Bobbi Andera was walking back to her office after a meeting when she felt pressure building in the back of her head. A frequent migraine sufferer, she had lived through headaches before, but nothing like this.
“Something was going on inside of my head and it felt different than anything I’d ever experienced before,” says the 39-year-old Sioux Falls, South Dakota, woman. “I could feel pressure moving inside of my head and spreading out.”
The Sanford Laboratories business manager had no idea that her “normal day in the office” would be brought to an instant halt by a microscopic tear in her brain. Underneath her skull, her brain was literally bleeding as the pressure and pain spread across her head.
Sitting in the cozy living room where she loves to read and practice yoga, Andera looks back on that day almost a year ago. After months of recuperation, the experience has made her stronger, more centered and looking to live each day looking for a way to make a difference.
“It was an awakening,” Andera said, stretching her arms in a relaxed pose. “I’ve been in the medical profession since 1990, but I look at things much differently since those days.”
When the pain first hit, Andera took some ibuprofen, thinking that she was suffering some lingering congestion from a head cold the weekend before. As the pain spread, she had a co-worker walk her over to clinic located within her office building. When she complained about her stiff neck, pressure in her head and pain along her spine, Shelley Smedsrud, a physician assistant, insisted that she take an immediate trip to the emergency room.
As Andera and her friend drove the few blocks to get there, she realized that she could no longer turn her head from side to side. She was sweating and her blood pressure was rapidly dropping.
“That was the moment that I realized that something was very wrong,” she said.
The source of the pain
As she arrived at the hospital, emergency department physician Dr. Jamie Sheridan ordered a CT scan. Although the signs of blood in her brain had to have been extremely clear to the technicians, she said the imaging team said nothing to concern her, and quietly wheeled her back to her room.
When Dr. Sheridan returned to the exam room, she walked in deliberately quiet and informed Andera of the situation, telling her, “You have a bleed.” Getting the proper care over the next 48 hours would be critical to healing her brain and making sure she didn’t sustain permanent damage.
“They were checking my vitals, constantly asking me to state my birthday and my name,” Andera said. “I squeezed so many hands I began to think of myself as a politician.”
Andera began a regimen of “many, many pills” taking steroids and pain medications as her body worked to repair the tear. During her stay in the neuro-acute unit, she suffered some additional complications as her body retained fluid. It was at this time that a diuretic, Lasix, was added to her medication requirements.
She spent a week in the hospital as she recovered, moving from one unit to another as her body got stronger. After a few days on the ortho-neuro unit, where she fought to keep food down, she was able to finally go home.
Healing her body and mind
It was months before she felt like her energy level had returned. Co-workers handled her projects for the three months until her body allowed her to go back to work on a full-time basis.
Over the past year, her brain has completely healed with no damage or loss of function.
“I like to tell people I actually think I’m smarter now,” she says, jokingly.
Her doctors told her she did the right thing that day, listening to her body and getting immediate help. If she had simply gone home to take more over-the-counter pain meds, the bleed might have gotten worse. Without the aggressive treatment, she certainly wouldn’t be functioning as well today.
“It’s an honor to work for Sanford with some of the best medical professionals in the business,” Andera said. “On that day, I was no longer an employee representative of Sanford’s great care. I was the recipient of Sanford’s compassion as a patient.”