Aneurysm Emergency

by Sue Pearson

I had been having the worst headaches of my life. My neurologist husband told me the headaches were likely hormone-related, and if I was really concerned, I should make an appointment with my primary care doctor. Fortunately, I had already made the appointment. She booked an MRI for me, which showed an aneurysm in my brain just behind my left eye. I went in for emergency repair immediately at our local hospital. But on the way to the hospital, I called my cameraman.

I am a broadcast journalist and just happened to be working on a public television documentary on stroke. With the terrible pain in my head, I struggled to help my editor finish up this program. When it was finished, I was frustrated that we were 45 seconds too short for the strict PBS rules on program length. I had no energy to craft a new section, so I told my editor to just slow the credits down and add some music at the end. Not ideal, but we would satisfy the guidelines. So, when I called my cameraman on the way to the hospital, I thought perhaps we could capture an exciting new treatment for brain bleeds, even if I had no idea if it could be done on me or even if I would live through this crisis.

At the hospital, it was determined that the particular size and shape of my brain aneurysm made it perfect for this new kind of less invasive surgery. A neuro-interventionalist would snake a catheter from an artery in my groin up into the bulging vessel in my brain. Then he would thread platinum wires through the catheter, which would fan out into a slinky-like shape when it reached the bulging vessel. It took six of these platinum wires to fill the aneurysm and essentially pack it so it couldn’t burst. The doctor explained to me this was a life-and-death emergency. Still, since he had never had a patient in this condition be so calm, he would allow me to remain awake if I so desired. I did. I thought if this was the end of my life on earth, I didn’t want to miss a second of it.

Even though the pain in my head was very intense, I found myself able to simply notice it rather than be in any great suffering at this very fragile time when my life hung in the balance. I was overcome with a calm greater than anything I could have imagined.  I surrendered everything to a higher power and knew that I would be OK no matter the outcome. I knew God was very near and that I would be taken care of if I died and taken care of if I lived.

While the doctors and nurses worked on me, I could hear quite clearly the voices of several friends of mine who had gathered in a waiting room down the hall. I could hear my husband and his nurse in the room next door. They were all expressing great concern for me, and it was comforting for me to know they cared enough to stand in vigil. All of this should have been beyond my range of hearing. I have read that other people who are in life-and-death emergencies can have extraordinary experiences. Some describe an out-of-body experience—of leaving their bodies and being able to view the scene from above. Others have described unusual or heightened senses, and that is what I believe happened to me. I have no doubt I received comfort from God, Who let me know I would be OK no matter what. I had no fear of death at that moment because I was sustained by the peace of God. I was able to receive messages from people I loved, who were at the hospital but not within any normal hearing range. I don’t understand how that happens. I just know that it does.

When the coil procedure, as it is called, was finished, I called out, “Did you get it all?” The doctor thought I was talking about successfully plugging the aneurysm, but I was talking to my cameraman, who had abruptly ended a day of skiing in the nearby mountains and hurried to join me and videotape my procedure.

“Got it, Sue!” he replied. It was a moment of mirth in an otherwise tense life-and-death situation.

It took me a couple of months to recover. At first, I found it difficult to find the right words for simple things. “A pencil” might come out of my mouth “a knife,” even though in my mind, I knew this wasn’t correct. Another deficit was just listening. If there was only one person talking, I could hear and understand. If there were two or more people, I could not process a thing anyone said. But all of these minor problems disappeared over a few months’ time.

I was able to get together with my editor and insert a short section in our documentary on stroke about the miraculous new coil procedure for repairing aneurysms. It filled the 45 seconds we had been missing and added a punch of drama to our program!

That spring, I won a regional Emmy for this program, which was distributed nationally to PBS stations all across the country.

I was invited to appear on NBC’s Today Show to talk about my amazing experience. They headlined this live interview, “Life imitates art.”

Was all this just a coincidence? In my mind, it could not have been anything but a miracle.

“No accident or chance is possible within the universe as God created it, outside of which is nothing.” (T-21.II.3:4)