February 9th is a day I’m not likely to forget. I was taking my daily walk at the mall, feeling fine, when suddenly, BOOM! I was hit with a thunderclap headache that stopped me in my tracks. A few moments later my clothes were soaked with sweat and I felt nauseous. I’d read enough about strokes to realize what was happening so I drove myself to the hospital and told them I was having one.

A CT scan confirmed my diagnosis. The ER doc informed me they don’t fix brain bleeds here so he was having me medevacked to Methodist Trauma Center in Indianapolis. Well. I was glad I hadn’t removed that leg-of-lamb from the freezer prior to leaving home.

I’d always wondered how I would react when it came time to shuffle off this mortal coil. I can honestly say the feeling of peace that came over me at that moment was the sweetest sensation I’ve experienced. Ever practical, I recall asking, “Level with me doc, am I going to die? If so, I need to make a few phone calls.”

“No,” he said, “you aren’t going to die, but I’ll get you a phone so you can notify your family.” A nurse shot me full of fentanyl as I was speaking to my sister. Thirty minutes later I was being loaded onto a tiny helicopter. The wind was gusting, making the flight rough, which didn’t help matters inasmuch as I was vomiting all over myself. I wanted to sleep but each time I nodded off the flight nurse would bang on my crash helmet –superfluous gear anyone? – yelling, “No, Reggie, you can’t sleep! You’ve got to stay awake!”

This must have happened 5-6 times and was very annoying. She explained that if I slept the consequences could be detrimental to my health. At which point I opted for gallows humor, “Well, death would be preferable to this.” My reward was another swat on the helmet which didn’t help matters.

Weeks later, when I got the bill for the 71-mile flight, $55,700, I nearly had another stroke.

A bit more bantering with the nurse and we were landing. She informed me a team of 5 people would be meeting me and I should remain calm and answer their questions as best I could. I was given morphine for pain. An hour later my family had converged from all over the state to be with me. Words fail to express the love and gratitude I felt during that time.

The neurosurgeons I saw at Methodist were young and cocky - think Doogie Howser with John McEnroe’s brashness – but very interested in each case they investigate. I suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) which is different than a brain aneurysm. An aneurysm requires a surgical fix whereas my type of bleed does not.

The medical community isn’t clear as to what causes a SAH. Unlike an aneurysm, SAH is not linked to hypertension and studies are mixed concerning a correlation with high cholesterol. The best guess is that some people are born with a congenital abnormality in which one or more weakened vessels are prone to rupturing at some point during one’s life.

I would spend 10 days in the ICU. The thing I was most impressed with during my stay was the quality of nursing care. It was off the charts. No pun intended. I met some of the warmest, engaging people; dedicated professionals who probably have plenty of personal problems of their own, but manage to check them at the door when reporting for work.

Surprisingly, my first nurse, Judy, lives in Terre Haute. She explained the powerful, intermittent headaches I was having were akin to Terre Haute’s road system. One ventures a few miles with no problem before encountering a rough patch. The headaches occur as the brain reabsorbs the “caustic” blood that leaked.

The worst thing about recovering from a brain bleed is you aren’t permitted to sleep. The patient is woken up every hour on the hour. After 3-4 days of this torture one becomes a bit irritable. On the 7th day the Lord rested and I finally negotiated an acrimonious deal with the docs and was allowed to sleep four uninterrupted hours.

Another annoying thing about the ICU is you are robbed of your dignity. Everything and I mean everything is done for you. (Patients are not afforded the luxury of a private bathroom.) There is a critical 10 day period in which the patient must be kept still to ensure no cerebral vasospasms occur which could cause another stroke. After a second angiography of my brain determined I had not suffered an aneurysm I was moved from ICU to another wing for two days and then sent home.

I’m 66 and until this past February had never been hospitalized, nor was I on any meds. I guess I’ve been lucky. If you wish to hear God laugh show Him your long-term plan. These days I’m not so ambitious, preferring to take each sunrise as it comes.

— Reggie McConnell, Terre Haute


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