Survivor Around the Globe, Tricia Bonilla Harrison

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Patricia HarrisonThe Strength of Love

Bombs were exploding in my head. One after the other. It was the single most extraordinary pain I have experienced in my life.

I never knew that I knew what an aneurysm was until one of mine was rupturing.

Just like that, a simple and ordinary day changed into a day that, by all accounts, should have been my last.

My mother, my twelve-year old son and I had just returned from lunch.

I was speaking to my friend on the phone when suddenly, I felt an unbearable pressure crushing my head from the inside out. I hung up the phone muttering “something is going on with my head. I have to go NOW!”

I felt a pull, then a pop and then fluid gushing down the inside of the back of my head. Time stood still in that moment and I thought to myself “Oh my god!!! This is an aneurysm!” I have no idea how I knew that.

Once in the house, I immediately threw up several times in a gift bag that sat next to me on the couch. Because of the severity of the pain and my quick decline, it started to sink in I might not make it out of this alive.

I knew I needed help but had lost the capacity to work my phone. It was in that moment that I felt the most panic. I could not help myself.

I felt the weight of what was happening very clearly. I looked up at Max who was staring at me solemnly. I told myself…….”Whatever you do, be strong….he’s probably going to remember this for the rest of his life…..let him remember you strong.”

I handed him my phone and asked him to get me help. He called my dad and then 911. As I sat there in this unbearable pain, my mother put a washcloth on my head and sat next to me caressing me. She had already lost one daughter and couldn’t lose me too.

I knew I might die. Every time panic set in, I channeled myself to one pledge. I cannot die. I cannot die. I have to live for my parents and for Max. Within moments, our dearest family friends rushed in and began hugging Max and me and praying with us. They blanketed us in love and comfort.

The ambulance arrived at the same time, with breakneck speed. The EMTs immediately began to rush me to the hospital. In the back of the ambulance as I looked out the window, I noticed my car door still hanging wide open. I never closed it as I hung up the phone and rushed into the house. I also noticed small gaggles of on-lookers peering to see who was being rushed off. Oddly, I thought to myself …..if I make it out of this alive, we are really going to laugh at this part one day!”

The whole way to the hospital, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t inhale enough oxygen. I asked question after question to the EMTs “am I going to be okay? What’s wrong with me? Am I going to be okay? Am I?” My terror only galvanized as they glanced knowingly and worriedly at one another and gave no answers. They spoke a silent body language that said “no, no you’re not going to be okay.”

My time at the emergency room seemed very short. It was the first time I saw Max cry as he discreetly wiped tears from his eyes. My mother, Max, my parents’ best friends, my aunt and my brother and his wife gathered. This was bad. I couldn’t sit still for the CT. Too much pain. They finally informed me what was happening. “Cranial bleeding” they told me.

I had to be airlifted as soon as possible. Until the very end of my time there, I was trying to find out the best hospital in Houston for neurological crises. The last words I remember hearing at the hospital before they flew me off were: “Sweetie, every second counts. Right now, every second counts and you don’t have a moment to spare, you’re going to San Antonio. You don’t have time to go to Houston!”

I don’t know what I thought she meant, but I don’t think I realized she meant I might die right then.

The next thing I remember was my brother, Teddy, sitting on my bed asking me if I had seen our deceased sister Tessa. I asked “On the other side?” He smiled and said “yes”. I had been in an induced coma for a month. I had no idea what had happened to me as I lay in that hospital bed in San Antonio talking to my brother.

It was not until many weeks in ICU and rehab that I was discharged, which is when I learned that I have another aneurysm. It mirrors the one that ruptured. When I returned to Houston, I quickly started to Google “brain aneurysm” and “aneurysm rupture.” Only then did I realize the miraculous odds I had beaten. I became overwhelmed with fear.

Many friends and family have told me that I really fought hard to live. I was a feisty and spirited patient, pulling my respirator out and breathing over it and trying to get the hell out of the hospital. At one point, a priest came to give me my Last Rites but I asked him to come back the next day. I think somewhere inside me I knew I could not die so I was not going to prepare to “go”. I have no doubt that love for my parents and son kept me alive.

Many nights I have cried myself to sleep praying that God not take me. I have to live. I will live. For my son. For my parents. For my family. For my friends. For myself.

My life is forever defined in two divisions. The before the rupture and the after. On this side of my aneurysm rupture, I often think: “Just like that, a simple and ordinary day changed into a day that, by all accounts, should have been my last.” I now ask myself “how will I spend my days?”

That day 6 months ago, I can still remember sitting there at lunch with my mother and Max and smiling with gratitude and fulfillment. We joked. We laughed. There was a lot of love at that table. It was beautiful. That would have been a pretty great last day.

I intend to have many more.

The Joe Niekro Foundation would like to thank Tricia for sharing her story and wish her continued health!

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