The Case of The Exploding Brain

by Kirsten Macdonald

What will it feel like?

It will be like nothing you have ever felt.

How will I know?

Oh, you will know! It will be the worst pain you could experience in your life. You will either be dead or wish you were.

Good to know.

Social Skills may not have been in his repertoire but hard facts certainly were.

When someone tells you this, you don’t forget it.

I forget my pin number and my sunglasses. But never this.

Then it happens. The Thunderclap headache. Standing in the kitchen having a conversation, perfectly normal. No build up. No symptoms, no warning. Instant projectile vomit and what feels like someone shooting me in the brain from across the room. Shock. Trauma.
Ouch.
Not in that given order.

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The pain. Today, some six months later I can’t believe I could be in that much physical pain and not be dead.

The ambulance came quickly that night.

Then the sirens. My name, over and over again. Kirsten, can you hear us?

She’s not breathing; BP is dropping. I answer. Why can no one hear me? They can, someone is screaming. I think it’s me. Don’t leave me.

The rolling vomit, the wave after wave of nausea surges through my body, like nothing I have known. The entire contents of my body feel like they are pouring out of my mouth. A tsunami I have no control over, and my whole body shakes and shudders from the violence of it.

By the time we got the hospital I was passed out, pupils dilated, and I was in trouble. A suspected brain bleed. 25% of bleeds cannot be picked up on an MRI; they require a lumbar puncture. I had one of those once. Never again. When one’s spinal chord is impaled with a thick needle by an intern with shaky hands, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I awoke in time in between vomiting to say No thanks. They were not happy with me.

By Friday I was washing the dishes and planning dinner. At my kitchen sink, with what felt like a hangover but no other symptoms. How? How is this possible?

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Gratitude, wonder and then Uh Oh set in. Then “everything is fine today, so let’s move forward, nothing to see here” set in. Its the survivor in me. Thinks she’s a cross between Charles Bronson and a Williams sister. No one likes a martyr. The grief counselor reassured me this sweet denial was a path to potential disaster. It happened. It happened to me, it happened to Lothario, my children, my brother and a lovely friend we had visiting at the time of the “Incident.”

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So I went to Magnetic Island with my youngest son and Mamma bear for a month. I wrote it off, played with him, had adventures, explored my second home some more in all of its pre Summer glory. I enjoyed the company of my island friends. I walked the beaches alone and cried out my fear, my panic. Papa G and I had many conversations on that beach. He was helping me mourn.

What was I mourning?

Well, it’s more than easy, in fact it is downright intoxicating to forget you are unwell when your symptoms do not stop you. You are invigorated by the hypnosis of a fulfilling life and do not want to subscribe to fear. EVER.

But then there is being emotionally truthful. The fact is unless someone comes up with a solution, I am not going to hold my grandchildren. I will not get to be old and grey with my boy. I will very possibly die from one of the most physically painful experiences you can have. Or I could end up a vegetable sucking bacon and eggs through a straw and getting Sunday visits. Sound depressing? It is! Bring on the Tropical Island and a few well deserved Margheritas. 

Rule: don’t ever talk about this to people. They will stop you immediately with: Well I Just Know You Are Going to Be Okay, I Can Feel It. Or No Kirsten, Don’t Say That, YOU WILL BE FINE.

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Here’s the thing, I am really glad you can feel it.

I know that the love we have for people makes us want to make them feel better again. For those reading this that have said that to me, I love you for caring enough to say it. I am invested in believing that I am going to be fine too, 365 days of the year which is 825 days longer that they expected me to live. BUT sometimes shit gets real.

Sometimes it JUST IS. Left with the facts you then rely on your faith to surge through again, creating an equilibrium that is a force to be reconned with. In the meantime? There are moments of emotional truth. Good or Bad. Pretty or Ugly. They just are. But this can be distressing to others. So I don’t do that. I take it to God. I take all of those “thoughts” and talk to God about it. We are sitting in a kitchen eating pancakes and discussing matters of the universe. Like what on earth is She going to do with Stephen Hawking now? Whoa. That’s a big one.

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There are people out there who walk around with some disease inside them, not of their own making. Someone operated on me and made a mess of my brain. The entire contents of my cerebrum, my grey matter, the old think tank and noggin is being held together with a microscopic thing called a FRED which isn’t doing it’s job very well, because it has slipped and has created a high volume bomb ticking in my head. Sneezes- dangerous. Flying – Dangerous. Humidity and the Common Cold ain’t great.

Constipation now holds a genuine concern. Vomiting? Forget it. Anxiety, Stress, and a raised heart rate are the worst. But head knocks? I can take those. I have titanium in there. One unfortunate head butt from my husband getting out of the car almost knocked him out, and I didn’t feel a thing. It was quite amusing.

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As much as I love Louise Hay, I did not manifest this. I am human. Therefore I can break.
I did not have unresolved anger issues, but thanks and no Frankincense oil under my tongue each night won’t cure me or special drops made from a rainforests Monkey’s toenail clippings, as delicious as that sounds.

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There is a process involved, and it has taken me places I never dreamed possible.

So is it a dis-ease? Or is it a blessing of the most peculiar kind? Depends on the day. Everyone lives and everyone dies, why does dying have to be the worst thing that happens to us in the Western world? Why can’t it be a celebration of how we lived and then the next journey begins? Like saying “Wow, you lucky thing, you are off to Hawaii now! Good luck and see you soon!” “She’s gone to walk with Jesus, lucky bugger.”

Because time is relative don’t you know? A word of advice- religion is not just a safety net for the emotionally weak. I am strong. I did my research. I believe in Physics. I believe in science. I also do not believe in chaos, but design. Conclusively. I do not believe in some Zeus like Gandalf in the sky. Please with a cherry on top, do not spruik your disbelief about the existence of a universal architect to the possibly dying. It is unkind. It’s just a shitty thing to do.

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This journey is upsetting at times. Especially times like “the Great Vomiting incident.” If I can change that fear, that sadness I will. Purely because the vibration is heavy and it doesn’t feel very nice. Good one Captain Obvious.

But it is life.

It is. None of us get out of it unscathed or without learning, so why pretend we do or can? For me, its the faith I foster through it and the learning it presents me that creates joy within the crisis, as I have mentioned before, the alchemy of it all is the light that changes any darkness.

Think of it like walking in a deep dark cave, you know you need to turn on the light, so you do. You find yourself looking at a cave filled with magnificent, luminous waterfalls, diamond-lined walls, and beauty. But you are still in a cave. You have stumbled over sharp rocks, trying to find your way in a cold and hard place, and everyone else is standing in the sunshine. You are in a cave. No denying. There’s the emotional truth bomb. It’s what you DO with it that counts.

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Sometimes the message is clear for me to write about this path I walk.

Other times I don’t think it’s a great idea. I enjoy writing other things more. I enjoy writing for others more. But I am reminded. It’s not just about me.

I reminded that there are 1 in 50 aneurysms out there. I am reminded that there are people out there in Australia who have a Used By Date that just keeps going. There are people out there that every time they cringe with a tiny pain, their child looks at them with fear and they must wrangle with the conversation “no sweety, I don’t plan on dying today, did you put your uniform in the wash?

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There are people out there who are losing friends and family because the journey they walk is too painful for others to bear, so they walk away. Sometimes it’s time. It takes too much time. Seriously? You keep going on about dying, but you are still here.

Sometimes some desperate people feel it would be easier to bring that final journey closer because then it’s in their control. That’s a scary one. Researchers at Baylor University Medical Center believe depression, grief, and suicidal thoughts affect up to 77 percent of people with a terminal illness. Would you like an after dinner mint with your taboo topic?

There are people out there who have been told they are going to die and it feels like someone took your arse and shoved it through your nose and out your ears.

Then you have to get back to being “normal.” You have to make sure it doesn’t ruin you, consume you or turn you into a victim. Becoming a victim to me is like denying the existence of a JEDI, somewhere a light saber just dropped dead. It’s just not cricket. (I was only joking about the Light Saber thing if you doubt my cred about the whole God thing.)

You are out there. Hopefully, you are reading. Hopefully, you feel a sense of connection that says I am not alone.

I see you. You are not alone.

PS- I know Mr. Hawking was an Atheist, but at the same time I wonder if he is having maple syrup with those pancakes?

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Beyond Blue: https://www.beyondblue.org.au

LIFELINE: https://www.lifeline.org.au

BRAIN FOUNDATION: http://brainfoundation.org.au

 

 

 

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