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Neurology Now:
DEPARTMENTS: Speak Up

Seek Medical Help Before It's Too Late

Lee, Julianna

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My husband Peter was quite stubborn. He never got annual physicals. I had to pick up the phone myself and make the appointment for him. When he got sick, it was quite an ordeal just to get him to take over-the-counter medication. I recall buying him grape-flavored children's liquid cough medicine; he would close his mouth, squeal like a child and refuse to take it.

Last year, Peter went to Shanghai on business. On May 12,1 received a call telling me that Peter was in the hospital. I was trembling. All I could do was cry Here I was in California, and my husband was lying in a hospital halfway around the world. I felt helpless.

The next day, I flew to Shanghai, rushed to the hospital and found my husband semi-conscious. He could barely keep his eyes open, but he managed to look at me briefly when I called to him. He could not speak and the right side of his body was partially paralyzed. The entire time I was with him, the only way he could really connect with me was by touching me. I grasped his hands and he would feel around each of my fingers, twirling the rings on them.

Peter had suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm. He was taken into surgery The first operation was a success, and I thought there was hope. But pressure built up in Peter's brain. The doctors wanted to operate a second time, but Peter was too weak. He slipped into a coma.

Figure. Julianna Lee...
Figure. Julianna Lee...
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From then on, his condition went downhill. It was the longest two weeks of my life. Peter's family, friends and his colleagues all kept vigil at the hospital. Our friends sent prayers from all over the world. The prayers had a calming effect on me. Every day, I hoped and prayed for a miracle. But the miracle never came. Peter passed away peacefully in the early dawn of May 26.

I desperately wanted to understand what had happened so I retraced the last weeks of Peter's life. I learned that Peter had been found unconscious and taken to a hospital. There, the medical scanning equipment had just been repaired, and the doctors, not trusting it, had Peter transported to another hospital. That hospital was crowded - it was like a triage scene in the old television show “M*A*S*H.” I believe that if Peter had received prompt medical attention, he might have had a better chance of survival.

I also learned that not one, but two blood vessels had ruptured, in two different parts of his brain. Later, Peter's friends told me that he had been complaining of pain in these very two places in his head. He would press his hands on them to try to ease the pain. His friends urged him to see a doctor about his headaches, but he refused. They were afraid that something was very wrong. Peter wasn't his usual normal, smiling self. He was quiet; sometimes he seemed dazed. Peter refused to go to a local doctor to see about his headaches. He figured that, since he was coming home in time for his annual physical on May 18, he would ask about them then.

Even more unbelievably, I learned that Peter actually did go to see a doctor on May 10 - only two days before his aneurysm ruptured. He'd visited the doctor because he was concerned about some white spots that had appeared on his face. He went to the doctor to ask about a skin problem; apparently he never mentioned the headaches!

My husband probably figured he was ‘just having headaches.’ But headaches that do not go away warrant medical attention. I learned that lesson, but it was too late for my husband. I wanted to share my husband's story in hopes that others will learn from it as well. If something is wrong, see a doctor. Don't wait. If you do, it may be too late.

©2005 American Academy of Neurology

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