The Whirling Girl
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How I almost died and why I'm better because of it

by Sandy Merrill | | | 2 Comments

WOW...I must have done at least a few things right!?! :)

It seems that I am an extraordinarily lucky girl, or perhaps I just have more to accomplish here on this earth, because according to statistics, I shouldn’t be here. Whatever the case, I’ve been on a wild ride the past few months and I have a lot to catch you all up on. I have much to be thankful for, and I intend not to forget that!

Most recently, on July 5th I celebrated 5 years of sobriety(!), I quit smoking and have been a non-smoker for 2 months, and most tragically on May 11 I suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm causing a SAH (subarachnoid hemorrhage)…and I SURVIVED, pretty much unimpaired, to write about it.

Don’t know what that means? I didn’t a couple months ago, but basically one of the blood vessels in my brain formed a small bubble, then burst, and then I had a big old bleed in my brain. Thus began a month long hospital stay and an entirely different type of journey…sort of into the world of neurologists, angiograms, therapists, brain work, etc., etc..most definitely a world I knew nothing about.

One thing I did learn: of those who suffer a ruptured brain aneurysm, I’m a part of the lucky 15-25% who survive without long term damage. About 15-20% die immediately or on their way to the hospital, another 25% die within the first week or two, and the remaining survive but with longterm disability. Phew, talk about luck.

Me and some of my loving crew just after having my ruptured brain aneurysm repaired.
Me and some of my loving crew just after having my ruptured brain aneurysm repaired.

Not looking my best, in the first week after the rupture. (that’s a cloth they put on my head, not a bandage)

As you all know, I’m always up for any crazy adventure, anytime, anywhere. Yes, even mostly unplanned, as was our recent excursion to Nepal. But this most recent adventure was unplanned, unexpected, and completely unwelcome.

I think that I needed to be reminded that…there ARE those things that are out of our hands…they just come, and we cope and deal as best we can. And, as with any journey, there are always plenty of lessons to be learned.

I knew that my friends and family loved me, but I really had no clue just how important I am to each of them. I mean, so incredibly well loved am I. I still cry to say that, think it, or even to write it. My poor boys, husband, and brother…they had to look at the hard reality that I may not survive, or, worse yet, that I might survive, but with possibly a multitude of impairments. As the days went by they watched, wondered and waited. Those poor guys! I have not dealt with anything so difficult, I can’t even imagine!

Nephew Ryan Mack, and sons Roger and Chris Schaefer, helping to staff the City Flea market in my absence.

Clearly 2 yr old grandson, Finn was recruited to help too!!! I see he’s got a summer market cookie in his hand…that always brings an extra smile.

I had my summer fairly well planned out, here’s how it looked

a 3 week trip to Ecuador to explore the country and pick up some lovely woolen things in time for the holidays

doing OFF and City Flea Markets all summer

a family vacation to our beloved Hatteras

and then a trip to Denver in the fall to help out with Finn and other stuff after new baby girl Schaefer arrives in late Sept.

As it turns out, most of that is still on the agenda, with the exception of Ecuador. I’d been hoping and planning to take my brother along on this trip and I’d finally gotten him to agree. Instead, he’s taken on the very pleasant role of being my keeper these past weeks since I’ve been home, taking care of everything and chauffeuring me to doctors and therapy appointments. I can tell you I am not an easy soul to keep, I’ve been unkind, crabby, and I’ve told him far too often to “shut up!” I vow to get us to Ecuador sometime in the not too distant future:)

My brother, Buzz putting together another lovely dinner for us :) And Miss Hatteras, hoping for a scrap.

I had Buzz take my pic, we were out running errands. I had my gait belt (aka-leash) on so that he could grab me if i started to fall. Lovely, don’t you think?

Instead, I spent an entire month in the hospital, making lots of new friends, as I irritated the heck out of everyone, setting off alarms and getting up when I shouldn’t :) I was in the ICU for nearly 3 weeks, then spent 2 more weeks at a rehabilitation hospital…oh my, oh my!

Here’s how it all went down…
At the very end of our May OFF market at Madtree Brewery, we were getting ready to pack up when all of a sudden, i just didn’t feel well. I sat down, waiting for it to pass, but it didn’t. It got worse and really fast. Within minutes I was as hot as a firecracker, sweating profusely, and had a headache so bad I couldn’t even move my head. Really, it hurt so badly that I couldn’t help from crying out in pain.

Poor Jen, my good friend and booth manager, was beside herself with worry. She was scared, but recognized immediately that this was something that was not going to just pass, so she took off to find the wonderful producers of the OFF market. Mikey asked me if he should call 911, I nodded or said yes, recognizing this was something big and scary.

And so began this month long journey that was totally out of my control.

I must tell you that Mikey and Leah, and Tiffany were wonderful in the crisis, managing getting me off to medical help, taking care of Jen, and packing up and storing all of my stuff...that’s huge! I have always loved them and their market, but it’s even stronger now :)

Now, please understand that I tell this story as though I had been there. In body, I was in fact there, in mind and spirit..questionable, who knows? It’s funny, I remember only bits and pieces of the month, especially the first few weeks. That’s a very odd thing, having people tell me what happened, what I said or did. So, I continue to gather a bit more info every day. I can tell you, for example, that having an aneurysm in your brain burst, really IS a big deal…most especially surviving it, and with minimal impairment. I know this because of the way people treat me, the things people say, and the reactions I get, and the stories I’m told.

So, here’s something else amazing. While I’m out in left field in some hospital, life continues, and The Whirling Girl continues to whirl (just momentarily, without the girl :) And believe me, I was in no shape to help. The very next Saturday was my first City Flea. Incredible and ever faithful buddy Jen, my boys, and daughter in law Kim didn’t miss a beat. I can tell you that, while I make every effort to be, I am NOT organized. There’s not necessarily any rhyme or reason to why, what and how I do things. How they managed to figure it all out and find what they needed, I can’t imagine. They managed that market beautifully and made decent money too.

They did another OFF market in June, and Jen, virtually single-handedly, managed a double (meaning 2 spaces) City Flea, and in the rain. My boys did help her with set up and take down. At any rate, an almost miraculous feat!

So in case you were there, and wondering where I was and who all these new faces were, now you know :)

Sandy and Jen having great fun in ‘market mode’!

My son Roger, his wife Kim and son Finn flew in from Denver as soon as they heard the news and stayed at our house with Ed for two weeks during the scary bits in the ICU. Kim managed and prepared all the Whirling Girl stuff for markets, fixed inventory online, cleaned up all my messy email folders and took care of basic business for the entire time. How cool is that, thank you Kim! By the way, she’s about to launch a new online resource for entrepreneurs like me, so if you’re thinking of something similar, you should sign up for her email updates here.

They repaired my aneurysm the night it happened using the endovascular coiling procedure. Followed by almost 3 weeks in the ICU, and I recall very little of it, just odd bits and pieces. Here’s my take on things:

I had lots of visitors, even my little grands, and no doubt some I don’t remember

The nurses were all very nice and they had a good fruit compote that i asked for often

I got lots of nice cards and beautiful flowers

I had some big something surgically attached to my thigh, I think

and another big something in the upper part of right arm

I had to pee a lot and no matter what option I chose, it was never easy and always an ordeal

My kids tell me that the day or two after my initial surgery to fix the bleed I was acting like good ‘old Sandy: smiling, talking, even standing and walking on my own. But apparently it’s days 5-10 post-bleed where things get real, real fast. Apparently, the leftover blood from the bleed irritates the brain tissue and blood vessels, thus causing another problem, vasospasms or sudden contraction of artery walls, restricting blood flow to certain areas. They’re very common, but also very deadly because they cause strokes. For about a week I was having them, and they were treating them with a mix of medicine and angiograms. I did have one small stroke that caused some slowness on my left side, but in the end, I was lucky.

But then I started to recover. The kids kept me well supplied with pics of the grands :)

This is Nora, Chris and Katie’s 2 yr old

5 year old Maisey, Andrew and Colleen’s daughter

Mattie and Ali’s 2 girls. Georgia 5, Byrdie 2 (check out those turkish towels!)

Two year old Finn in training to be Denver’s next renowned lawn care mogul! Even Denver’s summer thunderstorms couldn’t stop him from mowing :)

After 18 days in the ICU I was evidently strong and well enough to move on to a rehabilitation hospital to start fixing some of the things that had been affected by the bleeding and stroke. My left arm and leg were affected as well as some cognitive stuff. The bleed was in my frontal lobe. These pics can tell you a bit more about what that means.

I thought this was kind of interesting. My aneurysm was in the frontal lobe.

It was and is definitely weird to be able to see for myself the particular aspects of my brain that were affected. Here’s a small example. As a simple test I was given a paper with a circle on it and asked to make it into a clock. I wrote down all of the numbers on the right side of the clock. This is called left neglect. Once I was shown what I did I was able to find the left and do it properly. Geez, right!?


I had physical, occupational, and speech therapy 5 days a week, and did all kinds of things, improving all the while. Of course in this type of a facility falls are a major concern. For that reason both my wheel chair and my bed were alarmed. I drove all of those people crazy setting off my alarm time and time again, I just could not stay put.

It’s a very good thing I have my own business so I can give things away whenever I choose :) You can see bags of towels in the pic below. Besides supplying the neurologists with towels during my stay in the ICU, I got to give all of my new friends at the rehab hospital towels and bracelets too. I wasn’t quite together enough to give the nurses in the ICU their little gifts. But I will have the opportunity and take care of that next week, when I go back into the hospital just for 1 night to have my other aneurysm repaired. Yes, in fact, there’s another one lurking up there :)

A few pics of my room:)

I’ve gone on far too long, and besides that…there’s an OFF market this Sat (7/13) at Madtree Brewery in Oakley and a City Flea next Sat (7/20) in Washington Park and I have much preparation to do!! I’m still technically recovering so I can’t really move things or help set up. I can however make a plan and get things ready and packed, and I owe Jen and my boys all of the effort I can muster. I am hoping to at least be at both markets…we’ll see how well I can manage being there but not helping:)

I have no idea why all of this happened to me, but I’m seeing it as a clean slate, and an opportunity to do better and be bette r:) What a gift that is!

Below are just a few more pics of my recovery and my new life today as a sober, non smoker and healthier person!

And as if life weren’t hard enough already, my partial bridge decided to break in two. So I’m missing some front teeth…I know…I’m a raving beauty :) Tony and Bobby’s boys Julian 8, Ferris 5, and Gussie 3 with Georgia 5 and Byrdie 2.

Little Byrd, at home in my room :)

Look here, healthy me, making smoothies in the morning.

A little outpatient occupational therapy. 2 x a wk for awhile plus homework. I really enjoy it actually.

Well, that’s it. I wanted to share the story with you, and I guess I did, in some fashion. I’m feeling fairly rusty, but this at least was a start. I have more of Nepal to get to as well as my trip to Turkey last fall. So stay tuned for that. And in the background, while ALL of this has been happening, somebody, somewhere has been busy building me a brand new website! We’ll hopefully be launching it soon, with new towels too! It’s clearly the last thing on my mind right now :)

I hope to see some of you in the next couple of weeks. We’ll have at least some of my Water Buffalo leather bags, my great hemp collection, and my fun felt kitty houses, puppet bags and trivets—all from Nepal. And, these items are not yet available online.

Until next time,

The Whirling Girl


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2 comments to show

Kathy Kirkwood / Reply


Thank you for sharing your amazing story and recovery.

So glad you are doing so well and what a great crew you have.

Yes you are blessed in so many ways.

Kathy K.

Lissie / Reply

So great to read your words on this great adventure. Thank you!

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