aneurysm to shrink and scar down permanently after clipping. On the other hand, it is brain surgery, with all the attendant risks. And apparently, still being in recovery mode, I wouldn’t be ready for it yet.
To summarise: I got The Cure, but not a panacea.