Monday, February 11, 2008

Two Years After the Aneurysm

Two years ago, in the evening of February 11, 2006, Jan had a brain haemorrhage on the left part in the area that controls speech, just above her ear. She had an open brain surgery within six hours to clip her aneurysm and to clean the blood that had spilled to other areas. Blood keeps the brain alive when it circulates through the blood vessels. The same blood kills brain cells when it comes into contact with them. Life and death in the same substance. This is the paradox of life Jan and I know too well.

So, what has happened in the past two years?

This whole chapter began when Jan was getting ready to go to a Valentine’s party with me. We were happy, laughing, playful, romantic, when suddenly a little blood vessel with weakened walls burst. The possibility was there since she was born; waiting for that last beat of her heart that would push blood the vessels and rip the walls. That moment came on the evening of February 11, 2006.

The surgeons said this situation was deadly and they would do their best, but there were no guarantees. They also said that if she survived, her speech, movement on the right side and other functions were compromised. Four months later, Jan left the hospital walking by herself, with mild aphasia (speech limitations) and some movement on her right side.

About a month after her operation, a pastor came to the hospital with a group of friends to express Jan their love. He said, God had told him that “everything that belongs to Jan would be restored”. This became Jan’s standard since. With an unwavering faith she began the slow process of regaining more speech, more movement in her right side and more strength, as well as rebuilding her short term memory.

She was an out-patient in the rehab hospital for about six months. She received speech, occupational and physical therapies. The assessments from all the therapists were very encouraging. In the second year, Jan began alternative therapies: a chiropractor from a church she attended in the past applied the NUCCA procedure to help Jan’s body heal itself. This, coupled with a diet of food supplements (glyconutrients) impacted positively her recovery. She made remarkable progress, of course, not as fast as she would like, but she felt glad with the treatment.

On May 2006, she had plastic surgery to put back in the flap bones on the left side of her head. These bones were kept out to allow the brain to swell after the first operation. The operation was unsuccessful because the surgeon’s team failed to notice that the bones (kept for four months in a freezer) were already dead. Jan’s body rejected them and began to slowly re-absorb them. A second plastic surgery to implant an artificial plate instead of the bones was done in September 2007. The operation was 75% successful because the surgeon could not correct a dent on the left temple caused by the atrophy of the muscle that moves the jaw. Jan felt disappointed, but being cosmetic, she decided to concentrate on functions first.

Recently she began acupuncture therapy to stimulate the right side of her body to reconnect to the brain while the brain is slowly reprogramming movement on the right side.

Her speech has advanced considerably. When she is rested, she can carry a conversation at a high level for a good couple of hours. The aphasia is more noticeable when she is tired.

Her energy carries her for a good 6 to 8 hours before she is forced to take a rest –I say forced, because her drive to keep going is bigger than her energy-, and in total, she is awake about 12 hours in a day. This is a remarkable progress considering that she could barely stay awake 6 hours a day when she left the hospital.

Jan volunteers a couple of days a week at the church office. This, along with her medical appointments keeps her busy most of the week. She ventures into the subway and the bus system by herself. Sometimes, when her energy level drops, and it does suddenly, she just lays on the ground. A month ago I was late to pick her up by about 15 minutes; I found her resting on her side on the steps of the church. She is so free of the public opinion that she will rest anywhere without a second thought if she needs it.

We have gone through a lot in the past two years, and sometimes our relationship shows it. We have learned to see this process from God’s perspective: we don’t despair or feel short changed, but we do feel stressed and sometimes impatient. On occasion we find ourselves in conflict more because of how we feel than because of how we are.

Two years of reinventing Jan and reinventing our marriage has definitely taught us the substance of faith and how to find our own substance to continue in this path. We know we could not have done it alone. God has mobilized many people to protect, encourage, help, and challenge us. We realize that when we acknowledge our weakness is when we find ourselves being the strongest through others.

We don’t know where this path will take us. But we are not worried. So far we feel we are better from what has happened. We pray that we will make it as a couple in the long term and some day we will be able to share with other how we found the path in the middle of this jungle. One basic lesson is that nothing is for certain in our life, only God's love.

In the mean time, would you join us and celebrate Jan's Second Anniversary of her new life?


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