On a Saturday afternoon of April, 2014, the 12th exactly, I was ready to do some errands while giving a phone call to our real estate agent that lasted for a while.
My husband, as a film director, was gone for months shooting abroad. Victor, our youngest son, who just turned 18, was home. Two weeks before he got involved in a car accident with some guys driving in front of him in the middle of a tiny road near Topanga Canyon. He was miraculously spared but the car was a total loss. Victor was waiting for college answers after dealing with college applications the year before. Back in Europe, my Dad was fighting with cancer. It had been years since he developed his first one in 2005.
Being French, it was quite difficult for me to cope with the home buying process and all the paperwork needed in English. So this was a stressful time but actually, I was feeling happy and blessed. We were lucky to be able to buy a new home. My husband and I were closing on our 30th anniversary that we celebrated last September, being even more in love than on the first day we met. I felt blessed to have three healthy, very kind and smart children.
But I was very tired and despite all these fortunate blessings, felt somehow stressed and under pressure. I am still not fluent in English after the five of us moved from France 18 years ago, being a french writer. I had to concentrate a lot to buy this home and follow all the red tape not in my native language.
That afternoon, I was in my office for an hour long talk with our real estate agent. I was so focused that I kept the same position during the entire phone call, on the floor, my legs crossed in a kind of a yoga sitting position, my head slightly looking up. Speaking with our real estate, who became a friend, I started to feeI unwell, a light headache becoming stronger and stronger. I don’t normally get headaches and was fortunate at 51 to be in good shape and healthy. During the phone call, I thought that I would rush to drink some water before doing my errands. But the minute I ended the call the headache became almost unbearable.
It became so intense that after drinking a lot of water I decided to lie on our bed, something I never do during the daytime. Although in a time of stress for sure, an hour before I was feeling great. But as I went to lie down the headache suddenly started to be so excruciating it was torture. My head felt awfully compressed and as if someone just stabbed the base of my skull with a dagger. Then I started to see shimmering lights on my left eye and felt my palms and soles tingling.
I called our son and told him, “Victor, I think I am having a brain hemorrhage, could you please enter the symptoms I have on Wikipedia and let me know?” Since I was very calm, our son told me that he thought I hadn’t experienced any of this but he went to check anyway. He came back a few minutes later and told me, “Ok Mom, I’m calling 911. ”
While we were waiting, Victor left the door open as he was told by the 911 operator. He took my hand in his and watched after me. Suddenly our roles were switched. My son was the one responsible of me and on my side to protect me. Tough responsibility when you’ve just turned 18. I held his hand very quietly but tightly. I was calm, because all this happened within a short hour, and somehow confident… or maybe unaware of what exactly was going on.
The ambulance arrived shortly after and two very nice gentlemen took me with our son. Despite this torturing headache and strong symptoms I was still totally conscious, so when the emergency guys asked me on our way where I wanted to go, I answered ” Let’s go to the closest hospital.” Being healthy so far, I never really had to deal with hospitals and had no idea which one in Los Angeles would cover any emergency like the one I had. The nice man said: ” Ok, let’s go to Providence Saint John’s Health Center then.” That’s where my luck began with Victor on my side, who actually, saved my life by staying with me and calling 911.
When we arrived at Saint John’s, I was still conscious. To that day I remember everything: the place, the people, the sweet nurse and the questions and answers we exchanged in a waiting room as she started taking care of me.
Then a big blank…
What I do remember after is my love at my side. I don’t know when. I can’t remember how, or where exactly, or what he told me, but I was alive, safe and with him.
My husband François was at his parent’s home near Paris when Victor called him to let him know what happened. Victor was the only family member present. Being 18, he was asked to give authorization for me to get emergency surgery. Oh, wow, such a burden to decide for your mom to have a life-threatening surgery!
At 5 am in Paris, François booked a flight for LA. Just before getting on the plane, he managed to call my doctor at Saint John’s to find out how I was doing before his take off. But at that time, (still late Saturday in LA) no one was able to tell him if I would make it or not. So my love boarded his flight without knowing if, when he landed in LA, I would be dead or alive.
Eleven long hours, during which he cried.
As he landed in LA, I was still alive… Having survived a massive brain hemorrhage. He came to me atSaint John’s to say ” I am here honey” and the nurse told him, “Louder, sir, louder!” so François said louder ” Ma cherie, I am here, it’s me!” He repeated these words out loud till the moment I squeezed his hand then smiled, like a modern Sleeping Beauty after a hundred year sleep woke up by the kiss and words of her true love.
I stayed in the hospital for two weeks. My brain hemorrhage left me with hydrocephalus, meaning all my brain blood vessels were so clogged by the blood that they couldn’t do their normal work. Thus my brain was not able to deal with the excess fluid it produced.
From that day I realized how incredibly lucky I was, not only to be alive but to feel even better than I was before. I was feeling so blessed, super strong… a fighter.
On the following Monday, I started to feel normal. I was able to talk and interact with François, Victor, our two other children, Paul and Alice and my parents in Europe. And of course, with all the nurses and the doctors.
That’s when I met Dr. Garni Barkhoudarian and his team. I understood that this doctor had saved my life, took the right decisions at the right time with a team of fantastic people around him. Then day after day I met amazing, caring, wonderful nurses and physicians who helped me with kindness, compassion, and knowledge to feel better and better. After a week, I had to have a shunt placed in my head to treat my hydrocephalus symptoms. François stayed by my side as much as he could, sleeping on a couch and Victor visited me almost everyday.
Finally the time came for me to go back home to them. Dr. Barkhoudarian told me to live a normal life and to slowly go back to my routine. He was confident in my health and that gave me a lot of encouragement.
A year after, as I was doing really great, so he removed my shunt. I was very relieved and happy. In the meantime, I did numerous follow up CAT scans.
Never in my life have I gone to a hospital where everybody is so nice, kind and helpful. Absolutely ALL the people I met there was amazingly compassionate and understanding, dedicated and patient. Dr. Barkhoudarian was always listening, giving me hope, with great energy and enthusiasm, being very, very professional at the same time. I felt and I still feel that Saint John’s is my dream hospital.
When I had my shunt removed in 2015, I met by chance the same anesthesiologist that took care of me a year before. She told me that when the whole team saw me arriving a year before, they were puzzled. They had to figure how they would take care of me as I was having a massive brain hemorrhage though I was looking fit, healthy and in good shape. They thought they had to find out the reason before opening my brain. While speaking with her I realized how much Dr. Barkhoudarian and his whole team tried everything, to the best of their knowledge to save the emergency patient I was…on a Saturday night! The anesthesiologist told me the operation lasted for hours and that my brain hemorrhage was an arachnoid hemorrhage. Dr. Barkhoudarian was very humble about all that.
My Dad, very sadly, passed away after his long battle with cancer last July. He was always very thankful to Dr. Barkhoudarian for saving the life of his daughter, thus giving us a precious time to share together before he would leave us.
When François brought me back home, as I went to bed, in that moment where you go from consciousness to sleep, two words came to my mind. These two words, came back over and over on the first five nights: “Pure love.”
To this very day they are engraved in my mind.
Pure love. And luck. And fantastic human beings.
I proposed to share my testimony because I am so grateful to Dr Barkhoudarian, his team and every single person I met at Saint John’s and Pacific Neuroscience Institute on that Saturday of April 2014, on a day I was born again.
I am sure many patients share these same feelings about the place where there is knowledge, energy and empathy like nowhere else. I hope my words and my experience will help other patients to be very confident that they are and will be in good hands here and I wish them a long, healthy and happy life.