it's hard for me to describe my experience at UMC -- not because i don't remember, but because there is SO much i want to include that i don't know how to pack it all in to a post or two in a way that makes sense. so, i will give some background and then take a page from the book on compelling powerpoint presentations and bust out the bullets.
i arrived at UMC in the middle of the night on Friday, Feb. 25. i was put in a double-occupancy room on the 6th floor in the neuro med-surg unit. most people on this floor had some sort of traumatic brain injury or other neurological issue, and seizure monitors were constantly going off. this was my home for a total of eight days. (it seemed longer!)
Dr. Weinand and about five or so medical students came to meet me later that Friday. (Dr. Weinand never saw me alone. since UMC is a teaching hospital for the University of Arizona, the doctors are always assisted by students and interns.) he did a neuro assessment, including testing my paralyzed limbs, and talked about my MRI. his diagnosis pretty much agreed with what Dr. Nicol had said, but unlike Dr. Nicol, Dr. Weinand wanted to do surgery. He explained that he would go in my brain and remove the pooled blood and remove whatever caused the bleed in the first place -- he was almost positive it was a CVM. he said that once the blood was removed, the pressure in my brain would reduce and i might see some return as far as movement was concerned. surgery was set for Wednesday, March 2. in the six days leading up to the surgery, i would undergo more tests that would help the doctors map my brain for a successful surgery.
i couldn't really wrap my head around brain surgery. what i did know, though, was that Dr. Weinand knew his stuff. his bedside manner was terrible and he came off short and cold, but my family and i were confident in him.
despite that confidence, i was still struggling with my situation. the panic attacks continued, making things so much worse. my emotions were all over the place: one minute i was doing fine and the next i was in tears again. i easily became discouraged when therapists would come help me try to walk or move. didn't they know half my body was dead weight? each day lasted for what felt like forever, and i had little motivation to do anything -- mostly because i couldn't really do anything. knowing how depressed i was, Troy and my family tried to take me for walks outside every day. at first they were a welcome change from the dark hospital room, but then the thought of being away from my nurses frightened me to the point where i didn't really want to stay out for long. what if i stopped breathing or something else happened in my brain? who would help me? even though i felt uncomfortable inside the hospital, i felt even more uneasy on the outside.
thankfully, being in Tucson meant i was near family, and my three sisters - Keele, Alicia and Angela - along with my parents and Troy, brought me immense comfort. my sisters showered me with hugs, gifts and goodies. everybody took turns sitting by my side, feeding me positive thoughts, massaging my right leg and helping me feel safe. i also found strength in prayer and in hearing my parents read to me about the many miracles Jesus performed in the scriptures. i knew that Jesus could perform a miracle in my life if i just had enough faith in Him. trouble was, my fears were overtaking my faith, making my outlook on things less than rosy.
a big boost of positivity came when i found out just how many people were supporting me and, most importantly, praying for me. my family, friends, members of my ward and stake (my church congregation), coworkers and even people i did not know were asking God to heal me and bring me comfort. i also learned that one of my ward's leaders had asked his relative, a member of our church's First Presidency, to pray for me. (for those who aren't familiar with this terminology, the First Presidency is made up of the president of the church, also known as our prophet, and his two counselors. the three men regularly meet at the Salt Lake temple to pray and seek guidance for the affairs of the church and the teachings they should convey to its members.) knowing that men i believe to be prophets of God were pleading to Him on my behalf brought tears to my eyes. to this day, i can't express enough how thankful i am for all the prayers said for me, and how absolutely certain i am that they WORKED. if it wasn't for my prayers and the prayers of others, i know i would not be where i am today. (if you, reader, have prayed for me: thank you, thank you. times a million.)
now, i suppose i'll transition into the bulleted portion of this post. like i mentioned earlier, there is so much i want to record, and bullets might be the best way to do it.
- i really had hoped i was done with the MRI/CT scan business after Flagstaff, but i had to go through a whole new slew of tests, including two more MRIs and a barium swallow. let me point out a couple ironies which are funny now but weren't as humorous when they were happening.
first, before all this happened, i was supposed to get the barium swallow test to see if i had any ulcers or other issues that were giving me some bad stomach issues. the thought of swallowing that junk while already feeling nauseous was not in the least bit appealing to me since i am pretty freaked out about throwing up, so i kept putting it off. when the nurse at UMC told me i had to drink the barium so they could see if i had any other areas of concern, i couldn't help but laugh a bit. as soon as i tried to swallow the barium mixture, though, i stopped laughing. blueberry flavor? doubtful. in the end, it took much too long and was admittedly not quite as horrible as i made myself believe.
now to the second [and funniest] irony. for both my MRIs, i was offered headphones to listen to music. during both MRIs, i opted for country. BOTH times, the song "If I Die Young" by The Band Perry played. (if you aren't familiar with the tune, the video is below.) basically, the whole song is from the perspective of a girl who dies too early. i can't say this really helped matters. i laugh about it now, but i still avoid country during my MRIs and instead opt for alternative rock. just in case. :]
- my appetite at UMC was all but non-existent. i'm the kind of person who doesn't eat when i'm at all nervous, so i obviously turned away from food pretty quickly. i could order my food from the cafeteria downstairs, and when i did do that, the food was actually pretty good! i mainly picked at my meals, not really eating more than a few bites. while not eating worked well for the most part, it backfired a few times each day. one of the medications i was on was a steroid to help with my brain swelling, and a side effect it had on me was to make me feel super weak and woozy if i didn't have much food in my system. this was probably a blessing in disguise to help me eat more.
- many people came to my aid to help cheer me up. my dad wrote down my goals for each day to make me have things to work toward. drink water. sit up in bed for an hour. read my scriptures. my mom and angela, the two most inspirational people in my family, constantly encouraged me to think positive thoughts, focus on the good and picture myself being healed. keele brought my brand new nephew over so i could see him, and alicia provided comfort by speaking about things from her nursing point of view. and, who could forget how troy traveled back and forth from Flagstaff to Tucson every chance he got to be by my side. i am still in awe of his sacrifices for me.
- after a stroke, the affected side of the body goes through a period of flaccidity (pretty much being paralyzed) and then shifts to a much longer period when certain muscles go into hyperdrive (spasticity). at UMC, my right leg went from being completely dead to having some serious and very frequent spasms. they centered in my quad and would make my entire leg straighten out and shake violently and uncontrollably. the only way to get them to stop was for somebody to wrestle my leg so it would bend. the spasms were so strong that it sometimes took two people leaning on my leg to make it bend. when i was particularly nervous, the spasms worsened. during the night, they woke me up many times. thankfully, my mom slept on a terribly uncomfortable couch bed next to me and would corral my leg to make the shaking stop. my family and Troy were so good about massaging that leg to relieve the pain caused by the spasms.
- on the positive side of the transition from flaccidity to spasticity, i became able to move my leg voluntarily, albeit very slightly. i found that having a spastic quad meant i could push my foot against somebody's hand. i also became able to raise my leg off the bed a bit. both of these changes were met with lots of cheering and smiles from me, my family and nurses. :]
- speaking of nurses, i had some great ones at UMC. one nurse in particular, BJ, was a true angel to me. she was incredibly kind and caring, but also pushed me to stay positive and do difficult things. the days when she was my nurse were always a little better! she even brought me stuffed lamb after she found out lambs were my favorite animal.
- a few days into my stay at UMC, i finally got a shower. i had just barely brushed my teeth and gotten my hair brushed for the first time in days, too. my mom helped prop me up in the shower and washed my matted hair. it felt so good! she then french braided my hair. my last long hair 'do!
- this bullet point deals with the commode, so if you get easily grossed out, feel free to skip down! i think there was one instance prior to UMC when i was faced with using a commode (aka bucket with a seat on it). i was at the hospital when i was 10 for a broken leg, and i told the nurses i had to go #2. they brought over the commode. i had never seen such a thing. it turned out i could hold it after all.
well, this time i had no choice. any time i had to take care of any sort of business, i pressed the nurse call light and was be assisted out of bed and on to the commode by a tech. she -- or he -- would help me stand on my good foot, pull my underwear down and try to place me on the commode. (i say "try" because there were many close calls. since i had horrible balance and was partially dead weight, the techs sometimes had a hard time getting me in the right spot.) the tech would then pull the curtain shut, hand me TP when needed and then help me back in bed. following each of these episodes, my wonderful mother was always ready to pass the antibacterial wipes. :]
aside from the obvious awkwardness involved, i'd have to say the worst part of the commode experience was one fateful day almost a full week since the stroke. trauma, shock and not eating much had equaled out to an intestinal road block -- no #2 for almost seven days. despite days of coaxing from the nurses, nothing moved. laxatives had proved ineffective, so the nurses threatened me with a suppository. oh. shoot. i told them i would try one more time! what happened next is commonly referred to by Troy and my parents as "The Poop of Death."
- modesty kind of went out the window during my hospital experience. with so many doctors, nurses and techs examining me and helping me with personal hygiene, i stopped being embarrassed about being naked or semi-clothed in front of strangers. it's funny how quickly i went from wanting only a girl helping me use the commode to not really caring.
i guess this brings up another point: it is interesting how, when something traumatic happens, we very quickly find out what is most important to us. throughout my hospital stays, and even after, the things that kept me going were God/faith, family and friends. that's it. where i was once a perfectionist about my appearance, i could care less about blemishes, the state of my hair or what other people thought of me. the top news in the world and on Facebook didn't matter. thoughts of work priorities and social engagements dissolved immediately. now that i am out of the hospital and back to the real world, i try to remind myself of the things that matter most.
- one of the most memorable and laughter-inducing parts about UMC was my roommate, Diane. i had about three different ladies in the bed next to me throughout my stay, but Diane was there the longest. she was somewhere in her 50's and had just had a brain biopsy. she was so sweet and loving toward me from the very start. she was a very faithful Christian, so many of our conversations dealt with God. i really appreciated and was inspired by her faith and kindness.
that doesn't sound so laughter-inducing, does it? well, this next part is where the humor comes in. as sweet as Diane was, she was a somewhat difficult roommate to have. she was as anxious as i was and manifested it vocally. she was especially vocal during the night when she would wake up and talk to her husband. to help her sleep, the nurses gave her ambien. this was perhaps a grave mistake. instead of knocking her out, it did the opposite. she would stay awake almost all night talking to her husband about incoherent -- and often times hilarious -- topics. one night in particular, she awoke to share with her husband and the nurse that she had been riding a pancake train in her dream. (if you are wondering what a pancake train is, it is a train on which she was serving pancakes.) she talked about this train experience all night and the next day. it was very real to her, even long after she woke up. this is just one example of funny moments brought about by Diane. even though she probably never realized it, her episodes brought some much-needed laughter to me and whoever was staying in the room with me.
- the TV show Pysch offered many, many hours of distraction for me and my visitors. i was so grateful for wi-fi and Netflix!
- as many of you may know, each night, my mom posted updates about me on Facebook. i looked forward to waking up the next morning so i could log on to Facebook and see the comfort, love and support extended to me by my wonderful friends and family in the way of messages, posts, comments and likes. while i loved all the encouragement, i struggled believing in myself as much as everybody else believed in me. i remember telling my mom on multiple occasions that i wasn't as strong as everybody thought, that everybody had it all wrong and that i would just end up disappointing them. that was probably my lowest point: everybody rooting for a miracle and me not believing i was capable of meeting their expectations.
this now concludes the longest post ever!
next [past] post: the operation and transferring to Oro Valley Hospital.
next [present] post: the current state of things.