(feel free to pass this on to anyone who wants/needs to hear this) It’s astonishing to realize a year ago today my life was turned upside down. One year ago, I was a part time Model, full-time Mom residing in gorgeous Malibu, California living out all my wildest dreams. I had a precious 6 month old baby and an adoring husband in law school at Pepperdine. We were leaders in our church and soaking up all that Southern California had to offer. I was incredibly blessed in almost every way, from my abilities in public speaking to my appearance to my intelligence. I had always won everything and achieved most any dream I had put my mind to. I married my prince Charming and thought I would live happily ever after. I ‘had it all’ in a way, and in an instant, it was all gone.
Almost the worst thing imaginable happened to me. I was in perfect health. I did not even have a general doctor. I had just turned 26 yrs old, had no family history of health problems, I had had a baby naturally 6 month before, and I had no hypertension. I worked out almost every day, and had no signs that a brain injury was even a possibility. Despite all those indicators, on April 21, 2008, I collapsed as a result of a massive bleed in my brain. The bleed resulted from the rupture of an AVM in my cerebellum, as well as a number of aneurysms, which began forming a hematoma around my brainstem. The blood flowing into the small spaces surrounding my cerebellum began to literally squeeze my brain down into my spinal column. After 16 hours of microsurgery, I was left with less than half of my cerebellum and untold damage to my brain stem and most of the intracranial nerves that control my body, but I was left with my life.
I almost died a year ago today. I really almost died. I do not believe in happenstance. I believe everything happens for a reason. I do not know everything, but I know that God is real and that He saved me on April 21, 2008. I can say this to you even in the place I am in now, which is still pretty bad off. As you may know, I cannot walk at all (I now own a wheelchair), my face is paralyzed on one side, I have severe double vision, I have been pronounced deaf in one ear, I have a severely weakened and distorted voice, and I cannot take care of my baby boy. Thank God I am finally starting to eat some food again after 11 months on a feeding tube. My entire right side has been severely weakened and even as I type this, I can only use my left hand. There are many, many other issues, but I will spare you the details.
Don't feel too sorry for me... There have been a few perks throughout this time. Since I now have a handicap decal, I never have to look for a place to park at the mall. Since my face is paralyzed on the right side, it’s like getting free Botox in half my face. From all the physical therapy, I am in the best shape of my life. I have a six pack, bulging biceps, and killer quads. Because I have been incapable of taking care of my son, I have not changed a dirty diaper in a year. Since I am now eating, but cannot walk, I have breakfast in bed every morning! Because I have been severely underweight, I have to eat Sprinkles cupcakes and Stan’s doughnuts to try to gain weight. Above all, I have stumbled upon the greatest way to lose those last few pesky pounds of baby weight!
In spite of the deficits, I acknowledge the many, many miracles that have kept me here. I had a severe brain hemorrhage, the location and size of which almost always result in death or worse. My husband unexpectedly came home for lunch right before I collapsed. He happened to be home to call an ambulance and be there for my 6th month old baby who was napping when I collapsed. I was taken to UCLA, which happens to be the third best hospital in the country. Dr. Nestor Gonzales performed my 16 hour brain surgery and he just happens to be double board certified in vascular neurosurgery and radiology. His skills were specifically useful for my situation. My husband just happened to take out a PPO Catastrophic insurance policy for us over 3 years ago.
The worst thing happened at the very best time. Jay was almost finished with law school. I wonder what would have happened if this had been his first year. He has been able to be my primary caretaker. He was even allowed to graduate law school between hospital runs. This also happened at the best time for the baby. What if he was a new born or a teenager– what would we have done then? I happened to win $50,000 on a game show (Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?). The check came in the mail after I was already in the hospital. That money enabled Jay to care for me full time. Lastly, my youngest sister justhappened to graduate from high school right after this happened to me. She elected to go to college out here and my mom has been able to live here part of the time to help care for me.
I had spoken to several groups about the notion of “Identity” before this happened. Even then, I knew enough to know I needed my identity to be founded in something beyond myself. I had no idea I would have this happen a few weeks after speaking on Identity to our treasured Young Marrieds group at church. I think one reason I was so ‘into’ Identity was because God was preparing me for this season – I needed to know what my real identity was and what it was not. I had already researched and prepared all the information and spoken on “Identity”. Now, I was living it. How would I respond? I think in this life, there are no mistakes and nothing is wasted. I know God was preparing me for this. I even mentioned to friends that I felt God was preparing me for a change when James reached 6 months. In a weird way, it was as if I knew this was going to happen.
I had memorized the words to the song “You Never Let Go” because of the natural birth. (The lyrics are at the end of this Essay). I had also memorized more scripture in the last year than I ever had before. I now know that was because I would not be able to read or write, and I needed to know the truth about who I really am. I had told my girls’ discipleship group that they needed to memorize scripture in case they were put in prison, I just did not know then that that prison could be one’s own body!
My ordeal has been long and full of drama. I spent 40 days in ICU, 2 1/2 months in Acute rehab, and I am still in therapy a year later at Casa Colina in Pomona, California. I lived as an inpatient in hospitals for over 6 months before being able to come home to my husband and baby.
Today I have severe deficits and many unknowns in terms of my future. Life is not easy. BUT I am alive. God spared my life for a reason. While I cannot yet walk, passing a swallowing test was a huge boost for me. The taste of food was enough to fill my soul and make me smile. At one point, a medical professional even told Jay I would likely never swallow again. Now, I can eat some softened foods - even mac n cheese! I cannot eat most raw vegetables or breads. I cannot eat most meat either, but I am happy to be a Vegetarian if it means I can have something.
The honest truth is that I am still scared. I want to walk and have a face that looks normal and a voice that sounds normal. Above all, I want to take care of my own baby. I want so many things for my life. This is all so hard to endure. You know what, though? A month ago I wondered if I would ever eat again. I thought I might never pass a swallowing test. BUT I DID.
There have been so many blessings throughout this nightmare. Above all (tears fill my eyes as I write these words) my cognitive mind is completely intact. My memories, my personality, and my faith are all as strong as before. Having been in a neuro-rehabilitation unit for almost a year now, I have seen that this is not normally the case. I can still tell you our frequent flyer miles numbers, our credit card information, and even Jay’s grandparents address with the zip code in Florence, MS. I’m not kidding. I believe that everything that is currently a physical deficit can be healed in time through hard work, prayer, and surgery. I am expected-one day- to make a full recovery. This could have been a very different story.
I have seen the movie “Evan Almighty” many times. Jay’s 1st cousin, Johnny (an actor), plays the oldest brother in the film. In it, there is a question posed that I20find fascinating now. God (played by Morgan Freeman) says: “Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous?” I had always prayed for more patience because I am so impatient! My prayer went something like this: ‘God, give me patience and make it fast!’ When praying about having James, I prayed for Courage. I have always been impatient and wanted things done RIGHT NOW! I have always been a wimp and if you told me this was going to happen to me, I would not have believed I could have survived under these circumstances. Having this happen has meant I am learning so much about patience and courage. I have been given, as the movie says, the opportunity to be patient and courageous. It is a beautiful thing.
The truth is that God is closest to me when I am suffering. He hears every cry and cares how I am doing. I matter to him. I have not been forgotten. He will not abandon me to the grave. He is here. Do I wish this had never have happened to me? Of course, but I know it is for a reason, one that I may never fully understand. I actually praise God for what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will continue to do.
My belief in God has been greatly strengthened because of the ways he has acted in my life during the past 12 months. I believe in Him because of the very story of my survival. But I’ve come to learn thatbelieving in God is not fully possible without also believing God. He says that He is my hope and strength, and I believe Him. I will be well one day. I believe that with all my heart, soul, and brain…(well...what's left of it)!
My Favorite Quotes From this time: “Seize the day!” – On my Jcrew shirt that I have worn to therapy time and time again.
“He makes all things new”, “Nothing is wasted”, “Joy comes in the morning.” – comforting Truths we are always saying
“I’m Hangry!” – This is a combination of the words hungry and angry. It has become one of my very favorite words. Thank you to the Geckelers who shared the expression with us!
“What would you like your goal in PT to be?- My physical therapist. “I just want to walk20before my son does!” (This didn’t happen --- James beat me with his walking and eating BUT I am not far behind!)
“When God closes a door, he opens a window, BUT it can be a hell in the hallway!” – My Mom, quoting Dave Stanton
“Your thighs and waist are so small. I would kill for a body like that.” – My sister, Amie “Just have an AVM …. Then you get this body!” – My response
“You Never Let Go” Lyrics by Matt Redman: (This was the song on my IPOD when I had James, and it has become a sort-of theme song for this time)
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death Your perfect love is casting out fear And even when I'm caught in the middle of the storms of this life I won't turn back I know you are near
And I will fear no evil For my God is with me And if my God is with me Whom then shall I fear? Whom then shall I fear?
(Chorus) Oh no, You never let go Through the calm and through the storm Oh no, You never let go In every high and every low Oh no, You never let go Lord, You never let go of me
And I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on A glorious light beyond all compare And there will be an end to these troubles But until that day comes We'll live to know You here on the earth