As my family and I stood around Mindi in the moments before her surgery, we took turns kissing and hugging her, reassuring her that everything would be okay... everything will be fine sissy, I kept telling her… But because of the way I think, I couldn’t help but wonder if the words I spoke would turn out to be true. I didn’t know the answer to that, though. In fact, no one knew. I stood in that room with my head down, talking in my head to God, like I typically do, kind of like he’s a close friend of mine. I reiterated to him, as selfish as it may have been, that I needed my sister still, here on earth. I reminded him of how close we are not just as sisters, but best friends. (And I quickly thanked him for that, as well as for giving me such a tight-knit, loving, caring, forgiving, call-each-other-every-day, say-I-love-you-every-time-we-hang-up, kiss-each-other-goodbye, tell-one-another-absolutely-everything, kind of family.) To be honest though, and I’m not proud of this moment, as I walked away from that corridor and she was wheeled away to surgery, I tried my best to negotiate a deal with God, telling him I’d do absolutely anything in the world for Him if he could just swap us out real quick and I could have the surgery instead of her. I knew it was crazy to beg Him for such a thing, and I know we aren’t supposed to ask God for things like that, but I was desperate.
There were three things that kept me rational as we waited in the family room at OSF during her surgery:
- One of my best friends since junior high, and a top notch nurse anesthetist, Leigh, would be in surgery with my sister, reminding every nurse and doctor in that room that this patient was VIP. In addition to that, my sister gave Leigh permission to update us regularly via text message during her surgery, so we had some inside information on her actual status, which proved to be much more calming to our nerves than the calls every hour or two from the nurse in surgery, who always just stated that, ‘everything was going fine.’
- My sister had a rockstar neurosurgeon, (and he just happens to be Peoria’s version of Dr. McDreamy), that had already proven himself through my mom’s brain surgery.
sister is strong. She didn’t know it or feel it right then, but I knew it. She
gets that from my mom, who just had her brain surgery just a few weeks before
Mindi’s, and kept her promise to be there for her daughter on the day of her
After sitting in the family waiting room for what felt like an eternity, I received the first update from Leigh.
Even though I knew they would have to part her hair to make a clean, straight incision, this text hit me like a ton of bricks. This was really happening. A piece of my sister’s skull was about to be removed. I leaned over and showed this text to my other sister, Tara, and we both just lost it. So many questions and crazy thoughts swirled around inside my head. Would she wake up? If she woke up, would she be able to talk? Would her voice be the same? What if Dr. Klopfenstein’s hand slipped? Or what if a nurse bumped his hand on accident? How could Jeremy raise these kids on his own without their mom? Would Jeremy still come over to my mom’s for Christmas with Ava and Alex? Who would Alex get his back tickles from? Who would Ava tell her secrets to? And as you can imagine, my unanswerable questions persisted through the remainder of her surgery.
Tara and I went down to get a coffee to pass the time and talked very little. When we did talk, it was only about how we couldn’t believe what was happening to our sister at that very moment. Neither of us spoke about the thoughts we were having, or what we thought could happen. Months later, Tara described to me that going through the two ordeals, Mindi’s and Mom's surgeries, have been the most trying experiences she has ever been through. She also said that seeing such close family members in pain and knowing that these minutes could truly be our last was nothing short of terrifying to her. She told me about when she first arrived at OSF that day, and she met Mindi and all of us up in the waiting area where lab work is done. Just a few short minutes after she had arrived, Mindi was whisked upstairs and separated from all of us. It was at this moment that Tara had a feeling of overwhelming sadness come over her. As she watched Mindi get on the elevator by herself, Tara just felt empty. Emotionally she was drained. This was it. The moment everyone wanted to fast forward past. She talked to me more about her own fears and overcoming them to be strong for Mindi that day, specifically because we only were allowed to visit Mindi one at a time right before she went into surgery. Anyone who knows Tara well, knows that she doesn’t fare well alone and doesn't like to reconnoiter unknown areas on her own. But at that time, she just kept reminding herself that whatever uncomfortableness that she is feeling is nothing compared to what Mindi (and Mom) have gone through.
The next few updates came in from Leigh, and I even tried to make her answer my questions. (Leigh is in gray and I’m in blue.)
The next couple of hours went by SO. INCREDIBLY. SLOWLY. Updates came in regularly from Leigh though, letting us know exactly what was happening when and why. And then this text came in.
I couldn’t believe that a couple of hours had gone by and the aneurysm hadn’t even been seen yet, let alone clipped. I guess I never put much thought into how much time and skilled, slow and steady hands it might take to get through a person’s skull without messing anything up.
At that exact moment, Klop was staring right into the eye of this thing. This terrible thing, that not only my 36 year old sister has, but my cousin has one of, my aunt has two of, and my mom had five of. This thing that on June 29, 2013 burst in my mom’s brain and forever changed each and every one of my family members’ lives in ways I’ll never be able to articulate.
So naturally, my response back to Leigh (in my head) was, “CLIP THAT DAMN THING AND GET OUT OF THERE!” I didn’t type that to her though, because I knew I wasn’t in control of anything at that point. Before I could compose a more rational response to Leigh, she texted me again.
Did I read that right? Was my sister potentially months away from her aneurysm bursting? She’s only 36 years old. Some people with aneurysms just ‘watch’ these things their whole lives, especially younger people. And that was an option that she was very open to before talking to Klop the first time. Even after talking with him, she considered waiting to have her surgery in the summer, when she was already off from school. But would she have made it to summer alive? The answer to that question is by far the most frightening thing I’ve ever faced in my life, and gives me chills every single time I think about it. The answer is probably not.
Leigh texted again shortly thereafter.
We were able to talk with Dr. Klopfenstein really quickly after the aneurysm was clipped because a resident was closing Mindi up. Before Klop arrived in the room though, we all held hands in that small meeting room, and my dad led a prayer. He started to cry as he thanked the Lord for the strength that he has given our family, and for how close we have all become through all of this.
When Klop came in, he drew a picture of my sister’s aneurysm and explained to us that some small areas of her vessel on the aneurysm were ‘as thin as wet toilet paper.’ Because of where her aneurysm was located (right on the V part of two vessels coming together), he wasn’t able to just clip it. He had to narrow one of the vessels and ‘recreate’ the wall of that vessel using three titanium clips. It was either that or clip it normally and leave the high risk of it bleeding again due to the wall not being strong enough to handle the blood pressure. Narrowing her vessel is not ideal, but it was the lesser of two evils.
He explained everything in detail and answered all of our questions, and let us know we’d be able to see her in about an hour. We were all really freaked out by the type of aneurysm she had and the way he had to fix it, but still considered the surgery a success. We were all just ready for her to move on to the extremely long and hard recovery phase.
Seeing my sister in recovery was torturous. She had the absolute worst pain/most discomfort/eyes swollen completely shut/vomiting and dry heaving/not even a wink of real sleep/horrible nightmares/scary sounds from other patients/hourly poking and prodding from nurses and doctors/no shower/no food/no drink/and just a state of total shock from what could have been.