By: Jeanette Yue
Most people figure that recovery after surgery is purely physical. As fitting as it is, after I had surgery on my brain the recovery took more of a toll on my mind and emotional state than anything else.
To make a long story short, I had neurosurgery. On January fifth, I had a horrible and painful migraine that caused me to throw up several times. After my dad rushed me to the emergency room at Seton Hospital, bleeding was discovered in my brain. Doctors explained that it could be tangled blood vessels, called an AVM (arteriovenous malformation), that had burst, which was why I was experiencing such intense headaches. By midnight, I was transferred to UCSF for further testing and even possible surgery.
Within three days of being at UCSF Hospital, I experienced more poking, prodding, and needles than all my doctor visits combined. The AVM was confirmed and I was scheduled to have surgery on the eighth. I stayed in the hospital for about two weeks to recover and during that time, I was weak, uncomfortable, and in pain. My family visited every day, but it didn’t make up for the sleepless nights and the melancholy state I was in.
Towards my last days in the hospital, my emotions hit real lows. All I wanted was to be myself again and instead, I was sluggish and depressed. I couldn’t wait to go home.
In addition to my unwelcome depression, surgery weakened me considerably, as I’m sure it does to all who go through it; even walking tired me out – at least at first. You don’t really think about how much strength it takes to do simple things like walking and dressing, but after lying in a hospital bed for a whole week, routine tasks like those are immensely more tedious and even difficult. My muscles got used to literally not doing anything, so jumping back into my life, regardless of any “emotional damage,” wasn’t possible. No matter how much I wanted to return to school (weird, right?) and no matter how much I just wanted to simply feel better, it would take time for me to regain my strength. That was the hardest thing for me to realize.
When I returned from the hospital on the seventeenth, I was so lost. For one thing, I had left field vision cut, which meant I couldn’t see from the peripheral vision in my left eye, which the doctors said I may never gain back. I wasn’t stumbling or bumping into things, but I did have to adjust to the constant ghost-like blurs in the corner of my eye.
Unlike the emotional recovery, I bounced back physically from my ten-day hospital stay relatively fast. About three days before I was discharged, I started to move around again and surprisingly, it didn’t take long before I was up and walking around again. It took some push from my dad, who was there for me the entire time and of course, I didn’t necessarily want to move around, but for me, walking and moving didn’t faze me.
Although I had surgery to fix the “problem,” it didn’t mean I was cured completely. I couldn’t sleep without waking up every two hours, a side effect from being woken up by nurses in the hospital for my pain-killers. Small headaches would visit me every night. I couldn’t carry my baby sister without feeling weak in the arms and I wasn’t able to do homework for long periods of time. Even watching TV bothered me.
All I wanted to do was go back to school and return to normal. I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and miserable. The first two mornings I was home, I remember just sitting down and crying because I didn’t know what to do with myself. That was the scariest part of my recovery because even though I knew I would eventually be better, the entire experience was so different from anything I have ever experienced.
I went from being completely healthy to suddenly lying in a hospital bed. It was so unpredictable that I couldn’t come to terms with what I was going through.
I spent a lot of my days pitying myself and feeling exhausted from the lack of sleep. I couldn’t comprehend why something like this would happen to me. Doctors told me AVMs are often common but most live their entire lives without knowing because the AVMs never bleed. First, I kept thinking, “Why me?” and second, I didn’t think that I could possibly get through this.
My dad kept telling me, “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.” He was right. After a few days, I was able to sleep full nights and even my vision improved slightly though it still hasn’t returned completely. Day by day, I started doing the things I did pre-illness. My headaches disappeared, I was eating (and I was eating a lot), and I was even doing some homework, which made me wonder why I ever wanted to go back to school.
Being physically recovered made me feel like I had overcome my sickness and while that comforted the sadness; it didn’t put my other fears to rest.
The truth is I was never scared of the physical effects the AVM caused me. Surgery didn’t worry me. The thing that frightened me the most was feeling like I was never going to be myself again. So far, I can’t say I’m 100% me, but I’m getting there. It has been almost two months since I’ve had surgery and the stiches on my head are finally healing. Like my stitches, I’m starting to do the same.
It took me a lot of time to realize that while it was completely acceptable and normal to feel afraid and lost, it wasn’t the worst it could have been. I was really lucky doctors found and treated the AVM immediately. Looking back, I realize that I owe the people in my life my stability. No one pushed me to do anything but feel better and I’m truly grateful for that. I thought all I wanted was to be myself, but what I really needed was time. Luckily for me, I was given that and because of this, I’m almost myself again.