Updated: Jun 19, 2019
My eyes snapped open to see Dr. Stippler at the end of my bed making notes in my chart. She looked up, smiled and proudly stated "it's over." Before the true meaning of those words hit me, I gasped and yelled "oh god, it hurts!" It felt like my head had been split open with an axe. Pain was my only focus now. My nurse was by my side almost instantly, pushing meds into my IV. I begged for the pain to stop, and she looked at me with pity and responded "I know, we're working on it. Just hold on, it will get better." I counted the seconds, praying for the pain to dissipate but the medication took longer than I had hoped. As I laid in the hospital bed, I closed my eyes again and repeated the mantra I had used hours ago going into surgery "just keep breathing." I put all my energy to taking long, deep breaths, feeling my rib cage expand. Before I knew it, I had nurses frantically coming to my bed side. I opened my eyes to worried faces. "Are you having trouble breathing?! Your breathing is slowing down?" Realization dawned on me, they had been pumping me with opiate pain meds which can cause respiratory depression in excessive doses. I weakly smiled at them saying "oh, I was just doing some deep breathing to help the pain. I'm just trying to breathe through the pain." I promptly started to take long breaths in front of them and purposely increased my respiratory rate. Relief flooded their eyes and my nurse asked "so how is the pain now." I thought, and sighed saying "its getting better, slowly but it is better." With the pain down from a 10/10 on the pain scale to a more tolerable 6/10, my mind was finally clear enough to recognize the obvious fact. I felt pain, which meant 1 thing: I AM ALIVE. Daylight broke through the darkness that consumed my mind since December. In Dr. Stippler's words, it truly was over.
I let the wonderful feeling of relief wash over me like a wave. As time ticked by, the pain got better until it was barely noticeable. I looked at my fellow PACU roommates, waved and proudly gave everyone thumbs up shouting "HEY CONGRATS, WE MADE IT!" I could not stop smiling. I briefly touched the right side of my head, and found that as I put pressure on the scalp, I was met with a resistance I had been missing for 3 months. I was back in one piece finally. The shattered glass I had felt like before now had all the shards reattached to form a single being again. There were obvious cracks, where the pieces were glued together. But I was whole again, which was all that mattered. My nurse came back, asking if I wanted to see my family. "Yes please! Can they really come in?!" I could not wait to see their faces again.
Matt and my mom walked into the PACU first. As they rounded the corner to my bedside, I smiled wide to be met with smiles of their own. We hugged for a long time and took in a moment we were all afraid would never happen. As we spoke, I quickly found tears flooding my eyes and I struggled to keep them contained. They looked at me with concern, asking what was wrong? I admitted with a sense of embarrassment "I'm sorry, I don't mean to cry. I'm just so happy this is over. I don't know what's wrong with me." My mom smiled kindly at me and said "it's ok Myra, it's ok to cry." I realized I had been holding my breath for 3 months waiting for the next bad thing to happen. And now that there was a happy result, I felt like I could breathe again after months of drowning. So I laid there crying with Matt and my mom holding my hands, telling me that it was ok. Tears of happiness were not things I was familiar with during this journey.
I had to remain in the PACU for hours while I waited for my post-op CT and a bed to open up on a floor. But that didn't matter, because for the first time in 3 months I felt true happiness. I eagerly asked Matt if I could have my rings back. As he pulled out the ring box, my mom promptly stated "WAIT, Matt put it on her, I want a picture since I didn't get to see the proposal the first time around." He slid the ring one again, and we were met with shouts of excitement. A few nurses happened to be walking by as my mom snapped the picture, and now they were spreading the exciting news "OH MY GOD, THEY JUST GOT ENGAGED!!!!!" I didn't have the heart to tell them that we have been engaged for about 6 months now, but smiled and enjoyed the celebratory atmosphere. Every time someone would walk by my bed, I would hear a nurse state "they're engaged!" I hadn't been able to feel excited about my engagement for 3 months. Instead it was riddled with guilt for not being able to plan and stressing Matt out. Now I had the ability to and my future was more certain than it had been hours ago. I survived the last surgery, maybe I will make it down that church aisle in a white dress.
My sister and dad were let into the PACU since I was hours away from being transported to a permanent room. As my dad rounded the corner, he proudly shouted "The Mother of Dragons has survived!" I laughed and saw the look of confusion on my mom's face. Both him, Matt and myself are big fans of Game of Thrones. A few weeks prior to this surgery, one actress from the show Emilia Clarke (aka Daenerys The Mother of Dragons) founded a charity to increase access to rehabilitation programs for young people who suffer from traumatic brain injuries after her own battle with 2 brain aneurysms while shooting the show and almost stole her career after she developed aphasia. In the beginning seasons, Daenerys walks through fire and comes out unharmed. As I sat talking to my family, I too felt like I had just walked through fire. I certainly did not emerge unscathed, my body now covered in scars from the many attempts to try and save it. But I had come through the impossible and now the ? that was in my future was gone.
I was wheeled into CT a while later, hoping there weren't any unpleasant surprised waiting for me. By the time I was back in the PACU, we got the word that CT was clear. No signs of complications. I breathed another sigh of relief, and asked if I was now allowed to eat. I ordered a burger and enjoyed every bite of it. Matt looked at me funny and I asked him what was wrong. He replied "this is weird, you're just sitting here eating a burger. It's weird to see you after surgery just talking and eating because the last time it was the total opposite. It's just hard to believe that you can have brain surgery and be normal right after." This was a totally new experience for all of us, but a very welcome change. I got transferred to the neuro medical floor later that night, and settled in for what would be a more enjoyable and significantly shorter stay.
*Please consider donating to SameYou Charity. It is doing great work, and is even partnering up with Spaulding Rehab right here in Boston. Let's make it so more people can have positive results like I was lucky enough to get. And big thank you to Emilia Clarke for bringing awareness to an issue I wasn't aware was so common until I was thrown into it. https://www.sameyou.org/home/