Personal Stories: Carolyn Christensen

Thursday, October 19, 2006, two days after my wedding, I was coming home from work on the train. The usual trip started off as always, but by the time I reached my stop I had a sense something was terribly wrong. I started feeling pain ripping across my chest and my first thought was that I was getting pneumonia. Starting to feel upset because we were leaving for our honeymoon in two days, I climbed aboard the bus for the 20 minute ride home.

All I kept thinking was I had to get home to my boys (who were home after school) although the pain just kept increasing. I kept hanging my head on my lap and clutching my briefcase until finally my stop arrived. I climbed off the bus, breathlessly waited for the traffic light to change and crossed the street to walk to our house. I got up our stairs, opened the door and collapsed. My 12 year old son, Markus, (my hero) grabbed the phone and immediately called 911. My 10 year old son, Aleks, (my other hero) all the while stroked my head and assured me I would be fine. It seemed like it took forever for the emergency to arrive and by the time they did I felt so confused about the whole thing. The pain was still bad and I had a difficult time conveying exactly what was wrong without sounding like I simply "couldn't breathe".

I was loaded into the ambulance and Aleks came with me. Markus stayed behind at home so when my new husband, Mike, came home from work he could find me. I was sent to a "country" hospital in a small town called Port Perry which is north of our home as the larger (and closer) hospitals were full. I agreed to this as at this point I thought I really would just feel better seeing any doctor and seriously, how bad could this really be? We arrived at about 6pm. It took quite a while to see a doctor and the pain just kept getting worse.

Aleks felt so helpless at watching me become increasingly more agitated. About half an hour later Mike and Markus arrived. I felt relieved to see my husband, although I felt like all I could do was complain. It felt like nothing was happening fast enough. Finally the doctor came in and said he had ordered an X-ray. I was so relieved because that would would reveal pneumonia. I'd be treated and everything would be fine. I was convinced.

Either that or my wedding jitters had caught up with me and the whole thing was in my mind. I remember the X-ray well. Holding my hands above my head and thinking I was going to drop to the floor. The X-ray technician was so patient with me and he managed to get four good shots (or so he said). I was returned to the room in emergency and was really surprised when the doctor walked in moments later. His tone was completely different than it had been the last time he spoke to me. He explained that I would be sent to Oshawa General Hospital for a CAT scan and that my pain would be taken care of in the meantime. The nurse came in and started an IV although I thought it all seemed a bit drastic for pneumonia. By this time, Mike had called his parents to the hospital.

I assumed to take the boys back to their house, which is what eventually happened. At that point I was already being loaded into the ambulance and we were on our way to hospital #2.

We arrived at Oshawa General Hospital at 7:30pm. We went straight through the emergency doors through the corridor, past the X-ray/CAT waiting room and straight into the CAT scan room. I commented on the fact that they were having such a slow night I was being carted right in. The technician told me it was only for the VIPs. Funny, it didn't yet dawn on me that maybe something serious was going on. I was still certain that whatever this was would be something an antibiotic could treat. By this time, the morphine was kicking in and I was really feeling no pain. I put my hands over my head in the CAT scan.

I got off the stretcher. I was cracking jokes. What on earth was happening? Where was my husband? Where were the kids? Back to the room in emergency. The trauma room? Okay, sure, I'm so oblivious. I wonder if my husband has made it there yet following the ambulance. I still think it's all being blown out of proportion. The doctor comes in. He's a very serious man. He introduces himself and instructs the nurse to keep the morphine flowing.

He is very concerned. He tells me I have a dissected aneurysm and that they are looking for a surgeon as we speak. The words don't sink in. My mother died in 1990 from a ruptured aneurysm at home while she was making coffee. This isn't happening. I have pneumonia. I'm sure of it. Where's my husband? The pain is gone. Everyone's being so nice. Too nice. Time is so slow. Can I breathe? What is there to say? The doctor is gone the nurses are asking me about my wedding, my kids, how am I feeling. My husband walks in.

He knows. The nurse told him. What a wife he got. Two days married and here we are. We don't dare say anything that sounds like it could be the end. I think I tried to make a joke out of it. My mother in law is there too. What do you say? I ask who else is here. It's my father in law. He makes me laugh. I remember asking to bring him in too. I can't really remember too many details after that. Could be all the morphine.

At some point I was loaded into another ambulance and we were on our way to St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. A surgeon had been found. Two nurses came from the trauma room. I remember being really thirsty and asking for drinks. I joked with the nurse that after this we would go out for Diet Coke slushies. They wouldn't let me fall asleep. Again I told them about my wedding. What a perfect day it had been. The scene was surreal. I was so doped up I wasn't even thinking about the fact I was going into surgery that night.

I kept trying to peer out the back window of the ambulance to see if Mike was following behind, but all I could see the whole way were the blinking lights from the ambulance and the sea of cars divided on the road behind. It made me appreciate all the drivers who follow the rules and pull to the side for the ambulance to get through. We made it to St. Mike's and headed straight to the ICU. I remember Mike and his mom being there suddenly and the surgeon arriving. Dr. Lee Errett. A very, very serious man. He explained what would happen. The likelihood of success. He predicted a 7 hour surgery to begin in the morning when the team was assembled. There is comfort in knowing that you are in good hands. I signed something in my new name. I consented to put my life in his hands. The love of my life. Standing there. I don't remember saying goodbye. Maybe because I didn't want there to be a goodbye. I went to sleep.

For three days.

Sunday, October 22, 2006. I woke up to a nurse telling me we were going to wash my hair. I remember trying to sit up. Trying to cooperate. Really wanting to fall back asleep again. We did it although I felt like water was pouring all over the place. Apparently I had the whole family waiting to see me. Although, I found out later, that visitors had come while I was still under the anesthetic. I remember one distinctive voice it seemed like a dream at the time, but turned out to be a family friend. I still am amazed that I could hear her voice. I had to call her afterward to tell her I remembered. Actually it was the only thing I remember from the "comatose" stage. Then the relatives came in. I was so groggy, but so happy at the same time to see my husband. Hold his hand. Kiss him!! I felt broken all over, but I remembered everything, everyone. As far as I knew at least I had my mind still. It was time to be moved to the cardiac floor.

Mike ensured I had a private room which was amazing. I spent a week there mostly just trying to get out of bed, walk around the hospital corridors and fight a staph infection I contracted. There were a few days where I felt depressed, lost and wondering why this was happening to me. I had no appetite and no desire to watch tv in between visits from various relatives and coworkers. The support from everyone was unbelievable and so very appreciated. What a sight I must have been. It was a week in the hospital where I honestly couldn't have felt more loved. Seeing my boys for the first time was so emotional, so delicate. I value them so much and they were such troopers going through all this.

I'm 39 now...it's been 1 1/2 years since "the aneurysm"...I feel great although some days can still be kind of rough if I've overexerted myself or I'm really stressed out, but for the most part...I'm doing fine and life is going on!

P.S. We never did take our luxury honeymoon and lost the money we saved for years for it because we didn't have travelers insurance. That sucks!

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