BETSY HART: Brain surgery gives perspective to milestone birthday
As I write this, it is my last day before a birthday. A big one. One of those with a zero in it. (Let’s leave it at that!)
And I’m finding that I’m more reflective than usual.
Not for the standard “What have I done with my life so far?” reasons. Not even because I married again last October, after eight long years of being, involuntarily, a single parent, and am busy learning, and enjoying, what it is to have a new life and new family.
It’s that I recently discovered a menacing and potentially life-threatening cerebral aneurysm before it ruptured.
It presented no symptoms, I had no risk factors for one and it was found by God’s grace, in that I had a routine “let’s just check” MRI for something completely unrelated that itself turned out to be nothing. Discovery of the aneurysm led to brain surgery, aka a craniotomy. The aneurysm was treated by top surgeons, involving a several-hour procedure, three clips, a long scar behind my hairline and a stint in the ICU.
Now it’s gone — like it never even happened. But it did. And it makes this birthday a little different for me.
It all started with the discovery of the aneurysm just days before my wedding last fall. Suddenly, I was juggling dress fittings and neurologist appointments. My fiance and I were devastated: Who needs this just before a wedding?
The ceremony went on as planned, though we told almost no one about it at the time. We didn’t want any unnecessary clouds on our big day. But wow — my husband and I and the pastor sure knew that “Till death do us part” meant something very special.
A lot of things needed to fall into place before I could have the surgery in early January. People ask me now what it was like living with the aneu-rysm while waiting to have it removed, knowing it would be deadly or, at least, devastating if it ruptured. Well, during the entire ordeal God gave me amazing grace to not focus on it much and, instead, be thankful that I had a life-threatening condition that — unlike so many terrible diagnoses — could be completely fixed.
It was. I went into surgery calm but with a real sense that much could go wrong. I made sure my will was organized, and I talked with my four kids about death. My husband and I held each other really tight. It turned out that the aneurysm was bigger, more complicated and more vulnerable than the scans had shown. Still, the surgeons were able to essentially render it benign. Incredible.
My open head was sewn back up. I was sent to the ICU, where another woman my age with a ruptured aneurysm smaller than mine was dying while I was recovering. Later, when I heard about that, it just felt really unfair and unreal.
By late March, I was back at the gym. There are, seemingly, no side effects. I find that simply amazing.
There are, of course, all the times I try to get away with something by saying, “Of course, I can’t remember/ think of this or that — I had brain surgery!” But even my kids, who had been so worried about the whole experience, now just roll their eyes at me.
Almost every time I share this story, people tell me about someone they know devastated by a ruptured cerebral aneurysm.
So why was my asymptomatic aneurysm (they rarely have symptoms) discovered in a crazy way, and so many others are not? I don’t have an answer for that and God didn’t tell me, but I do know I don’t deserve it.
And this is what I’m trying to process. On the one hand, through Providence I’m alive. I want to look at this and say, “It changed my life,” but that’s not quite true. Should it be? On the other hand, it seems to me we should see every day as an amazing gift we don’t deserve, whether it’s obvious that we avoided death that day or not.
Because every day we draw breath is, as I’ve heard it put, “Another day not promised.”
Still, I find that even with this incredible experience and all the love and care shown by friends and family and my new dear husband, I’m back to whining about a birthday with a zero in it.
Maybe that’s human nature. Maybe it’s not all wrong. We have to go on living, right?
This new history isn’t too far in the rearview mirror for me, so I may be writing about this again later on.
For now, though, I know I can say this much: Even as I whine a little, I now gratefully raise a toast to birthdays with zeros in them.
For more information on cerebral aneurysms, visit www.bafound.org.