AS a teenager commencing Valentine’s Day with a rather unglamorous seizure I quickly realised the day is not always about roses and perfect hair styles and that Saint Valentine is the patron saint of epilepsy.
On February 14 I was hoping to gain the attention of a sporty geek who had shown interest in me; instead, I found myself in hospital not quite sure what was going on.
Later I found out I had had a large seizure and arrived at the Royal Children’s Hospital via an ambulance.
Initially the doctor’s thought I had epilepsy.
After a few tests it became apparent there was more to the story: a blood clot the size of half a golf-ball was found on the left side of my brain (the area impacting speech and reading) which was haemorrhaging.
This explained a lot.
Namely the headaches that had been around for years but unfortunately dismissed as hypochondria, puberty blues, and in one instance an allegation of drug use.
In the days leading-up to February 14 I mentioned I couldn’t read properly – however, I was asked to do vacuuming.
It was a confusing time.
I remember a doctor presenting an algebraic equation which I knew was simple to do – but couldn’t.
As a voracious reader and straight ‘A’ student I knew I was losing more than some of my long hair, which needed to be shaved for surgeries for to be performed.
Lent that year was spent in hospital having five operations.
This included major brain-surgeries where there was a 20 per cent chance of death and an even higher probability of brain damage.
I finished up with sixty stiches and a metal clip finding a home on my skull.
Occasionally there were moments of brilliant clarity.
Post surgery my face would swell so significantly I could hardly see; but when I did look in the mirror it struck me: ‘How I could have ever been so concerned about a pimple on my face?’
Additionally the anaesthetics used during some surgeries lasting up to six hours made me quite ill; as a teenager this future-proofed against putting any drugs into my body, which were not absolutely necessary.
I knew there were many, many people doing a lot for me – still, my prayer at the time sounded something like, “God, I think my life’s stuffed up.”
At least it was an authentic prayer.
I was fortunate to survive, but many don’t.
However, as my prayer indicated, my life had been turned upside down.
One report post surgery stated I had a cognitive impairment and advised I lower expectation and just focus on sport.
Recovery felt slow.
Physically attending school full-time took more than six months.
I was behind in class for many reasons.
Still, I was alive and I had people, many, many people praying for me.
And some of these people had made sacrifices for me to receive medical treatment, in particular my parents and nine siblings.
Slowly, slowly I put words and sentences together and started to read again.
Over the years word associations also came back and I was able to state the right words, simple word such as pen or tie, and put them in the right place during speech.
When these word connections started to return there was great excitement: I was now able to do things I thought lost to me.
And the condemning words ‘cognitive impairment’ started to lose their power: prayer and perseverance became the higher power.
Sometimes I would overexert myself but the body reminded me: my speech would start slurring, the left side of my face swell up and on one or two occasions I passed out.
Still, I was alive and there was much I wanted to do: drama, debating, athletics, part time jobs, play cello, netball coaching and umpiring, volunteering, socialising…
This Valentine’s Day I will be thinking of my friends who are happily engaged or newly married and the many others who would like to be; I will also be thinking of people impacted by epilepsy and brain injury and asking for Saint Valentine to intercede for all.
Prayers do work.
Without it I highly doubt I would be alive today having survived a brain aneurysm, multiple major brain surgeries or overcoming a cognitive impairment.
In February 2016 I will not be in a hospital bed, rather at my desk preparing for PhD studies having recently completed a Masters of Business Administration finishing in the top five per cent.
I cannot thank God or the people who prayed for me enough.
Hope you had a Happy Valentines Day.
God is faithful – especially when your life is ‘stuffed up’.
Hoping Saint Valentine interceded for you too.
Clare Burns is a Brisbane Catholic businesswoman hailing from Melbourne.