It’s a bit of tale to tell but I’m hoping it’s one worth sharing. I’m always nervous writing about my personal experiences, it feels so vulnerable but I hope I have imparted it in a way that will be meaningful to readers. I previously mentioned a premonition I had prior to this event in my blog 5 Ways Christmas Changed After My Stroke but what I write about today is an extraordinary message I received from the other side a few years later.
A number of years ago I had the most unfortunate experience of a having a stroke at age 47 while we were back on Vancouver Island for a business trip and visit home. I was fortunate in that my husband had just recently watched a show about signs of stroke and what to do so when I turned to him in the car and spoke inaudibly, he reacted immediately. He asked me what the name of our children was. I replied but apparently incoherently, I recall the look of shock on his face and him saying “We’re turning around, we need to get to the hospital.” After that I have fleeting memories of excessive crying, not being able to raise my arm to open the car door and then realizing I couldn’t walk.
My brain was like a piece of paper that had just been run through a shredder and the world seemed to be spinning out of control. Fortunately for me the hospital had just been set up to have real time video consultation with the neurology department in bigger hospital and I was able to get fast and immediate treatment and in short order regain the use of my right side and speech. Not only was it a stroke, they discovered a intracranial aneurysm, a bulging, weakened area in the wall of an artery in the brain that presented some unique challenges in terms of how to proceed.
We flew home and I saw the neurologist and then the neurosurgeon. After a battery of additional tests, they established I had a week section of the vein at the end of an T intersection of an artery and rather than being shaped like a balloon with a small opening it was more like a large bay. That meant that traditional solutions of filing it with coils to provide strength wasn’t an option. The neurosurgeon wanted to proceed with a challenging surgery to repair it using a different procedure but there were a lot of risks for me to consider like the real possibility of waking up disabled or even death. After consultation with the neurologist we made the decision that I would not proceed with the surgery unless it worsened.
A few year later I returned for my annual follow up tests and the surgeon indicated that the surgery was more urgent than before and he was prepared to admit me that same day. I felt like I didn’t have enough facts to proceed and I needed more time and data. What are the odds I won’t be able to speak? What are the odds I will have other disabilities? What are the odds I’ll die? I left telling him I need time to think. It’s a horrible dilemma; do the surgery and face risks of disability and or death or not do the surgery and face risks of disability and death. Worse, make the wrong choice and impact your family in ways you know will change their lives forever.
I went home and tried to work through things but there’s no right answer. I needed to talk to my neurologist, he is my touch stone, for whatever reason, I trusted him implicitly and have from the moment I met him. Don’t get me wrong, I trust my neurosurgeon equally as much; they are both brilliant and kind but I felt more connected to the neurologist; visits with him feel less scary, perhaps because I know he isn’t the guy with the knife so to speak.
I made an appointment and off we went. My neurologist walked into the room with his dashing smile and said, “Good news, it looks like nothing has changed.” Me and my husband look at each other confused and relate to him that our understanding was that it had changed and that surgery was now necessary. He looked confused, excused himself and returned to tell me that the neurosurgeon will call me and I need to go back to him and he will give me more information. I wasn’t sure what that really meant but I assumed he had read my file wrong when he initially told me that nothing had changed and that yes in fact, I did need to have a further discussion with the surgeon. Another grim day.
Here’s where the story takes a turn. I’m sitting in my DIY Cactus Cafe room (which I should do a blog on one day) where I work from home. In that room there are two smaller windows on each side of the patio door and on one of them I inserted this painted glass cutting board I had found because when the light shines through the window it looks like stained glass. I was mentally exhausted trying to think about my dilemma or trying not to think about my dilemma; neither gave me any relief from the overwhelming sense of fear that I would make the wrong choice and the impacts that would have on my family. So, I do what I always do when I don’t know what to do. I called out to my dad in heaven and begged for a sign, an answer, anything but leaving this horrible decision up to me because I couldn’t bare knowing I made the wrong choice and impacted my family because of it.
While I was staring at the ceiling talking to him (begging him really) there was suddenly this banging behind the cutting board. I’m thinking it’s a bee and wasn’t eager to contend with it so I ignored it and continued my conversation with my dad. Again, it happens, only more aggressively, louder. I hesitate, frustrated that its distracting me and reconsider if I want to contend with a potential angry bee and choose again to ignore it. “Please dad, one little sign, any sign, please dad, please!!!” For the third time, the commotion behind the cutting board escalates to a point where I’m completely distracted and frustrated so I get up and walk over to the glass cutting board and pull it forward from the glass, waiting for whatever flies out to buzz past me in a furious frenzy but nothing happens. Dead silence.
I pull the cutting board out, thinking maybe the bee knocked itself unconscious and instead I see the biggest, most colorful butterfly I have ever seen outside of a butterfly world attraction. I stood there dumb struck. I have never seen a huge butterfly in northern Alberta. It must have been 4″ wide and 6″ long and all these bright colors!! It just sat there on the window edge and didn’t move. I put my hand beside it and it crawled up into the palm of my hand and the two of us just stared at each other. It was beyond extraordinary. After a few minutes I opened the patio door and it sat on my hand for a few moments more before it flew off. And then it hit me! I got my message. Sometimes Things Turn Out Differently Than You Expect. Instantly I felt relieved. I was fearing the surgery like I was fearing the bee but sometimes that bee can turn out to be a butterfly. I would have the surgery. A decision was made. Then, things got weirder.
My husband came home and I started to say “You won’t believe this; I found a butterfly.”
He cut me off and said, “I saw it yesterday.” My chin must have dropped to the floor. “You saw a giant, beautiful butterfly and didn’t tell me and worse, you left it there to die! ” I was confused, mad and disappointed all at the same time. He had the strangest expression on his face, one that I’ve never seen before or since in thirty-five years. He continued, “I honestly don’t know what to say. It was flapping around and I pulled the glass back and saw it and something told me to leave it alone. It was just a weird feeling that told me to ignore it. I completely forgot about it; it was like it went right out of my head until you brought it up.” Now, after being married a lot of years, you know the other person pretty darn well and I know him well enough to know that when I call him out on something, no matter what it is, he goes right into a long blah blah about the reasoning behind it. For him to say he had no explanation was shocking; he seemed genuinely unable to explain why he’d left and forgotten the poor butterfly behind the glass. After we worked through that confusing and somewhat tense moment, I told him about what happened and that I thought it was a sign and that I’d made my decision to move forward with the surgery.
Now, we approach the third event that leaves me dumb struck yet again and relays to me the true meaning of the message I was given. Back to the neurosurgeon we go. I recall sitting in the waiting room, feeling sick to my stomach as I prepared to be brave and walk in there and go ahead with the surgery on the wing of a butterfly. My instincts had been to avoid the surgery, my inner voice had always said “No, don’t” but was that just a convenient way to justify my fear? Think butterflies, not bees I told myself.
My name was called and I stood up on wobbling knees and along with my husband stepped into the room where in this moment in time my life would ultimately change for better or worse; for butterflies or bees. In came the surgeon. It’s show time. He sat down and I was just about to say, OK, if it’s getting worse, I’ll do the surgery, when he says something profound. “We’ve reviewed your case” I could hear buzzing in my ears, my heart was pounding. What is this all about? ” I think to myself. He continues, “I may have over represented the urgency of the surgery, after further review it appears that things haven’t changed since the last tests but I still feel the surgery is in your best interest. I was shell shocked. No change. This was the best news I could have ever dreamed of. The one thing I hung on to that gave me sanity was having a plan of action at the onset and the plan of action that I had formulated with the neurologist was that unless things worsened the risk were too high and things hadn’t worsened! I didn’t have to make a decision, nothing had changed, temporary reprieve. The butterfly message was right, sometimes things do turn out better than you expect.
As far as the neurosurgeon goes, I’d have thought I’d grown wings sooner than hear a surgeon concede on something and I couldn’t have felt more grateful to know the man who holds the balance of my life in his hands was willing and caring enough to double check, to review, re-assess and re-evaluate. If I do have the surgery there is nobody else I’d want doing it. I’m blessed with so many wonderful things and brilliant, devoted Doctors are among them. I haven’t mentioned my family physician but she was my rock through it all and still is.
Do I still go to bed wondering if I’ll wake up? Yes, I do. Am I overwhelmed when I go out alone fearing that I will stroke again and people will think I’m drunk and ignore me? Yes, I do. Do I fear it bursting and leaving me in mind bending pain and disabled or dead? Yes, I do but I fear the impact on my family most of all. No matter what I feel, the clock keeps on ticking and time waits for no one, so there’s absolutely no option left but faith and forced resilience.
I’ll never know for sure if it was my dad sending the message I was pleading for, trying to tell me not to worry, letting me know it’s all going to work out better than I could ever imagine or…… was it just simply a rogue butterfly on vacation from Mexico in the cold Canadian prairies in fall? I choose to believe it was more than a random event. So, when you’re scared, or can’t make a hard decision – know that sometimes there are butterflies where you think you’ll find angry bees.
On a final note I can’t impress upon you all enough to know the signs of a stroke and to note down the time and take the person directly to the hospital. If they suddenly lose their balance, seem disoriented, or have slurred speech or physical changes – don’t wait! I recovered fully because of my husband’s fast response and the fast response in the emergency room so don’t delay – just go!