What I remember most about Maria’s aneurysm was the day they cut her beautiful hair in order to place a shunt in her head. She was still out of it most of the time, but she was aware enough to tell the nurse to braid it first so she could donate it to Locks of Love, the charity that makes wigs for cancer patients. The nurse placed her thick braid of hair into a plastic Hazardous Materials bag and handed it to us. Even in the midst of deep personal crisis, Maria was still a generous spirit.
The book she’s written about her experience, Rebooting My Brain: How a Freak Aneurysm Reframed My Life, comes from the same generosity, aiming to help people who suffer through this and the friends and family who support them understand the long-term physical, cognitive, and emotional side effects of such an injury.
Before the Aneurysm
Maria is a lot like you and me. She is married, works hard, likes to be with her friends, is concerned for her aging parents, and walks her dog every day. She recycles, cooks dinner, and likes to travel. She is Everywoman, trying to make her corner of the world a better place.
In 2008 she moved to Seattle from San Francisco as a newlywed with her husband Paul. Her business was flourishing, she was in love, and she was settling into a very good life.
That’s why her story is so powerful: it could have been me, you, or anyone you know.
Maria began having severe headaches, which finally resulted in her collapse at home with the aneurysm. She is very lucky her husband came home to check on her or she wouldn’t be here to tell the story today.
After the Aneurysm
If you’ve read our story, you know Maria’s experience gave us the “life is short” message we needed to hear to stop living a life that wasn’t right for us. But it impacted Maria in a very different way. Her biggest dream was to get back to normal and get on with her life. In fact, her biggest goal was to walk her dog every day.
When you’re dealing with physical frailty and blindness, that is no small feat.
Something you may not know: Maria is the one who came up with the Married with Luggage name during a day trip after her release from the hospital in the fall. We were still tip-toeing around her, scared we would break her, and her husband Paul encouraged us to tell her about our decision to travel. Without missing a beat, she said, “Oh, you mean like a Married with Luggage kind of thing?”
It was moments of clarity and brilliance like this that showed us she was still there, fighting to come back.
A brain aneurysm is not an illness many people recover from to the degree Maria did, and her insights into how this affected her physically, cognitively and emotionally are priceless.
This is a book you will want to read, mainly because Maria tackles this tough subject with just the right amount of humor and candor. You will be moved, but you will also learn something about how your brain reacts to trauma and how you can support someone who goes through a brain injury.
The Mind Meld
Maria and I chatted via Skype, and you can listen to our conversation below. After that, go buy the book! It’s only $2.99 on Amazon right now.
00:54 How does it feel to be moving back to San Francisco when the last move you made came shortly before the aneurysm?
03:07 There was always someone visiting Maria or helping her out – not for days or weeks, but for well over a year. She talks about building a supportive network of people in your life and how they came through for her.
05:34 Maria’s relationship with her husband went from partners to patient/caregiver very quickly. She covers this as well as the trickier transition back to partners after recovery.
08:52 While we wanted to get away from our normal, all Maria wanted was to get back to hers. She talks about how priorities change in a situation like this, and how they probably could have changed for her (and for many of us) even before.
10:31 In the past Maria found it hard to ask for help, and with blindness she simply had to.
11:19 Her dog Eddie played a big role in her recovery, and she shares why he was so important to her (not just because he’s so cute)
13:11 Maria’s hair was her signature, and when she lost it, it was a big blow. We talk about vanity and identity here, and I admit that I didn’t think of her as fully healed until her hair grew back to its former length.
16:30 This is where we get into Maria’s personality changes and the ongoing adjustments from the aneurysm. We are far more adaptable creatures than we think.
18:31 Maria reveals the brain strengthening exercises she used to get better and what she still does to remain sharp.
21:32 We talk about ways you can support someone recovering from a brain injury and resources available.
25:20 What’s next for Maria? We talk about her patient advocacy work, training for caregivers and staff, and ongoing speaking and writing about brain injuries and recovery.