There I was waiting alone in a patient room for the doctor to return with the results of the CT scan. The doctor noted my headaches could be my only symptom of COVID-19, but she first wanted to start with a CT to rule out anything obvious. I sat with my hands folded together and prepared myself to have my first COVID test.
Unfortunately for me, the urgent care doctor returned and believed my brain was bleeding.
I’ll give you a little background to why I first went in to urgent care. Because of COVID closing all the gyms in New Hampshire, my boyfriend and I started working out in the field of the local high school. We were running stadium stairs and the track every day since March and I was starting to build up my endurance. At the beginning of June, I started to become winded very easily and had to cut my workouts short. I started getting severe headaches around this time and after two weeks they seemed to only be getting worse. I was unable to sleep the night before I went into urgent care and drove myself in thinking I’d be given some type of medication and sent home.
Instead, I had my first ambulance ride from urgent care to the local hospital. They were so attentive the whole time I was there, quickly took my vitals, hooked me up to two IV lines and then rolled me off to a high contrast CT scan for a better picture.
After some time, the Emergency Room doctor came back in our room. He used the biohazard garbage as his chair and scooted in close to my bedside. Erik, my boyfriend was with me at this time, and leaned in to hear what was found. The doctor explained I had an AVM and believed it had ruptured. They had called a second ambulance and I was going into surgery that night to have it repaired immediately.
What is an AVM you may ask? Gooooooood question! An arteriovenous malformation is an abnormal cluster of blood vessels on the brain. My AVM was formed in utero and is rather large in size. Conveniently for me, my AVM is on the surface of the brain which makes it less complicated to remove.
The doctor tried to comfort me by saying they were very reassured that I still had my sight, vision and mobility due to the initial impression that my brain was bleeding. It was quite shocking to hear. It’s amusing thinking about it now because I am thankful my brain wasn’t actually bleeding. At this point, though, I had no idea what was actually going on.
My ambulance shortly arrived and I rode solo with two EMTs to the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Erik was instructed to drive separately and meet me there. That was probably the most nauseating ride for me. I naturally get car sick and at the time I still had a headache. Overall, it was extremely painful driving backwards through the pothole-filled streets of Boston.
I was checked in at the ER of Beth Israel and my EMTs said their goodbyes and wished me luck. They stayed with me for about 15 minutes and made sure I was comfortable and had everything I needed. They were sweet.
I was wheeled into the main room of the ER where the real fun began. I was seen quickly by multiple residents of the Neurosurgery team who asked what happened to me and how the headaches began. To be honest, I don’t know what brought on the headaches. I believe after hitting my head that I had a concussion; however, it’s also extremely possible that those headaches were just God’s way of revealing to me what needed attention in my brain. The medical staff still do not know the exact reason I had headaches and of course there is room to speculate further. Maybe the bump to my head could’ve caused a small bleed, but since the AVM is so large, it covered the area where there was blood or the AVM was the cause of the headaches and there was never any bleeding.
I spoke to a resident in the ER who explained I was going to be monitored overnight and have an angiogram in the morning to view the AVM up close. I have to be honest I was confused. I was originally told I would have surgery that night to put a shunt in over the bleed and now that plan was changing right in front of my eyes. I decided to trust the medical staff and doctors that they were doing the right thing for my case.
In the morning, I went in for my angiogram of the brain with contrast dye. I was awake for this procedure but sedated. For those of you interesting the medical portion keep reading… for the rest of you skip ahead! An angiogram is done with a catheter. There was a small incision made in a major artery in my arm and the catheter pushed up the artery into the brain. I believe from here they insert the contrast dye which does burn at point of entry and the back of the throat. I was instructed off and on to hold my breath for about 10 seconds while the dye moved through the body and then to resume breathing.
The angiogram is where the neurosurgical team was able to confirm their initial observations on my condition. A doctor is this particular field of neurosurgery is always going to come highly recommended due to the rarity of an AVM. An AVM affects less than 1% of the population and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center came highly recommended.
I was only in the hospital for two nights and had a Functional MRI the day I was discharged. There was a panel of doctors that consulted on my case that same morning and came up with a plan of action.
So, first, my AVM has to be removed because the risk of a hemorrhage or stroke will only increase over time. Secondly, the AVM requires 2-3 non-invasive surgeries called an angiogram with embolization of the brain. The plan is to treat the abnormal blood vessels with an onyx glue, which will seal off the blood supply and shrink them. Finally, I will have brain surgery to remove the remaining blood vessels and take out the shrunken ones.
Even thought, this is a heavy subject, I am so appreciative and grateful of everyone who has been there to support me. I really don’t know where I would be without my friends and family and I am so grateful for your thoughts and prayers. I trust in Jesus and I know He is right here to be with me through these trials.
Deuteronomy 31:6 states, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”