In contrast to my previous post, where I rambled for a long time about the horrible consequences of what happened… now it’s time to do the opposite and be thankful 🙂
When those first headaches started happening back on the 22nd of March, none of us had any idea that it would lead down the path that it has. Rather incredibly, I had a triple whammy of a bleed – intra-cerebral (in the brain tissue), intra-ventricular (in the ventricles) and sub-arachnoid (in the space that directly covers the brain). There was a lot of blood leaving my vessels and entering where it shouldn’t be. By rights, I could have died. I could have suffered from permanent paralysis, or visual loss, or loss of feeling, or a personality change. But no, I had a stroke and all I had to show for it was some memory loss (maybe I should get a T-Shirt made…). That in itself is an absolute miracle that I still cannot believe! Everytime I see my scans, I just cannot comprehend how relatively little I suffered when it could have been much, much worse. It’s amazing. Even the doctors seemed to be in slight disbelief – I would have “Are you sure you don’t have double vision?” thrown at me almost daily.
My team at NHNN and the staff at the Royal Free A&E have been absolutely incredible. Especially on the ward, all involved in my care were diligent and compassionate to my situation, something that was comforting to see as a student on the cusp of becoming part of that world. There was such a great community amongst the patients on the ward too – I guess some form of bond would naturally form when you’re living in a room with several others for be it a day, a week or a month. We saw each other at our weakest, at our most vulnerable, at our most helpless – but we also saw each other push through it all and get stronger every day. We saw each other be prepared for surgery and recover from it. We were each others’ eyes, ears and hands – if one patient started vomiting, or being in too much pain to call the nurse using their call button, we would then take it upon ourselves to let the nurses know. And the nurses! The nurses were great. At the time of writing this post I have been to hospital three times now, each time admitted to the same ward. I got to know all of the nurses quite well, which made each subsequent stay easier – it was like having a close friend look out for you. It’s amazing how much brighter the nurses made the ward feel. There is just something very, very humbling to have somebody willingly give you a bed bath, or clean up your bodily fluids with a smile on their face. My only complaint is we would be woken at 6:30am for observations, but I’ll forgive the nurses for that – it is their job after all!
There’s a whole online community that I discovered during my down phase that helped immensely. After being told I had a rare condition, it was hard to talk about how it had affected me because try as they could, nobody could really understand. Which makes me sound like a petulant teenager, I know, but it was frustrating. Then I discovered this site, where thousands of other people with AVMs gathered to support each other. Cheesy as it sounds, it was amazing to discover I wasn’t alone in how I felt and how Ralph had affected me.
I’m also so thankful and grateful to my friends and family. When Ralph first exploded back in March, I have no idea how word spread so quickly because I was in no state to say anything, but it did and the response was both overwhelming and humbling. Thank you so much to everybody that texted, emailed, messaged, sent cards, cupcakes, flowers, tweets – I read and loved every single message and it really helped me push through the pain I was in at the time. It’s amazing the effect a few words can have. I was also shocked by those that took the time out of their day to come visit me – special shout out to my sister, who visited London from Devon, and my close friend, who visited from Cornwall. I thought I was hallucinating or my brain was playing tricks on me when I woke up and saw you. Also to my lab group that I had worked with for the three months prior to my stroke, who sent a beautiful bouquet of flowers and the sweetest card. That made my day 🙂 But I think the group of people that deserve the biggest thanks of all are my mom, my boyfriend and his parents. My mother, who travelled halfway across the country to be with me in hospital, was with me every minute that she could. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be a mother and see your only child barely conscious; she has so much strength, from which I feel I draw upon. My boyfriend and his parents have been so incredibly generous – they took us into their home and let myself and my mother stay there, and we have been doing so for the past three months. They have been so supportive, helping me in every way possible and expecting nothing in return. It’s wonderful to be surrounded by so many people who care so deeply for me.
So at the end of all of that slushy stuff, I’m left feeling a bit like a pageant queen tearfully giving her thanks. Sorry about that! But I do have a very serious message that I would like to generate from this post – and that is the importance of being thankful. What doesn’t kill us truly does make us stronger, and even though Ralph has closed many doors, he has simultaneously opened a few. I have reflected so much these past few months (because let’s face it, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands) and I feel like it’s made me a better person. I used to do CCF (Combined Cadet Force) at school and every time we had to do something tiring or hard, our Pilot Officer would call it “character building”. Well, this is character building. To those of you reading who have never experienced anything life changing or drastic, be thankful. Be thankful of your youth (or experience), be thankful of your brain still keeping you alive, be thankful of those around you. You never know when it might be taken away. And those of you reading who have experienced something like this – be thankful too. I’m sure it will affect you in more ways than you expect, but if you look at it the right way, good can come out of anything 🙂