One year ago today, I became an anomaly of sorts…the first patient to survive neurologically intact the repair of a giant, wide-necked vertebral aneurysm because I was fortunate enough to have a neuro-interventionist who reads the journals and knew about a new device called a “pipeline” that had recently been granted FDA approval for use in repairing aneurysms like mine in the carotid artery, but not for intra-cranial use. (Because of the successful use in my case, a journal article is soon appearing and that will soon change, hopefully.)
I had gone in on Wednesday for what was presumed to be a routine angio to take pictures and make sure the previous aneurysm that had been coiled wasn’t leaking and had resolved. The good news was, it had. The bad news was, I had a new, more dangerous and dissecting aneurysm in my other vertebral artery, and it was in a place where the vessel could not be sacrificed like the previous one had been.
On Wednesday, I was admitted to the hospital and on Thursday I went in for surgery. That is when my doctor discovered just exactly what he was dealing with, and he got his mentor from medical school on the phone, and for 45 minutes, the physician who trained him – and who was in Canada teaching a seminar on using the Pipeline device to approximately 150 neuro-interventionist physicians – interrupted the prepared remarks and demonstration to look at the pictures he was taking and sending with his iPhone of a real-life potential off-label use. There was about five thousand years of medical experience looking at the images. They were all slack-jawed; few of them had even seen an aneurysm like the one they were looking at and none of them had successfully repaired one in a vertebral artery that could not be sacrificed because it was below a critical branching off, unlike the previous one that was above a branching off and was therefore sacrificed without consequence.
When I woke up in recovery, I knew something was wrong, because the Doctor was there. Cognitively, I seemed okay…all my digits moved and nothing felt weak…I tried to speak and the words in my brain were the same ones that came out of my mouth, so what the hell was wrong? Why was the DOCTOR in the room? He forgot for a moment that I’m a medical professional, too, and not just any medical professional, but licensed in the one area that has to take more math and science to get into the training program than doctors have to take to get into medical school. I got impatient and said “Dr. Holloway, I speak Medicalese, just tell me what you’re trying to tell me in our language.”
He took a deep breath and gave me the news that the timebomb in my head had a lit fuse and he had not been able to put it out that day, instead he wanted to do something experimental. It would require the hospital attorney and the company that makes the device to sign off on it, then they would have to get the rep from the company that makes the device and the professor who trained him in KC, and there was a very small window in which to get them here – they were in Canada when he called them on Thursday and headed to Japan on Monday. I stayed in the hospital and they kept my BP artificially low Thursday night and Friday, while all the cats were herded (since I have that evil socialized single-payer healthcare that the right-wing is so freaked-out about, there was no insurance company bean-counter standing in the way) and since I had a lowered BP and a previous stroke, I was considered a “fall risk” and watched like a hawk Thursday night and Friday, and I was put back on Plavix, at a high dosage, to minimize my risk of having another stroke during the procedure.
Saturday, the phlebotomist (a young man I had hired and trained six years earlier at another hospital in the system) woke me up to do A.M/pre-op labs at about 3:30. When he left, Tom got in bed with me, and we were still spooning when they came to get me for surgery about 9:00. I was in a half-awake state and heard the transporter say “Aw, I hate to disturb that. That’s so sweet.” I squeezed Tom’s hand to wake him and said ‘Sweetie, they’re here for me, I’ll see you after it’s over…I’ve got a good feeling…We’ve got this.”
I had a good feeling about the surgery itself, but I had another feeling that I was almost afraid to give voice to, and indeed, the Versed took effect before I got it out, but I did ask if the doctor we were waiting on and the company rep were in the building. “Not quite, they’re on the road, but they’ll be here in about 20 minutes.” I started to say “I hope they don’t crash…” but I did before the words were out.
But they did. They were in a crash on I-70 that totaled the company rep’s new Acura SUV, and they were whisked to the hospital, siren and lights and the whole nine yards, by a state trooper, because the patient was already unconscious.
The surgery that was estimated beforehand would take three hours took seven, and Tom was a wreck by the time they came and told him it was over and they were taking me to Neuro-ICU where he could wait with them for me to wake up. They were really concerned that I would experience some lasting aftereffects of the surgery, primarily because it had taken so long, and when I started to stir the nurse was quite insistent that I tell her my name. I went her one better – I told her my name, date of birth and medical record number. She laughed and told Tom “She’s fine.”
I walked out of the hospital on the following Monday morning, two days later.
Now, if you want to see me get pissed off and channel Julia Sugarbaker…say it’s a miracle I’m here. It’s not a miracle. Prayer didn’t fix me. Medical science, research that is funded with tax dollars and a competent surgeon — Dr. William Holloway — fixed me. Don’t give a supreme being whose design flaw had to be fixed the credit. Give it to science, give it to research, but most of all, give it to Dr. Holloway, because it was in his hands that the science and the research paid off and I am here to preach the secular gospel.