Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Joining Jeanne

Ten years ago, my life fell apart.  My dad had two heart attacks, my husband had an affair and one of my best friend's brain literally exploded.  My dad recovered.  My marriage healed.  But Jeanne's brain could not withstand the resulting trauma of a ruptured brain aneurysm.  Since then, there have been countless moments where I ached to pick up the phone and to hear her stilted, low laugh.

But none of those moments compare in magnitude to now.

What were the odds that Jeanne would be my college roommate; that she would call two weeks before our freshman year to say, "What color is your bedspread?  We should coordinate."  What were the odds that despite her earnest questions and eager demeanor (or maybe because of it) I would feel like her sister after one short week of close quarters.  She was so goofy.  You could not NOT love her.

Over the next fifteen years we would share a love of over-the-top romantic blouses, french fries and maxi-pads. Our kids (three each) would be born at nearly the same time.  Our weekly (sometimes daily) phone calls were often loud and included lots of stereotypically Italian hand waving at the injustice of it all. We had mutual outrage over husbands, budgets and our massive, motherly lack of sleep.  She helped me plant my first garden.  I sent her mix CD's.  Then, a brain aneurysm burst and felled her.  For the next two years, she lay in a semi-coma wasting away in a nursing home.

Experts estimate that approximately five percent of people have a brain aneurysm.  So I suppose it isn't so crazy to think that someone I loved might die from this frightening condition.  What is surprising is that two weeks ago, I joined Jeanne in that five percent.

After an MRI ordered to determine the cause of a rainfall of seizures I've had since April, the neurologist called to say, "Juliet, we think we might see something that looks like a small aneurysm."

"I'm sure it isn't," my mother said.  "I have a good feeling about this."

I didn't have a good feeling about it.  Still, I was hopeful.  I mean, what were the odds?  

Right, so I haven't processed this yet - the fact that if it bursts, it's about 20% likely that I might survive with good cognitive function - or the fact that only 20% of brain aneurysms never burst.

Am I going to die from this?  Will it be soon?  Will my children suffer the kind of agonizing grief and confusion that Jeanne's felt? Should I write letters to my kids for their birthdays - weddings - for when Lilly becomes a mother or my boys become dads, you know, just in case?

The neurosurgeon says, "It's a waiting game.  Right now, the aneurysm too small to risk the complications related to brain surgery."  Wearing a monogrammed coat he shrugs, "In six months, we will do a new MRI to see if it grows."  If I make it that long, I think.

Right now, I am tired from all of the medications, afraid of lifting heavy objects or taking an Advil for my headache.  I'm watching my blood pressure because high blood pressure can contribute to a brain bleed.  I'm not salting my food and I am trying to exercise for thirty minutes every day but not too strenuously.   The number of doctor's appointments I've scheduled, pills I'm popping and visits to the pharmacy could rival that of any seventy-year-old grandma.  And quietly, as I lay in bed with my eyes open at five AM, I'm wondering if they have matching bedspreads in the afterlife.


  1. Don't worry about the afterlife for a LONG time!!

  2. Aw Juliet- this is such an honest, heart-felt post. I lost my friend Laura to a brain aneurysm in 9th grade. I will never forget the shock when I found out she was gone. She told me she had a bad head ache, I offered to walk her to the nurse's office, but she declined. I said, "Okay, feel better Laura. See you tomorrow." I thought I would see her, fine and dandy, the next day. But I never saw her again. The shock of her loss still haunts me to this day, I never truly got over it.

    I wish I had some words to say that could bring you a measure of peace and some reassurance, but I do not. All I can say and offer you is the one and only thing I learned in my life that truly helps- and that's prayer. Prayer has carried me through many desperate, situations that were beyond my control.

    1. Thank you, Jaybird. That's the scary thing, right? The fact that it can take someone so swiftly after a simple headache. I guess that the upside of finding it before it bursts is that I will take my headaches very seriously. Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your grief with me.

  3. My dear, dear Juliet, stay strong. It sounds as though you are doing the sensible, health-conscious things, except for one: reduce stress. Stop worrying about what might or might not happen. Worry changes nothing. Keep living life and enjoying your family & friends. I know that's easier said than done, but try. Please try!
    My cousin's son had four (4!) brain aneurysms, which were found when one of them burst. They told him it was a miracle he survived, but miracles do happen. He has had surgery to repair another of the aneurysms, while the doctors watch & wait on the remaining 2. He is alive & doing OK.
    I will keep you & your brain in my prayers, asking that a miracle won't be needed, but that if one is, it will happen. I ask you today to put the worry into other hands (& Hands) & get on with living. I believe Jeanne would tell you the same.

    1. I know you are right, Kathy. You are very, very wise. Love and hugs...

  4. Sweet Juliet,
    I send love, healing thoughts and admiration for your strength. Kathy is a wise woman. Listen to what she says about stress. As always, you are in my thoughts and in my heart.