Monster Inside My Brain

I never thought that a routine dive would lead to the discovery of a potentially fatal condition.  It’s a condition that some of you may unknowingly be living with as well.  It was mid-December when I suffered a diving injury. After my initial treatment and MRI, I received a phone call from the physician who was handling my case.  He asked if I was sitting down or at home.  I was driving but told him that he couldn’t wind up that hard without throwing the ball.  He gently told me that I have a brain aneurysm.  I was concerned but didn’t properly flip out until I googled it, and was immediately thrust into one of the most broken emotional states I had ever been in.  I couldn’t stop asking myself why this had to happen and how this would change the course of my life.

 

 Here is a little summary on brain aneurysms.  Imagine that one of the arteries in your brain ruptures and fills your skull with blood.  You immediately get the worst headache of your life.  A significant amount of people that have ruptures or “brain bleeds” don’t survive or are permanently disabled.

 

As treatment, I underwent two catheter angiograms, in which they snake a tiny hose into your femoral artery from your groin to your brain.  A dye is then released to obtain imagery of this little monster. The procedure is rough and leaves your groin black and blue.  After two separate trips to UCLA, neurosurgeons discovered that not only did I have an unruptured aneurysm, but it was in a spot directly parallel to another artery that leads to my spine.  Yay!  So, decision time.  Treat the weakened cellular walls of my artery with a stint that would allow blood flow to the artery that leads to my spine.  However, if it was to clot, the blood flow to my spine would stop permanently, paralyzing me from the chest down. Or, don’t treat this at all and monitor it annually.  I was literally days away from having this procedure done when my best friend, who also happens to be a very smart radiologist called me. “Don’t do it dude,” he said.  He explained that since I don’t have high blood pressure and the size of the aneurysm is small, my best bet is to live a healthy life, avoid anything that raises blood pressure, and monitor it annually. I respect every doctor that has treated me; however, when someone close to you advises against it out of true friendship, you take the advice.

 

So here we are. I have it and it’s not going away. I asked a very seasoned dive doctor if he thought I would be allowed to continue on in my profession.  He put it to me very bluntly when he stated, “Don’t set yourself up for heart break.  You may want to explore other options”. That was enough for me to conclude that my career was over. Divers that work under water understand that sometimes you have to use every last bit of your strength to get the job done, and with a condition like this, that’s exactly what could kill me.  So I went from a member of the most elite, best-trained, fearless echelon of divers in the world, to not being allowed to squat more than 135 lbs anymore.

 

In my community, and with men in general, when something bad or traumatic happens there are a couple of very quick responses which don’t help at all. They are, “Get it behind you bro,” “Put it in the rearview,” “Move forward.”  These are sort of band-aid sayings that don’t help, but encourage you to push your feelings, tears, and vulnerabilities WAAAAAAAY down until they manifest into something else. I get it.  Everyone is different, and everyone processes hard times in their own way.  My personal advice for anyone who is dealing with anything that causes emotional pain is to look it right in the face and deal with it.  Own it.  Process it.  If it’s hurting you, you owe it to yourself, your family, and your team of coworkers to get through it the right way.  It may take you an entire year of sitting down with a therapist every week, or an advocacy group, but don’t let it eat you up.

 I’ve seen people lose a lot, and unfortunately because of this loss they start to lose more, such as jobs, relationships, and friendships.  People become emotionally unavailable.  When trauma happens, it’s how you deal with it.  Sink or swim.  Become a broken version of yourself or choose to take the personal steps you need to in order to process this trauma.  I can promise you this: the answers are not at the bottom of a bottle of whiskey.  Have the bravery to face what has happened head on.  It took me a while to come to the place I’m at now and I’m still wrestling with some of my harsh realities.  I don’t get to dive anymore. I’m not the physically invincible Navy Diver I thought I was.  Whenever I have a headache I think, “Okay, this may be the one,” but I’m wrestling with it and not sitting on the bench watching.  

 

One in fifty people have an unruptured brain aneurysm.  I’m not alone.  Every time I get in the pool or ocean, I am reminded of how much I love the water.  I needed to find a way to maintain my connection to the water since I’m no longer able to dive.  I have loved swimming since I was a child.  It is also one of the best ways to relax and maintain low blood pressure, which is exactly what I need to do to stay alive. I have consciously made the choice to live without fear.  I will always have this aneurysm in and on the back of my brain, but I refuse to let these harsh realities prevent me from living a happy and full life. Swimming in the pool or open water, making healthier choices, diving deep into my own problems, getting professional help, and opening up about what is bothering me has helped me maintain my personal life.  I encourage anyone who is suffering to have the bravery to observe why, and start working on it.  I promise you, it will be the toughest but most gratifying work you will do in your entire life.


2 comments

  • Thanks for sharing Tommie, you definitely haven’t let the circumstances dictate your impact or actions and that still makes you just as elite as those still diving. Glad to call you a friend brother. 15 Fathoms rocks!

    Joshua Dominic Prado
  • Tommy, I am so sorry! I am also so very proud of how you are handling it. The ‘Power of Positive Thinking’. Kiss those babies and that beautiful wife of yours and enjoy every minute of every day! It so happens that just yesterday, I found the article that you wrote in Junior High …. The Loser. LOL! What were you thinking?! So negative …. So unlike you! Love you bunches!!! Miss Donna

    Donna Reeves

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published