How it all started...Tik Tik Tik Tik Tik. "Guys, you hear that?" I asked.
A little bit about Vik
Tik Tik Tik Tik Tik. "Guys, you hear that?" I asked.
It’s October 1st, 2012. I am sitting in the basement office of an advertising start-up I work for. The basement is sectioned off into two rooms - one large space for all the folks working in print, and I'm stationed in the digital wing, which is packed like sardines.
Now, I'm known to break the monotony with some goofing off, so when I ask, "can you hear that ticking sound?" my co-workers give me a 'we're busy and don't have time for this’ look.
And that's when I realize the Tik Tik Tik is growing louder and louder in my head. It's at this precise moment I also lose the ability to articulate anything that's happening to me. I have lost the ability to speak. I stand up and go outside. Two of my co-workers follow me out once they realize I'm not playing around. After that, it's all a bit of a blur.
Getting a diagnosis
I'm being dragged by my two co-workers on either shoulder to a small hospital across the street. Not a moment after we enter the doors of the hospital, I mutter some gibberish before I go into a full convulsion and pass out. I wake a while later with my boss, my dad and a bunch of fuzzy faces around me. I'm told I was given a shot of Lorazepam to control the seizure. I'm told to go home and rest.
It's probably just exhaustion, but just to be safe, get an EEG and CAT Scan tomorrow.
It's October 2nd, a national holiday, but we find a pathologist who is still seeing walk-in patients. The scan shows a shadow, but I have to get an MRI to be certain of what it is. We'll have to wait another day for that, I'm told. "Sure, I can wait,” I reassure my dad. “Besides, I feel just fine."
It's October 3rd and I'm back at work. I am taking a quick break and catching up with a co-worker/friend and filling her in on my little adventure while she was away. We sip on our coffee and head back into our dungeon. Soon enough, there it is again.
Tik Tik Tik Tik Tik.
NO NO NO.. this can't be happening again!
I rush out, again. This time, I lock myself in my car. I call my co-worker and tell her, "it's happening again." She runs to the parking lot armed with the support of another co-worker. They drive me to my parents’ house, which is close by. My mother, who has been away for the last week, is completely in the dark about the events of the previous two days. It's been 15 minutes, and my brain is still going off like a ticking time bomb. Yet again, I have lost the ability to speak. I can sign, mime, and write what needs to be relayed. My mother and my co-workers rush me to our family doctor in the neighborhood. One look at me and he knows what's coming. "We have to rush him to the hospital, NOW!'
It's been 30 minutes since I lost my speech. I am being driven to an ER; not just any ER, but the busiest ER in the country. The last thing my brain needs is more audio-visual stimuli. Sure enough, as we enter the ER, my bleeding brain goes into overdrive. The right side of my face collapses as I collapse in my mother's arms. I have one last thought, “at least I go with my mom holding onto me.” There are worse ways to go. I'll take it.
Fortunately, once again, I wake up a while later to more fuzzy faces. As time skips in and out of my consciousness, in my delirious state, I realize my dad, sister, and mom are driving me to a different hospital. It’s now been 4 hours since I locked myself up in my car, and I’m in a DAZE.
Finally, two days after the first episode, I’m inside an MRI machine. For those who’ve never been inside one, it’s a trip! The machine plays its greatest hits one after the other. The first sounds like someone is trying to nail a busy fax machine to my head with a mallet very gently. The next one sounds like a prog-rock beat, a Neil Peart-esque drum solo rocking my little MRI world.
It’s been 8 hours. The clock reads 1am, and we finally have a report:
CAVERNOUS ANGIOMA IN THE LEFT TEMPORAL LOBE, it says, big and bold.
Managing my condition
The images show a tumour the size of an acorn on the left side of my brain. At this point, I still don’t know what any of this means. All I know is that there has been a considerable amount of hemorrhaging in my brain, and I have the mother of all migraines. I’ve had migraines all of my life, but this… this is a different kind of beast. I feel like I’m strapped to a medieval torture chair, as the wooden screws tighten into my skull.
Multiple consultations with multiple neurologists and neurosurgeons and weeks of deliberating later, I’ve made up my mind. Surgery it is. The tumour may bleed again, it may not, who knows? But a lifetime of anti-convulsant medication and “playing it safe,” that’s just not who I am.
53 days after I knew there was something wrong with my brain, I’m in my hospital room. Soon enough, I’m wheeled away into the OR, and within seconds, I’m under. The next thing I know, I’m slowly opening my eyes. A blurry figure leans into my sight. It’s my surgeon. His face slowly unblurs and I see his mouth moving animatedly. The sound finally hits my ears - “Vik, can you hear me? I nod. As I’m stretchered out and I see my mom and dad being briefed by the surgeons. My mom has a worried look on her face. That changes in an instant when I’m asked if I can speak, and I give a thumbs up. I would later learn that the speech centre in my brain might have been damaged and I might never speak again.
It’s the morning of the 24th, my family is here in the ICU with me. Over the next few days and weeks, I recover and regain my ability to speak, not fluently yet, but it’s a work in progress.
It’s been a year since the surgery, and quite a year it has been. Long before any of this happened, I was going through quite a traumatic time personally. Life-changing mistakes, break-ups, student debt, and lack of viable career opportunities. All of these things were laying dormant somewhere deep, while everyday duties and the little matter of an imploding brain took precedence.
So, it’s Christmas 2013. It’s late at night, but I’m feeling motivated to finish a project I’m working on, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, that feeling comes over me one more time.
NO NO NO… not again.
Tik Tik Tik…
I run to the living room and let my folks know that it’s happening again. I walk across to a bedroom and lie down. Seconds later, I’m passed out. I open my eyes and look over at the clock on the wall. I was out for 20 minutes. Mum, dad and my sister are all standing around me. I tell them it’s gone… the sound in my head. They all breathe a sigh of relief. I tell them I don’t feel anything that’s out of place. We decide we’ll do an early morning run to the hospital. The next morning my sister lets me know that while I was passed out, I was seizing uncontrollably and my face had collapsed to one side again. One more round of MRI scans later, I’m told there are fragments of the remaining malformation and the cyst that filled the gap that was created is what’s causing the relapse.
It’s been 3 weeks, and we’re into the new year. I’ve had 4 different episodes in the last 20 days, the latest right outside the doctor's office. He asks my dad to schedule the surgery within the next few days. It’s January 14th, 2014. I’m in the OR and one of the doctors asks me to count down starting at 10. 10, 9, 8, and I’m under. I wake up a few hours later as I’m being wheeled into the ICU. The first thing I notice is the massive needle going through my skull that’s draining blood into a plastic bag. This time though the pain overpowers anything that the drugs are trying to distract me from. This time around, the swelling in my brain isn’t as bad. I can already form full sentences, and I am better cognitively compared to the first time.
2014 is also the year I finally put myself through therapy. My experiences from the previous few years have put a dent in my work and social life. I can’t enjoy myself at any social gathering. I have lost the ability to relate to anyone. Loud places are a death sentence. But what hurts is that none of my friends are there for me at this time. Not one. Professionally, I have been kicked to the curb. The story I tell myself is that I have been treated unfairly, but the truth is my head just isn’t in it. Nothing feels worth pursuing.
Where I am now
It’s August 2022. It’s been 8 years since any seizures, hemorrhage, or stroke-like symptoms. It’s been 4 years since I took any medication for my brain. Still, there are days that are a hostile reminder of everything I have been through. I manage the pain of having a hole in my skull with various remedies now and then. Some mornings are brutal when it’s impossible to get out of bed. The downside of escaping death a couple of times is that now I want nothing short of a spectacular life full of adventure. And boy, is it a downer when you have to manage expectations! Despite all of that, I feel I have a pretty full life. I work 40 hours a week, animating and editing from the comfort of my home studio. I play soccer every weekend, and yes, sometimes I head the ball against my partner’s wishes. I go to concerts and feel immensely grateful every time I witness a musical spectacle. Whether dealing with physical pain or associated mental health issues, recovery from a brain injury is a lifelong journey. With all of its topsy-turvy turns, I’m glad that amidst all of the unremarkable days of my life, now and then I truly have an amazing appreciation for being alive and being able to enjoy the privilege of experiencing it with all of my senses intact.