On April 30th, 1999, we drove to the hospital in the early morning hours. I had cut my hair very short so that my halo would go on easier. I had lost nearly twenty pounds in the ordeal, and was still very weak. After checking in, I was prepped for my halo. I still remember just sitting there as the doctors screwed that huge hunk of metal into my skull. I tried walking with it on, but the weight of the halo and my already weakened condition made it impossible to stay upright. I had all my scans taken with the halo bolted to the table, and waited the seemingly endless five hours until the team could map out the course of the radiation. We sat in my room sticking Post-Its to my halo and trying to avoid the reality of what was about to happen. After the course was plotted, I was taking into the treatment room and re-measured. Somehow, my halo had shifted in my skull just a hair...so they took it out and put it back on. The pain was so intense, all I could do was cry as I sat and waited to go back to the treatment room. I chalked most of my tears up to the pain, but I was petrified. Was this the last time my parents were going to see me? Would I ever see them? Would I ever walk, talk, run, dance, or do anything normal EVER again?
I was wheeled back into the treatment room, bolted back down, and the treatment started. I looked up at the giant arm rotating around my head and said, "God...if I get through this...this is what I'll do with the rest of my life." I listened to the hum of the machine as I drifted off to sleep.
I was awakened by a female voice. The treatment was over...I could go. My vital signs were normal, I could see, I could walk, I could talk, I could hear. My halo was removed and I was sent home.
The next night, I saw at home nursing my halo holes and talking on the phone with my boyfriend. According to him, as I talked, my speech started to slur. The words came less frequently, and then there was nothing. He frantically called my father on his cell phone downstairs. My father ran upstairs to find me hanging out of the bed with the phone in my hand...not breathing. My family called 911 as my father started CPR. The EMT's came and rushed me to the hospital. The doctors told my family to call whoever needed to be called...that I wasn't going to make it. I remember opening my eyes in the trauma bay, looking up at the doctors, and saying, "where am I?" Their eyes got wide as they asked me who I was, what year it was, and all the other questions they ask people in that situation. I was awake. I was fine. After a short stay in the hospital, I went back home.
My seizures were still frequent and intense. My right optic nerve had been damaged during the rupture, and my right pupil remains to this day larger than the left. All I wanted to do was lay in the bed. I saw myself as a lost cause. I couldn't walk very far, I was weak, every time I went somewhere, I'd have another episode. My mother forced me out of bed, amidst great protest, and made me do small tasks that would normally be easy for a 20-year old. One day, we'd walk to the bathroom. Then, I'd write a letter. Eventually, we moved up to walking to the mailbox. I was still furious and confused as to why or how this could have happened to me. I was a normal kid. I was in a sorority. I had a great CD collection. I had a wonderful boyfriend. WHY did God choose ME to have to deal with this? I remember my grandma telling me, "God will not give you more than He knows you can bear." Small comfort for someone who has had their life turned upside-down in a matter of a few short seconds.
Time passed, and I started to regain the life I was convinced I had lost forever. I was able to drive for short distances, and started to work at the local veterinarian's office about a mile from my home. I was still plagued by seizures...having some at home, having some at work. I took it as a personal challenge to make myself well again. I remembered what I had said on the table in the treatment room the day of my surgery, and started researching careers in radiology. I started college again, this time with the intent to become a radiologic technologist. The seizures continued. My mother ended up having to drive me to school every day, but I kept going. I transferred to Grady Memorial Hospital after two semesters and continued in their radiology program there. My seizures kept throwing me backwards in my studies, but I kept going. The instructors were concerned that the stress of school was contributing to my regular ER visits, and suggested that I drop out. I politely informed them that the only way I was leaving that school was in a body bag.
This past September, I graduated with Honors from college...seven years after I had originally started out as a graphic arts major. I had to stay past graduation and make up all the countless hours I'd missed as a result of my seizures, but I stayed and did it. I took my registry in October, and am now a registered radiologic technologist. It amazes me every day just how lucky I truly am. I have yet to meet someone who has known someone with an AVM rupture that has not died. I'm known as the "Walking Miracle." My patients with aneurysms, brain tumors, and other neurologic disease find comfort in the fact that the odds were against me, and I'm standing strong today. I'm employed in one of the top 100 hospitals in the nation, and find happiness in my career that I never found before.
So...this is me. I'm Carrie. I'm an AVM survivor. I only have partial sight in my right eye, I have a slight tremor, and still the occasional seizure. I am nothing like I used to be. I'm better. I'm not where I thought I'd be at 25. I never thought I could BE this good at 25. I don't dwell on memories of the days when I didn't know if I'd live to see the next sunrise. Instead, I count the days until I get married in September.
It's like my grandma said..."God will not give you more than He knows you can bear."
I'm glad He had so much faith in me.