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My Ruptured Aneurysm Experience: Oct 4, 2001


My on-and-off headaches started in the early 1990’s. In the mid 90’s, the headaches came more often and were more painful. I remember we were at the beach with friends. One of our friends was a registered nurse. I told her it was like a pencil was poking into the lower back of my head. I asked her “Are these symptoms of a brain tumor?” She answered: “When you take pain medicine, does it go away?” I said to her “Yes, it does” She said “It is not cancer then, do not worry.” But then it began to happen more often. The headaches were in just one spot, right at the nape of my neck.  I received massages to relieve the pain. In 1994, at our house in San Diego, I had a painful headache. It so happened that we had a visitor at the time who said she had some sort of healing power. She massaged me and told me that she thought I was either under a lot of stress or that it was due to a car accident I had had. It may have been whiplash. So she said she would heal me. But the massage did not help. My headaches were still there, coming and going now more often. So I went from one doctor to another complaining about the headaches. They all they said the same thing; it was due to my stressful work and lifestyle. They prescribed me pain medicines. Most of the time I would roll my head on the back of a chair to massage it. At work, my co-worker would help me by massaging my head. It was now just as painful as before, even after taking pain medication. There were moments that I would run to the bathroom to throw-up because of the pain. My whole day was finished when the headaches returned. So I went back to the doctor and asked whether or not I had a brain tumor. I wanted a brain scan. I was concerned because I had family members who had brain tumors.  My uncle had died of a brain tumor. The doctor told me the pain medicine worked to relieve me of some of the pain.


Most of my days, I was in bed due to headaches. Robert who is my ex-husband, was upset that we could not go anywhere anymore. There were times at the shopping mall when I had to rush home due to a sudden headache. My weekends were ruined due to the constant headaches. I no longer had a normal life. Even on vacations when I would relax, the headaches would still happen.   Thus, I began to question whether or not the doctor had given me good advice. I went back for a second consultation. But the doctor said once again that it was just stress. I was to continue taking pain medication. So that’s what I did for almost a decade. Certainly there were many stresses in my life. My job was very stressful and so was my marriage.   It wasn’t until October of 2001 that the real cause of the headaches would be discovered.  


Robert and I came home from the marriage counselor that evening. It hadn’t gone very well. Both of us were so angry at each other. I felt hopeless. I went to bed so sad, so depressed. Robert was going to Saudi Arabia the next morning. In my mind, I felt the marriage would never be fixed. I slept in my daughter’s room.


I woke up at around 6am, Oct 4, 2001. I felt this sudden striking blow. “OWWWWWWWW!!!!” I had severe pain in my head. I had never felt like this before. It was so painful, as if I had been hit on the head with a rock! The intensity of the pain became stronger.  I got up and did my best to walk to the master bedroom for help.  I managed to walk, although it felt so weird. It felt like my body and my feet were not touching the ground. I was floating. When I got to the master bedroom, Robert was sleeping.    I said to him, “CALL 911!! CALL 911!!   Something is really wrong with me! CALL 911!!”  He woke up. But then he went back to sleep. While seated at the edge of the bed, helpless and hardly breathing at all, choking to death, gasping for air, I begged for help. The pain had become stronger. It was an unusual feeling. My head felt as if it was being pulled away from my neck. It was painful. The pain was more severe than ever. In fact, it was so severe that I could not control my movements anymore. I was no longer in control of my body. I could not move. Again, I had this feeling that I was no longer on the ground. I was floating. My vision was now blurry and distorted. Out of the corner of my eyes I saw hexagonal images. Although I could breathe, I couldn’t breathe very well.


“Call 911, Call 911, Call 911!!!”  At this time, my mouth was open; gasping for air, but there was none! My vision became more blurry and even more hexagonal images appeared, as if I was inside a beehive-like cavern. My gasp for air became more intense. Luckily, Robert got up and picked up the phone. “Hello, my wife said to call 911.” I was so glad he had awoken. I lay there, holding onto my last breath. I heard the siren. I heard the knocking at the door. I felt relaxed, I had gotten HELP!  The paramedic said “ Ma’am, do you want to go to the hospital?” I said very slowly, “Yesssss.”  The medics checked my pulse. They asked me where the pain was. I said, “My head, so much in pain.” I heard the medic say that my blood pressure was sky high. Robert was very upset. He walked back and forth and grabbed my prescription medicines and showed them to the medics. My guess was that Robert had not realized that it was an emergency situation. He probably thought it was just an anxiety attack. The medic was kneeling, looking at me, asking me if I wanted to go to the hospital. The other medic said that he would get the stretcher, but the other said “No time, grab her.”  There were two medics who brought me down the stairs. One was holding me by my shoulder and the other was holding me by my feet. The stretcher was waiting downstairs. They put me in it.  My eyes were almost closed.  I could hardly see a thing. Everything was blurry and foggy.  I was in the ambulance. I opened my eyes. It was still dark, the sun was about to rise.  It was early in the morning. I asked the medic sitting beside me, “What am I having? It is a stroke? The medic said, “No, you are having something else.”   Then darkness closed in.



I said: “Kumi, why are you here?” “Raymond, I love you son.”  “Where is Sara?” My daughter was not there. I recognized them because they were the closest in my heart. They were at my bedside.  I saw my son Raymond and my best friend Kumi and Robert. He said “Oh, she is back.”  “Sylvia, you had brain surgery.”   According to him, this was the first time that I had recognized people after being in a coma. It was a ruptured brain aneurysm. I had had brain surgery. I had been in a coma.  I had a little amnesia. I looked at Robert and said to him, “You didn’t help me.” 


When I woke up, I felt pain but not as severe as when the aneurysm had ruptured. This time, the pain was bearable. During my early days in the intensive care unit, there were times that I had a hard time opening my eyes, seeing people or speaking. Things had changed, however. Although I felt very weak, I saw many friends who had come to see me. They were praying. They were sad. I wondered why? All I knew was that I was alive! There were machines around me, tubes everywhere. I heard the nurse saying that I had to be given a pain killer every 2 hours. I was very weak. Sometimes I would open my eyes to see my visitors, but would then fall back to sleep right away.   My body was weak but my thinking was strong. I told myself: I will get well!!! I will take care of my children!!! I will get out from this bed. There were times that I was brought to the x-ray. That was so hard because I felt like I was in some sort of Twilight Zone. Dr. Chambi came into the room with a big smile on his face. He checked me, and was so caring. He was so concerned and attentive to my needs. He gave instructions to the nurses. It seemed that he was thinking deeply about how he could help make it better for me there at the hospital. Dr. Chambi visited me a lot. Other doctors visited me as well. They all said that I was “One lucky lady”! The nurses at Western Medical Center Santa Ana were so friendly and caring as well.  They told my friends to spend only a few minutes with me, as I needed to rest.  This didn’t stop them, however!  I was wondering why I had so many visitors. I was told later by a friend that Robert told them that I was dying so they should come and see me for the last time.


No wonder there were so many visitors and friends! Even my old enemies were there! I had no idea that it was THAT serious. OH MY. But yes, in the beginning of my stay in the hospital after awakening from a few weeks of being in a coma, I had days that were very rough in the hospital. There were days that I was so weak but still conscious. I heard the nurse say that they had to raise my blood pressure to improve the blood circulation to my brain. I was told by Robert this story: That I arrived at the hospital in a coma. I had a ruptured brain aneurysm.  I was in the emergency room, and doctor Chambi made a hole in my skull to the drain brain fluid that was under high pressure due to my brain bleeding because of the ruptured cerebral aneurysm. Then he proceeded to perform emergency brain surgery all night. It took 6 to 8 hours for Dr. Chambi to perform the brain surgery. Robert had been given a choice; either immediate surgery which could easily result in my death, or leave me in a potentially permanent comatose state.  Luckily, my ex-husband made the right choice---Brain surgery now. At that time, he called the Philippines to arrange for my care at either a post-surgery care facility or for my funeral.


The number of visitors trailed off. The amnesia began to diminish. I was told I was getting better, although I was still very weak. Every time Dr. Chambi visited, he had a smile. He checked my mobility by asking me to move my hands and feet. He had a very kind look in his face. He explained to me what had happened to me. He was so nice, caring and knowledgeable. The nurses said he was a very good doctor and I was lucky to have him as my doctor. They also explained that there was a one-in-a million chance of survival in a case such as mine. They said that I was one lucky lady. Dr. Chambi expressed his concern regarding the buildup of fluid in my head. He said that the external brain tube that I currently had placed outside my head could become infected and cause infection in the brain, therefore, it would be best to remove the tube and put a permanent brain shunt drainage inside my head to drain the fluid into my abdomen. Dr. Chambi explained to me that it was a simpler procedure in comparison to the risk of the original brain surgery. I guess that the buildup in brain fluid was a side effect of the brain bleeding that caused plugging of the sites where the brain fluid is reabsorbed. The next morning, I woke up. The nurse came in and said the surgery was over. “You did well.” I was happy. It was not that bad. I didn’t even know that they had taken me into the operating room. I guess I had been sleeping at the time!


I was in the intensive care ward for almost a month. I was more aware of my senses now. I felt the discomfort of not taking a shower for many days. I asked the nurse whether I could take a bath. She said: “Not yet”. I asked for sponge baths and the nurses did this for me. One day, the nurse said it was time to move to a different room. I asked why.  She said it was because I was a lot better now. All the nurses who took care of me said goodbye. Now in a different room, one lady would always sing the song “Wake me up before you go!” She was a patient who had a brain bleed due to a ruptured  aneurysm while giving birth. But she was still confused following surgery.

The next morning, my children visited. My daughter was 8 years old, and my son was 14. My room was full of balloons and flowers from visitors. The next morning, I was told I could take a bath. Oh, I was so happy! I walked with a walker since my muscles were still weak. I took a bath. Afterwards, the bath tub was full of hair. I had lost so much hair. Later, I was told that I could sit by the window. I sat there and watched the cars passing by. I did not know it but I had sat there for an hour. Time was moving very fast. Dr. Chambi visited again. I looked at him and said: “You saved my life, thank you so much”. He explained to me that I would be going home soon. Before this would occur, however, he would want to make sure that the ruptured brain aneurysm was completely sealed by the surgical clip used during my brain surgery.  I would need to have an angiogram.


I was brought down to the operating room for an angiogram. I was told that there was a 1% risk of death with the procedure. So I got worried. But the technician said the good news was “no one had died yet on his table.” That was good enough for me. It was not a pleasant procedure. Although I had taken a pain killer, I still felt the pressure of the dye going through my brain. I was happy to hear them saying “All is clear.” I was in the recovery room for 2 hours. I was thinking of my children. How are they? I would do my best to get out of the hospital to take care of them.


It was now time to go home. Dr. Chambi said that I did not need to go to the rehabilitation center. He told me, however, that there was the possibility of seizure episodes over the course of the next year. The doctor was happy in seeing my speedy recovery. I remember my friend who had died instantly following a ruptured aneurysm. I guess I was really lucky. While in the car on the way home, I felt every bump in the street. My head felt numb but I was still in pain. I still had to take a pain killer orally. At home, Robert wanted me to recover faster. He took me for a walk to strengthen my muscles. I walked like a robot with small steps. He didn’t want me to sleep all day because he said that I needed to get up to be stronger sooner. This was because he had to leave for Saudi Arabia for his job transfer. He could not postpone it. He was supposed to leave in the middle of December but he decided to leave 2 weeks earlier. I begged him not to go until after Christmas. But he said “NO, you are a smart lady, you can do it”. Robert’s airport van arrived to pick him up. He told my son “You are the man of the house while I’m away. You are to take care of these two girls. I will be back in six months.” I was speechless. I just stared at him leaving. We all stood in front of the house waving goodbye.  


Now what would I do??? I did not have a job. I was on disability. I didn’t have good health.  I had two kids to take care of. Now what?! I stayed strong. I developed a positive attitude and I never became depressed due to the blessing of being healthy again and having the opportunity to take care of my children. I took a piece of paper and wrote phone numbers where my children could call for help in case something happened to me; such as a seizure. I pasted it on the front door. I also wrote the number for 911. Then, every day I would walk by myself with my cell phone. And, every day I took my children to school. I could not move my head very well to turn right or left because I still had stitches in my head. So every time I wanted to turn my head left or right, I would have to move my whole body. My kids were in different schools. Even grocery shopping presented a challenge. I was told that I could lift no more that 10 lbs. But I had to get bottled water and juice. These are heavy. I would pick the items up one by one. It was difficult surviving. But for me, I continued to wake up in the morning greeting the world with a big smile. I still do.


It is now the year 2010, 9 years later.  I am happily living my life to the fullest. I am a single mother.  I got divorced. He did not come back to us after he left that day.  And yes, there were more challenges after the surgery. I have changed jobs a few times. I’ve raised two very strong-willed children. My son is now 24 and my daughter 17.  It’s been a struggle keeping up with our financial needs, but I’ve succeeded. I supported my son through college.  He graduated from UCLA with no debt because I helped him pay for his lodging and tuition.  His father paid for less-than-half. My daughter is finishing high school a semester early.  And I have met a wonderful man who guided me along the way for 7 years. I still live in our house in Irvine. I have my own little business. And, I do my best every day.  I live and breathe the philosophy that for every problem there is a solution.  And every day is a bonus because life is precious and I always thank Dr. Chambi and God for the blessing of being alive and well.

A tube “like a horn” draining brain fluid to keep brain pressure normal

Myself with my 2 children after my brain surgery