Warning: references to death and horror films in this post. If you haven’t had enough of a horror experience getting your kids to school this morning, read on.
It suits me being the poster-child for massive brainfarts (seriously). Aneurysms are uncomfortably fascinating to me. You’d assume that would be the case, given my own brain crapped itself a few years ago, but the awareness and fascination of them reaches far back into my childhood.
There is a day in primary school that will eternally be etched on my memory. I was probably in 5th grade. It was lunchtime and I was having an unassuming meat pie with a cheese layer (remember those?) in the quadrangle. I know this because I remember my mum was on canteen duty that day and I always had a meat pie with a cheese layer. From a distance, I saw a girl in another grade run screaming across the school with her hands pressed into her head. She was screaming like she was being tortured and mutilated. Little did I know at that point that her brain probably felt exactly that way. She ran up to the quadrangle and collapsed. We were all promptly shuffled off to our classes and had no idea what had happened to her.
A few days later our class were given the “talk”. We had a couple of these talks in my primary school. When I was in 4th grade, my teacher Mr. Dobson told us that a girl who was epileptic had had a fit in her bath at home and drowned. This time, we were told this girl (whose name I didn’t even know and still can’t remember) had died of a brain aneurysm. It sounded so mysterious, so random. I had watched it happen and it was awful. So awful. She must have only been 10, if that.
The word “aneurysm” was thus a fairly loaded concept for me from that point. People died of that shit. I had watched one happen and it was awful. But they were also fascinating to someone as interested in science and medicine as I am.
It was around this time I became intrigued by horror films, particularly those involving religion. I can’t stomach many of them now (becoming a mum has irreversibly damaged my horror cortex) but the Omen, the Exorcist, I worked my way through the entire horror section of our local video store (remember those?). In the second part of the Omen trilogy, Damien killed his brother Mark by giving him an aneurysm. I thought that was a pretty macabre way to *die* (it’s fiction, ok!) in 1982 because it was so, I don’t know, silent. There was no blood, nothing. It is the unseen that is both horrific and fascinating. It’s what makes brilliant horror films, and real-life shit like aneurysms and cancer, genuinely frightening.
When I was in the hospital in 2009, one of the nurses told me a brilliant story about Patricia Neal, an actress in the 50s and 60s. She got around, but eventually married Roald Dahl in 1953. They had 4 children (one of them was born on my birthday, but tragically died of measles encephalitis when she was 7) and when she was pregnant with her 5th child, aged 39, she was struck down with 3 burst aneurysms (THREE). She was in a coma for 3 weeks, but eventually gave birth to a daughter, Lucy in August 1965.
People do die of aneurysms, but some of us live. Happily, Australians live in a first-world country where doctors can stop a burst aneurysm killing us if they get them early. If it’s urgent enough, it’s even free. Some people with burst aneurysms can have them stopped intravascularly without cutting into their brains. Others, like me, will always have a slight window shape etched into our skulls. We can even get medical intervention (CTs, MRIs, angiograms) if it’s a possibility that the recurring headaches we are having could be caused by a dormant aneurysm. In Australia, we can head those pesky brainfarts off at the pass. Our medical system is far from perfect and it’s impossible to save everyone, but fuckin’ eh, medicine. You rock.
Aneurysms will always be fascinating to me because they are wrapped up in my memories of childhood and there’s still so much we don’t know about them. Just keep those snotty little Damiens away from me for now, would you?
- More top reads - 10 famous people you may not know had an aneurysm
- For more information on brain aneurysms, check out the Brain Aneurysm Foundation.