Ciara Donaghy, who owns a barber shop in Dungiven, has made a good recovery.
Almost a fortnight on, Ciara Donaghy is reflecting on a Saturday evening that was almost her last.
“We sat at our kitchen table on a normal Saturday night. My weans went into the sitting room and they never saw me for another 11 days and nights,” she said.
It had been just another normal Saturday for Ciara. Work during the day in Shave n' Shed Barbers. Chatting to her aunt on the phone. Making dinner for the family.
But when she went to bath her youngest – one-year-old Shania - things changed quickly.
“I left her with my husband and went to go to the toilet. As soon as I sat down, that was it,” said the 35-year-old.
“My husband said I roared out 'I'm taking an aneurysm'. Eight weeks prior to that I lost my granny, and she used to work in the doctor's surgery years ago.
“Any time we were sick, she would have been our 'doctor'. I believe she made me shout that out. Nobody in their right mind would know they were taking an aneurysm.
“My husband came in and was trying to hold me up, but as he described it, it was like somebody had turned me off. My eyes were open, but I was turned off.”
Ciara's husband, Adrian, rang an ambulance, and on initial observation, her vital signs were normal, but she knew herself something wasn't right.
“They said they'd take me in because I was hot, but I kept saying faintly 'my head, my head',” she said.
“Going up the road, the man never stopped talking. He asked me what day it was, what month it was, what my address was. I suppose that's all part of it.
“I was interrogated with questions, and when we got to the Royal he said none of my answers had made any sense. I couldn't even remember my brother's second name.
“When I got to the hospital, they scanned me and said it was a bleed to the brain. I was in the Royal about half 11 that night.
“They said it was a 3.5ml aneurysm, but it was flowing. They said if my blood didn't flow, it would have been a stroke.
“I was told a third of people who have them are fine, a third die and another third are left with a disability. They said I was lucky my head was so sore.”
That pain, although ultimately a helpful indicator, was excruciating.
“I've never experienced pain like it,” said the Claudy woman.
Ciara pictured with her husband Adrian and their children Conrad, Thomas and Shania.
“If you've ever blown a balloon up so much it bursts, that was what the pressure in my forehead felt like. I could feel my skull getting thinner and thinner, and then came the pop.
“You would swear I had been hit in the back of the head by a navvy's shovel. The pain went from the back of my head, out over the top to the front.”
Doctors said Ciara, who has not received a Covid-19 vaccination due to allergies to certain medications, may have had the condition for a number of years, lying in a dormant state.
During her stay in hospital, she showed great resilience, all the while dreaming of getting home to her husband and her children.
By the Monday morning, she was sitting up in bed, and she even defied the medical predictions in the aftermath of her required operation.
“Everybody was praying, and it must have worked. They said for two weeks after I wake up, I'd have a headache; that's what normally happens with an aneurysm,” she said.
“I woke up, and had no headache. I lifted my head and the pain was gone. They told my husband I'd be away for two weeks, but because I'd done so well, they let me out a wee bit earlier.
“If I didn't get enough fluid, or something went wrong, I'd have to go to ICU. I'd started doing 20 minutes walking every day.
“We always knew I'd be going on the Wednesday, but they came in on Tuesday morning and said I could go.”
Ciara says the incident has given her a profound insight into the suffering of children who lose their parents.
“When I came in, I don't think my wee girl realised I was real, she was touching my face,” she said.
“My older boy was that shocked he said he wanted to do his homework. It took him a few hours to come round, and the younger wee boy was raging.
“To me, I think he thought I'd left everyone, but I've kept my name tag and my doctor's letter, and I'll put those into a wee box and in years to come, I'll explain what happened.”
As well as putting on record her and her family's thanks to the ambulance staff, the staff in Altnagelvin and the Royal Victoria Hospitals and the surgeons, Ciara wanted to raise awareness of anuerysm.
“Normally, they said it's men that get a bad headache, take painkillers, go to bed and leave it to see how it is for a couple of days,” she said.
“Mine was a Stage 1. In Stage 1 and 2 you can make a full recovery. In Stage 3 and 4, you're in the ICU, and Stage 5 is death.
“If you ever have a sore head, and you think it's not normal, please go to the hospital and tell them you have a sore head.
“I'm getting a chance to watch my weans grow up, but if you don't take that warning, you might not be so lucky.
“A pain in the head is not normal. A pain in the head is a warning.”
For more information on the warning signs of brain aneurysms, visit the Brian Aneurysm Foundation website – www.bafound.org
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