The lights blurred together into a single white cloud as the sounds of doctors’ voices and the distant beeping of machines filled the room. I laid in the hospital bed, hooked up to IV bags of morphine to ease the pain.
Despite countless CT scans, MRIs and other tests, each doctor was still unsure of what was causing a month of unbearable headaches, a ptosis of my right eye and facial paralysis.
But something was there. That something was a benign mass at the base of my brain in the middle of my skull, virtually unreachable without surgery. The surgery — so complex and risky — could only be a last resort.
When the headaches first started, I thought they were normal.
I thought, it’s just stress, right? All Lehigh students dread the weeks of 4 o’clocks — countless hours in the library, sleepless nights and endless cups of coffee all culminating in exams that determine their academic fate. We all have to push through, but I needed at least six Advils a day to simply get by.
But I told myself it was just a headache.
It wasn’t until I reached up to touch the right half of my face in the middle of Fairchild-Martindale Library and felt complete numbness that I realized something was truly wrong.
But still, I stuck it out. I had to finish my projects. I had to finish my exams. There was no time for pain and no certainly no time for rest.
When I arrived home for spring break, the pain was unbearable and my right eye drooped from a swollen socket. When I pulled into my driveway, I collapsed from the constant throbbing pain in my head. My mom carried me into her car and we rushed to the emergency room. This was not normal. These weren’t just headaches.
The emergency room was just the beginning. I would have my first round of MRIs, CT scans and vials of blood drawn in an effort to figure out why I could not feel my face, why I was in so much pain and why I was losing vision.
But the bigger question I asked myself was, why is this happening to me?
The first results came back and revealed an “irregularity” that suggested my carotid artery posed an immediate risk of rupture and brain damage, if I didn’t bleed to death. Panic set in when the doctors told me and my parents that this was a medical emergency beyond their abilities.
Since it was an emergency, I was taken by ambulance to Philadelphia to see neuroscience specialists at Thomas Jefferson Hospital.
I spent the next five nights of spring break in the hospital. The days and nights all blurred together with what seemed like endless tests and MRIs, before the doctors diagnosed a lesion in my cavernous sinus — a tiny channel at the base of the skull through which the carotid artery and a few important nerves connect the face and the eye.
The nightmare would continue for several months as a team of specialists tried to figure out what caused it, whether it would get worse and how to treat me.
My outpatient treatment still continues to this day and I often find myself reflecting on the lessons I have learned throughout this journey.
I now look back and instead of questioning why I endured so much physical and emotional pain, why I suffered through months of headaches and why this was all happening to me, I think about how this showed me the true value in the little things in life.
Life is such a precious and special gift that, as college students, we can sometimes forget. We are consumed by our daily tasks and academics. Every day, we prepare for the next. Each class and activity is to prepare us for the next stage of our lives that we hope includes the “perfect” internship and then the “perfect” job.
But lost in the chaos is the true meaning behind it all.
Life is too short to stress day in and out about the little things. When I became sick it changed my perspective on everything. Before doctor appointments, I would recite my favorite quote from author Alice Morse Earle out loud, praying for good news.
“Every day may not be good…but there’s something good in every day,” Earle once said.
As we go throughout our college careers at Lehigh, it’s important to find the good in each day. It’s important to do something to make a friend or a classmate’s day better. It is when we are able to enjoy the little things in life — the things we usually take for granted — that we become the best versions of ourselves and leaders in our society.
Two years later, the headaches have become less prevalent and the mass is slowly shrinking. I remind myself to find the good in each day and to live life to the fullest. Life is too short and we often forget it. So, enjoy the little things and the journey of it all.
Kendall Coughlin, ’19, is the community engagement manager for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]