Ice Weasels

January 6, 2009 | 2 Comments

Category: Auto-Biography

I woke up with the “ice weasels” this morning.

“Ice weasels” was a concept invented by comic artist Matt Groening to describe that experience of waking up when it’s still dark out and feeling dread.  I mention ice weasels among certain friends and they know exactly where I am.

I worked for Matt Groening and his wife, Deborah, for a couple years almost twenty years ago.  This was before The Simpsons appeared, back when Life in Hell was a panel comic available in the alternative press.  I was an aspiring comic panel artist selling the products of other comic artists as I also tried to make a living as a sales rep in the greeting card business.  One of my lines was Life In Hell greeting cards.  Though my comic panels and strips were acquiring a following–they appeared in almost 200 publications–I wasn’t close to making a living at it.  The sales firm ended up doing well and paid the bills.

I’m being visited by ice weasels.

Marcia and I visited the brain doctor yesterday.  It’s been a little less than a month since the diagnosis that I have a brain aneurysm.  They discovered it when I was being brain-scanned after bumping my head in an unrelated event.  I’d not looked forward to this visit to the doctor.  I was worried that the prognosis would change between a month ago and yesterday, and it did.

A month ago the surgeons estimated I had a 50/50 chance of reaching a normal death.  I’m 55.  I took that to mean a 50/50 chance until I reached the mid-80s, when the men in my family usually pass.  A month ago I asked if that was the case and received a nod.  In any given year they gave me a 5% chance the aneurysm could rupture.  I was also told that if the aneurysm burst it would be 1/3 fatal, 1/3 stroke, 1/3 chance of complete recovery.  The last important number was that the surgeons estimated a 20% chance of stroke if they intervened.  Intervention would be by going in through the side of my head.

Yesterday morning the numbers changed.

Marcia and I were sitting in the little doctor examination room in the office building across the street from Evanston hospital.  We had a window overlooking the “L”.  There were surprisingly few medical accessories beside the standard patient table.  I’m supposing mostly people just sit with the doctor and look over test results.  I didn’t even have to take my clothes off.  In fact, now that I think of it, the aneurysm doctor has never touched me except to shake my hand.

I have been told I have a 50/50 chance of reaching actuarial old age, 72, I think.  Evidently there was a misunderstanding.  Not so good.  The surgeon has slightly modified the chances of rupture in any given year at 5%-10%.  Last, there is an intervention alternative, relatively new, involving 3-4 operations going in though a vessel in my groin and operating from inside the aneurysm instead of coming in through the side of my head.

Instead of clipping and crimping vessels, they would redirect flows and pressures with tiny tubes.

I have an unusual quasi-fusiform aneurysm on my left side, behind my eye, in a difficult junction with several smaller arteries branching off from the T intersection area that they are seeking to address.

The chance of stroke each time they tunnel in is 2%-3%.  Dying on the table is rare, 1 in 200.  The frequency rate of the kind of aneurysm I have is about 1 in 200.  Recovery from the operations is extremely quick.  I’m out of the hospital each time in about 2 or 3 days.

There are other options that involve going in through the side of my head with long recovery times and a 20% chance of stoke.  They seem less appealing.  Still, they are familiar interventions to the surgeons.  The intervention the surgeon is recommending sounds pretty unique to the particular aneurysm they are facing.

It could be worse.  I’m sometimes terrified.  Mostly I’m trying to accompany myself and stay comforted.  Marcia is worried.  Before yesterday I was going to put off an intervention.  Now, I’m mentally preparing myself for the operations.  In a couple weeks, I’ll meet with the tiny tube specialist.  Then I’ll get a second opinion.

In the meantime, every time I get a headache on the left side of my head, relatively rare but disconcerting, those weasels start icing up my bed.  I now meditate frequently while sleeping, getting better at falling asleep and waking up with my mantra humming.  It helps enormously to be with myself during this difficult time.  Strangely, I more often wake up feeling accompanied than at any time that I can remember in my life.

I don’t mean waking up feeling accompanied by ice weasels, which can be the case.  Waking up with Marcia beside me, I often wake up feeling accompanied by love.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 6th, 2009 at 7:57 am and is filed under Auto-Biography. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
2 Comments so far

  1. Dan Guinan on January 6, 2009 2:48 pm

    Hi ANdrew; Thanks for sharing the story. It is quite a difficult set of rapids in the river of life. Just keep being yourself and life will take you where it is going, but hold on and breathe for this short time in the journey. Dan

  2. Andrew on January 6, 2009 2:54 pm

    Thank you, Dan.

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