It Happened to Me: I Had A Brain Hemorrhage

Or as I like to call it, brain 'splodey.
Publish date:
October 11, 2011
healthy, brain hemorrhage, M

I don't really remember a time without the migraines. My memory was always kind of shaky, and it only got worse later. What I do remember is them becoming more frequent. Like, multiple times a week, frequent.

According to my mom, my first MRI happened when I was around 7 years old. I had a lot of MRIs, and some sort of test in where I was made to run while wired up to a machine. I'm not sure what that one was called, but I do remember the tech snapping at me for not being able to keep up the pace, and looking pretty disgusted with me when I started crying.

I was prescribed fioricet for the migraines, and after a few weeks keeping a food diary, I was informed that I was allergic to msg and would have to cut it out of my diet completely. If you're the kind of person who reads the labels on everything you eat (I am), then you're probably well aware that msg is an ingredient in pretty much everything nice, ever. All of my 8 year old favorite foods were swimming in it. Hot dogs? Yup. Cold cuts? Only Hormel allowed. Bacon? Sorry, bub. Doritos?! You bet! (Okay, my diet was pretty crap, I'll give you that.)

For awhile, it even seemed to work. I went from having 2-3 migraines a week to having one. But the migraines were still around.

And so began a 6 years long dance with mental healthcare professionals. Zoloft, then Prozac, neither of which did a thing for me. The truth is that I wasn't depressed at all, I just felt disconnected I felt from life, from myself and, increasingly, from reality. My 16th year brought with it panic attacks, a new and frankly terrifying addition to the ever-increasing weirdness that was my life. For my 17th birthday, I got engaged, and a month-and-a-half later, my fiance moved away to start Art School. That's when things got really bad.

I became withdrawn and the panic attacks began to take over my life. My psychiatrist got me put into a homebound school program, which I'm fairly sure is the only way I managed to graduate. My family and friends chalked up the newfound changes to depression and me missing my fiance, but actually, I'd begun to lose control of my mind.

Being around people had become completely unbearable. It was like I could feel everything , and I was drowning in it. Then I became hung up on the fact that I was broadcasting all these crazy thoughts to everyone around me. I'd look at people and see demons and psychic vampires. Then came the sleep paralysis, almost nightly. Then the voices and visual hallucinations. I would even randomly smell things that weren't there. Really unpleasant things.

Somehow I managed to keep all of this to myself long enough to graduate high school and move out to Pittsburgh with my fiance. He was working full time and going to school, and I was sitting in the corner screaming at the laundry to just shut the fuck up already. He spent as little time as possible around me, and our apartment was not well stocked with food. When we finally gave up, packed up a u-haul and drove ourselves back home 8 months later, I weighed 84 lbs.

My mother dragged me to the emergency room the next day, and I quite happily signed myself in as soon as I realized where I was. Finally, somebody was going to do something about all this. I was kept in the hospital for 12 days. I suspect they thought I was anorexic, but I ate everything they put in front of me gladly and gained 8 lbs in those 12 days, getting myself right back to the weight I'd been for the past 5 years.

They also gave me anti-hallucinogenic meds and a low does epilepsy medication for the twitch that I had picked up without even noticing. The meds didn't really help all that much, but I kept taking them and managed to keep quiet while out in public. At home, I would sit quietly and try to ignore the voices, thinking that maybe if I pretended they weren't there, they'd give up and go away. It usually ended up with my posters torn off the wall in anger, because Mia Wallace kept giving me side eye and talking shit while I was trying to sleep.

One day, while at a friend's house, I stuck my head out his living room window to yell something at some people I knew walking by. I tried to pull my head in, and everything went black. I sat on the floor, trying to lift my head, but I couldn't do it. It felt like it weighed about 50 lbs and was 10 foot in diameter.

I crawled to the couch, thinking what I needed was a good rest. My friend worked nights, so at some point he left. I don't know how long I laid there like that, but I began to feel like I was going to be sick.I crawled to the bathroom and splashed water on my face. I threw up for awhile, before having the epiphany that if it stopped, it was going to be because I was dead.

My mom drove me to the ER, where I kept telling them I had sprained my neck. Somebody there had the sense to give me an Xray, and lo and behold, my brain was bleeding.

Lehigh Valley Medical Center Cedar Crest was my new home for the next 10 days. I had a private room and a bed I was not allowed out of until the doctors were certain the bleeding had stopped and my body was able to reabsorb the blood without any swelling. Dr. George Chovanes was my neurosurgeon, and he was amazing. And also pretty hot.

On day 10, I went down to his office before leaving the hospital and got to look at all the prints from my angiogram. What I had was an arteriovenous malformation, or an AVM. A congenital knot of blood vessels, just a shade off dead center of my brain. It had burst when I stood up from that window.

I was being sent home but I was to take it easy for the next month. No work, and stay close to home so I could lay down the second I needed to. In a few months, I'd undergo radiosurgery. The list of possible side effects from my brain hemorrhage was long and sort of scary, and I tuned out after awhile. Permanent limp, slurred speech, loss of use of one side of my body, reduced memory and on and on.

I was home for a few weeks when my mom asked if I'd been bothering to take my psych meds. I hadn't had one since before I'd entered the hospital, and I felt more like myself than I had in years. No voices. No weird shadow men with red eyes staring in my window at night. No smell of rotting bodies or dog poo. I was just me again.

I still have migraines, but not too often now. I've gone over 5 years now without a proper panic attack. No craziness. No voices. It's been 14 years, and I'm OK.