Bret Michaels and my husband have something in common, and, no, it's not the unadulterated access to thongs and fake bosoms. Both Bret's and my husband's brains hemorrhaged
While every situation is different, I can tell you that in our case, it was bad. And it was a long road back to normalcy.
About nine months after our wedding, Kiffin's brain burst. It didn't occur in a dramatic, collapse-on-the-floor, soap-opera kind of way. In fact, he thought he had a migraine. It was the subsequent surgery to fix his brain that landed him about an inch away from dying -- complete with a two-week medically induced coma, loss of the left side of his body and the ability to read, and three months in the hospital.
Meanwhile, I was pregnant with our first child.
After a weekend of agonizing pain in March of 2007, Kiffin walked to the hospital a few blocks away. After a CAT scan, they transferred him to another city hospital, explaining that they could care for him better. Apparently, what he thought was a migraine was actually a tear in a blood vessel in his brain. It had been bleeding all weekend. Fortunately, it stopped on its own. But the neurologist suggested he have surgery to repair the damaged area.
One day after our first wedding anniversary, Kiffin stepped into the hospital for what his doctors told him would be a simple procedure. They said he'd be out in five days. They suggested he get it taken care of sooner rather than later, especially since I was seven months pregnant at that point.
I received a call from his vascular surgeon at 8 p.m. that night. Everything had gone well, he explained. They were able to fill in the area with the high-tech equivalent of Elmer's Glue to seal the area up. All good, right? Wrong. I received another call from an ICU doctor at 6 the following morning. The pressure from the sealed area had forced a second bleed, and they needed my permission to open him up bedside -- right there -- to try to stop the bleeding.
It all went downhill from there. His brain was freaking out. Every time they tried to take him off the anesthesia, his intracranial pressure would skyrocket. They kept him in a medically induced coma for three weeks until his brain finally remained stable.
The neurologist eventually drilled two holes in the base of Kiffin's skull, inserted tubes that ran down his neck, and poked into his stomach. These would drain the spinal fluid that built up and keep the pressure down. They were permanent.
Then the scary part. Was there brain damage? Turns out, there was all sorts of damage. Because of the second bleed, which occurred on the right side of his brain, he was unable to move his left arm and leg. He didn't speak at first, he only grunted. What he did say was really frightening -- that the government had taken the baby, that we weren't allowed to have it. I had started taking notes to remember everything that was happening, but I gave up after a week. It was too depressing.
He had a very common condition called "flat affect," in which his voice lacked any tone or emotion. He sounded and acted like a robot. I distinctly remember one of the few times I broke down in front of him. He turned and said in the most non-emotional tone I'd ever heard, "Don't worry. It will be fine." The doctors said he would get back to normal. In a year, they said, he would be back to his old self. A year
My psychiatrist brother warned that the longer Kiffin waited for mental and physical rehab, the harder it would be for him to recover. Week after week, one problem cropped up after another -- infections, pneumonia, additional surgeries to tweak the equipment in his brain -- to keep him from getting the rehab he needed to re-learn how to read, tell time and walk.
I did take one night off to attend my very informal baby shower. Kiffin's mom stayed with him that evening. I turned on my phone post-shower to find three messages. Something had gone wrong with the tubing and he had had emergency surgery.
I honestly felt like he was never going to leave the hospital -- as did he.
Fast-forward two months. After too many hurdles to count, plus two treks to hospital every day (I was in great pregnancy shape, though, taking the subway / walking there at lunch and after work!), Kiffin was finally released to a rehab center to work on his walking and his vision (also compromised).
When he entered, most of his hair had fallen out and he weighed a whopping 112 lbs. He looked like a chemo patient. But the big-time crunch? I really, desperately wanted him in the delivery room with me -- hair or no hair, walker or wheelchair. With a due date of August 25 fast approaching, I needed a speedy recovery.
Somehow, the stars aligned. Three days before my due date, we worked with the therapists to get Kiffin home on a Wednesday afternoon -- complete with double vision, prism eyeglasses and a cane. He was walking, though. I remember it clearly. As we both laid down for a nap (the first time we had shared a bed in three months), I read the clock: 3 p.m. Around 3 a.m. that night, I felt my first contraction. At 6:47 p.m. on Thursday, our daughter Clemens was born.
Amazingly enough, two and a half years later he's almost his old self, though I don't think he'll ever truly be the same. There's something a little slower about him, both mentally and physically. Emotionally, it has taken quite a toll. Whenever anything difficult happens in his life, he can't help but think something has been taken from him. I know: He's supposed to feel lucky, fortunate. But he doesn't. He's just thinks, Haven't I paid my dues?
From my perspective, I'll tell you one thing: It certainly puts "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health" to the test. But I've never once regretted marrying him.
Maureen Dempsey is a frequent contributor to Lemondrop who splits her days between writing and running after her very active toddler. Clemens is now 2-and-a-half.
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