Vail Valley Voices: Another chance at life
Ryan Summerlin March 17, 2010
As often as not, Sunday mornings find me driving the Eagle River Valley for church. Sometimes it’s to Vail at 8, other times it’s Edwards at 10, or sometimes it’s both.
But on Dec. 13, home alone in Gypsum with our then-13-month-old chocolate Lab, I decided to ignore the below-zero temperatures and convinced Sage that we were worthy of a winter’s day at home. After cleaning a bathroom, a third cup of decaf and some online cribbage under my belt, I stood up from the computer.
Wham! In that moment, my life changed instantly and forever. I was overcome with significant pressure right behind my eyes. Something snapped in my brain, and I couldn’t get a grasp as to why I was being overwhelmed physically.
A migraine? Would an old inhaler help? What would slow down this freight train?
I made my way to the living room couch, but Sage would not have me lying down. He nosed me, he pushed me, and he even scratched at me until I could do nothing but sit upright.
Nearly a week later, I would learn from my surgeon that Sage’s insistence and badgering helped save my life.
Staying upright contributed to my successful outcome, as it allowed some fluid from the burst aneurism in my brain to find escape through my spine, relieving the pressure and minimizing potential damage.
There is no doubt that Sage is high on the list of blessings in my life.
After a call to our dear friend and not-too-far-away neighbor Shari, she came right over to check on me and Sage.
But with a total lack of understanding of my predicament, I insisted that 911 was unnecessary, too expensive and more than I probably needed. These points and more, Shari says, were also my arguments against letting her drive me to the emergency room. So for another 40 minutes or so, I nursed an unwelcome headache.
Fed up with my resistance and the dog’s behavior, Shari took Sage for a walk, promising to check back in. Upon her departure and with cell phone in hand, I headed back downstairs to what I thought would be welcoming: my unmade bed with pillows stacked high.
As soon as I went parallel, however, I felt the pressure of an earthquake preparing to explode in my skull. Sitting up in panic, I dialed my father-in-law’s Michigan phone number, praying that my husband, Bill, would pick up on the other end. Thankfully, he did. A few moments explanation from me gave him enough information to not just suggest but insist that I call 911.
And that, thank God, is what I did.
With the call to 911, my “thank you” list began to grow. To the great guy at Vail dispatch whose calm professionalism got me to understand that I needed to let someone else run the show and whose help got me in the hands of the right people, I extend my deepest appreciation. It was while talking with him that I turned my well-being over to God and, in turn, to all the exceptional people who do his work.
Thanks to Matt Solomon and Rob Sbarra, from Western Eagle County Ambulance, who came to my home and convinced me a ride to Vail was the next best step.
Many thanks to Dr. Gayle Braunholtz and the ER staff at Vail Valley Medical Center. I remember absolutely nothing about my time there, but my friend Shari said they did one heck of a fine job. She expressed her thanks to them for keeping her in the loop. That way she was able to keep my husband updated by phone.
Thanks to Dawn Vogeler, Greg Sawyer and Brita Horn, from the Eagle County Health Service District, who transported me to Denver. Even with Sunday skier traffic and snowy conditions, they got me there safely and with time to spare.
There are far too many people at Swedish Medical Center to list individually who were on the front lines and behind the scenes of my remarkable care. They are the best group of people I’ve ever come to know. There was not a single negative interaction with me or my husband throughout our entire time in their care. The nurse practitioners in CCU rock! Under the direction of Christy Casper, they are exceptional caregivers and exceptional people. Thanks to every one of them who helped my recovery be complete.
Thanks to Dr. Dennis Vollmer, my surgeon, who is in partnership with Dr. Elliott and Dr. West at Colorado Brain and Spine Institute. These guys do total justice to brain surgery and their chosen professions. They dealt with me as a patient and Bill as my support team with sincerity and kindness.
Thank you also to Som Phommatha, physician assistant extraordinaire for Dr. Vollmer. Her thoroughness, knowledge and follow-through are exceptional.
Thanks to our phenomenal friends Juli, Paul and Sally Jo for taking care of Bill and Sage during our two weeks in the big city.
Back home again, my thanks to Eric Eckdahl and Marcia Chase at Edwards Chiropractic and Acupuncture Center, whose healing hands are also blessings.
Thank to my friends and family in the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration for the many prayers in many forms.
Thanks to everyone at Eagle County government for their amazing support.
And finally, unending thanks to my husband, Bill, our precious Sage and both of our families for all of the love and good wishes sent our way.
I can hardly do justice in these words to everyone who reached out to me in thought, word, prayer, card or call. There is no question in my mind that God has been on my side throughout this entire venture. By and through each person who wished me well, his will was done for reasons I am learning every day since.
So here I am, in what my doctors tell me is one of the best recoveries possible. I’m back to work full time, and I am running for re-election. This recent experience deeply affirms my belief that teamwork, communication, good planning and compassion make miracles happen.
I am willing to keep working hard, and I am certainly willing to keep praying for the important and impacting solutions to the challenges we face today and those we’ll face in the years to come.
Thank you all for helping me recover, and thanks to God for giving me another chance to serve him, you and this wonderful place we call home.
Sara Fisher, of Gypsum, is an Eagle County commissioner.