In 2005, Rachael suffered 2 (two!) aneurysms and had a little girl in 2011. Rachael tells her remarkable story to Melbourne Mum:
“It was 13 May 2005. I was leaving our Sydney apartment, on the way to my freelance graphic design job in the city. Steve, my boyfriend (now my husband) had already left for work and was due to fly home to the UK that night. I didn’t make it to work that day, and Steve never made it to the UK. All I remember is walking down to the ferry and feeling this incredible sudden rush of fluid to the base of my skull, heaviness, and then collapsing. I later learnt I’d experienced a brain bleed from a berry aneurysm, which had probably been there since birth, had burst.
Fortunately for me, it was peak hour and I happened to be walking next to two people who called the ambulance and stayed with me until it arrived. Neither of them had mobile phones and had to run to the convenience store at the ferry wharf to make the call.
There were so many ‘what ifs’ that day. ‘What if’ it had happened at home? I would have been on my own and quite possibly no one would have known. ‘What if’ it had happened the next day when the NSW Ambulance Service went on strike?
While I was lying on the pavement, drifting in and out of consciousness, I remember thinking “Why can’t I move? What the hell is happening to my head?” I was carted off by ambulance to the hospital. I remember waking up in the ambulance and looking at the ambo’s face. He just smiled at me and I closed my eyes again. Somehow I told them to call Steve and my parents. I can’t imagine getting that phone call. To be told your daughter or girlfriend is in a critical condition and you need to get yourself to the hospital, fast. I can’t remember much more after that.
Soon after, I had an emergency craniotomy on the front left section of my brain. A slice was taken out from my skull and wedged back in like a jigsaw piece once my aneurysm had been clipped. My first piece of platinum jewelry! A drain was also inserted in my skull to drain off excess fluid. I had stitches in my hairline from my ear to the top of my head.
Two days later after a routine CT scan, it was discovered I had another berry aneurysm on the opposite side of my head. This one was bigger than the first. It was suspected this aneurysm had caused the first to explode. After the swelling went down a little, and my brain wasn’t under so much stress, I had the second aneurysm coiled, via non-invasive surgery. A specialist surgeon feeds a tiny tube through your groin all the way through your body, which somehow miraculously ends up in your brain at the exact site. Coils are then released to block or fill up the space where the berry aneurysm had been (getting fuller by the year), so that blood and neurological fluid can continue to flow past the site. This process is 80 to 85% successful.
I spent 3 weeks in the Brain ICU under some amazing nursing and neurosurgeon care. The morphine I was on meant I was barely coherent. There were no real reasons why my berry aneurysm had burst. There was no family history of aneurysms. I didn’t smoke. I was under 30 and relatively fit and healthy.
I was in hospital for four weeks and celebrated my 30th birthday in there (great present, heh?) An endless stream of medical students wanted to question me about my experience and the assorted aneurysms in my head – I doubt they’ll ever find out why my aneurysm had decided to burst. When I finally went home to recover, I was in desperate need of a haircut. As you can tell in the photo, a month of rolling around incoherently in a bed spells seriously bad news for long hair.
I was bored out of my brain at home, so was back freelancing 6 weeks later. People were amazed at my experience and many people were too scared to talk about it. The thing is, wounds heal over and the hair grows back but the mental scars remain. I remember listening to an aptly named song at the time by Missy Higgins, ‘Scar’. It still makes me well up now.
In late 2005 I had another CT angiogram, which showed the coiled aneurysm was at risk of rupturing as the coils had moved and weren’t doing their job anymore. I had a successful surgery to clip it and recovered really quickly as the surgery was controlled and wasn’t an emergency operation.
In December 2011, Steve and I had a beautiful baby girl, Mia. My pregnancy was normal. Straightforward. Weirdly, my Obstetricians’ rooms were right next door to my Neurosurgeons’ consulting rooms. They never consulted as I wasn’t considered a high-risk pregnancy. Mia was always ‘head down’ but never engaged. I went into labour shitting myself, scared, obviously about the labour as it was my first, but also worried that Mia could be born with an aneurysm. My logic was, well, it happened to me so anything is possible.
After 10 hours of getting nowhere fast, Mia’s heart rate began to increase, and I was whisked into theatre for a C-section. I knew the likelihood of having a C-section was high as the obstetrician had said he didn’t want me to push for too long.
Today, we’re all happy and healthy. I have 2 slight dents on either side of my head but you can barely tell. I get scanned every 3 years as a precaution. It took me a few years of getting back on track mentally, finding myself. I’m not sure I really have found myself yet, but I am a lot happier with my life.
Particularly now we’re enjoying such a beautiful little soul in Mia.”
If you have survived an aneurysm, or AVM, or cavernous malformation and have had a baby after it, I’d love you to be part of this series. Please contact me via my contact page.
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