Patient Story for aSAH — Regina

Published: November 30, 2023

My ruptured brain aneurysm symptoms were classic, and my first thought was to lie down, which I was unable to do because of a stiff neck and back. Knowing something was very wrong, but having no idea what was causing my symptoms, we went to the Emergency Room. For approximately 90 minutes in the ER, we were told that I was suffering from a migraine headache. While the symptoms of a ruptured brain aneurysm and a migraine headache can be very similar, I explained that I didn’t get migraine headaches, and they said that everyone has a first one. Through persistence by my husband, several brain CTs were ordered and performed, and we had our answer.

Knowing something was very wrong, but having no idea what was causing my symptoms, we went to the Emergency Room. For approximately 90 minutes in the ER, we were told that I was suffering from a migraine headache.

While in the Emergency Room after learning that my brain hemorrhage was caused by a ruptured aneurysm, the first neurosurgeon that met with my husband and me discussed that he would be performing a craniotomy and clipping the aneurysm. All options were not presented to us, and without my professional experience working with electronic health records supporting a radiology department, I would not have known to request a consultation by a specific doctor. Truthfully, the staff in the ER were somewhat stunned and confused as to who I was asking for. I was able to request again that a certain physician be notified, and they complied. An Interventional Radiologist was called, he reviewed my scans from home, and was at the hospital within 20 minutes (particularly impressive as it was a Sunday evening on a Memorial Day weekend). He explained that I could be a candidate for an endovascular coiling procedure, and this was done instead of clipping the aneurysm via craniotomy.

After the procedure I recovered in the Cardiac Neuro ICU and experienced severe headache, back stiffness, lumbar spasms, vomiting, and weakness. After approximately two weeks I was discharged to continue my recovery at home.

Looking back, my biggest challenges during recovery (PDF) were confusion, tiredness, weakness, anxiety, loss of appetite, blurred vision, and decreased sense of smell. Overall, I didn’t feel like myself, and my biggest fear was that my “old self” would not return. I will never know if these symptoms were the result of the aSAH, or the new medications I was taking, but probably a combination of both. The longer-term medications (once I was off pain medication for the severe headache) were Nimodipine and Keppra. Whether it was the timing of the months that passed after the aSAH or the discontinuation of the Keppra, my tiredness and weakness lifted, and my appetite returned. My neuroendovascular surgical team was patient and kind, and they kept reassuring me that recovery takes time and to be patient. My manager at work, an RN, told me that if I had a big bandage on my head, I would have evidence of what my body went through, and would probably have an easier time adjusting to my temporary condition. However, because my aSAH was treated via coiling, which is a minimally invasive procedure, I did not have visible signs of the procedure, unlike clipping which requires surgery. But because I looked normal, without any physical deficits from my aSAH, I was very hard on myself and was not patient with the healing process. I wanted the pre-aSAH me to return more quickly than it did. Seeking out short-term counseling to help me deal with how my life completely changed in a split second was very helpful. Saying all that, I do truly know now that I was one of the extremely lucky survivors of an aSAH.

Fortunately, during my recovery I did not experience rebleeding, vasospasm, or delayed cerebral ischemia. I also did not feel depressed, but I did feel anxious. I went from a very demanding full-time job as an analyst for electronic health records, supporting radiology, to being home for 4 months. For the first 2 months, I was instructed not to drive, and that alone made the days challenging. I was fortunate to have a very supportive team of family and friends to visit and take me places.

Whenever I look back on that time 10 years ago, I feel so grateful for the life-saving care I received. I was able to return to a job I loved and have welcomed 4 grandchildren into my life. In a split second your life can change, but with the help from medical professionals, and the passage of time to heal and recover, life can be sweet again.

Read the American Heart Assocition Journals' Centennial Collection --- A Tribute to the AHA's 100th Anniversary