Since October 29, 2011, and days prior to my surgery, I began to tell my friends and family the same old thing: I didn’t see that coming. I thought this would make my friends laugh. I had always been the funny friend, cracking jokes, laughing, and pleased when I could make my friends smile.
I had not been feeling well the morning of the Zombie Race. I left my house at Higgins Lake and drove for about an hour as I made my way to Traverse City. I met my good friends Darcy and Jack at the small hotel they had stayed in the night before.
In the hotel room, Darcy and Jack turned into Zombies before my eyes with makeup and costumes. I had decided to run the race with just a little makeup and my Dodge City Red Demon t-shirt. I wore running pants, a long underwear shirt, and a black headband to keep my ears warm. A light rain had fallen earlier, so the temperature was in the high thirties and a bit humid. My stomach ached, and I blamed it on nerves and being twenty pounds overweight. Still, I knew a 5k would be an easy run for me, even at the age of 56. In my skinnier days, I had run half-marathons, 10ks, and lots of 5ks. I knew the routine. I was confident.
I drove Darcy and Jack to a parking lot near the Right-Brain Brewery where the race would begin and end. Hundreds of costumed people, mostly Zombies, were everywhere. I was a little disgusted with myself for not dressing up more, but I was happy and ready to run.
Two miles in, I was well ahead of my friends and feeling good about the race. Suddenly sick to my stomach, the skyline became fuzzy. The gray sky appeared metallic. I decided to slow down as I approached a boardwalk that still held the dampness from the earlier rain. I thought: Be careful.
I woke up in an ambulance, surrounded by men and women. One man looked like Santa Claus. I remembered seeing Zombies, but later I couldn’t remember if they were in the ambulance. Was Santa real? Had I ended up at the North Pole or in hell? I wondered if I had died, but Santa spoke to me and asked if I knew what happened. I had no idea as I listened to him explain that they must cut my clothes off. I had fallen into a puddle and was soaking wet. Santa told me that I had suffered a grand mal seizure during the race. I watched as the scissors cut into my Dodge City Red Demons shirt. Payback, I was sure.
“My head hurts,” I said and everyone smiled at me. I didn’t realize I had a huge bump on my head from the fall. I wondered how they knew my name. Santa had called me Melissa. Had I met Santa before? Did he remember me as a child? Flash: my race bib. That’s how Santa knew my name. I had on my Road ID on my left wrist under my long-sleeve shirts, but no one had noticed it yet.
Santa asked if I had been running the race with friends.
“Darcy and Jack.” I had no idea where they were or how long I had been out. I also had no memory of having the key to the car. Someone had taken my gloves off and the key had been stuck into the left glove.
Eventually, the wonderful people in the ambulance delivered me to Munson Hospital. Darcy and Jack showed up in their Zombie outfits. They were very upset that they had obviously passed me during the race after I had fallen. They had not realized it was me, since I had been surrounded by other racers. I would find out later that a doctor had been running next to me, and he was the first person to hear me fall.
“Have you called Jim?” Darcy asked.
“No,” I realized I had either been out of it again or completely incompetent as to what I should do. I had no idea what Jim’s phone number was, so I pointed at his number on my Road ID. I also asked Darcy to call my son, Matt, and pointed at his number. Somehow we determined I had the key to the car, and Jack went to get my car and my phone. Jack brought my phone into my room in the ER. My friend Jeri happened to call. I had asked her to come cheer me on near the finish line, and she wondered why she never saw me finish.
“Where are you?”
“I’m in the ER.” Jeri promised to arrive shortly.
I don’t remember the CAT scan, and I vaguely remember the MRI and the lovely sedation to help combat my claustrophobia. To this day, I can barely remember conversations with my friends or the doctors and nurses. Jeri arrived. Somewhere along the timeline, Darcy called Jim and told him I had a mass on my brain. At some point, Jim arrived. Matt had a much longer drive to make, and he would not hear the diagnosis until later.
The neurologist came in while Jim, Darcy, and Jack were in the ER with me.
“You have a brain tumor: a meningioma.”
Somewhere I started breathing again. Mass. Brain tumor. That’s a hell of a way to start the day. I asked the neurologist if I was going to die. I told her about my running friend Laura G. from Higgins Lake. Several years ago, Laura found out in April that she had a stage four Glioblastoma. She died in December the same year. The neurologist assured me that I did not have a tumor like Laura’s. She assured me that meningiomas are treatable and usually benign. She told me I would live, but I would have to be on medication for an extended period of time, so that I did not have another seizure. If someone has a seizure, there’s typically a reason why. We’ve found my reason: brain tumor. I can’t drive for six months. I can’t be around water or ladders or fires or power tools or anything that I might harm myself with.
I tried to convince my family and friends I would be fine. Jeri’s husband John arrived. I told everyone I could beat this thing. I spent the night at the hospital, and sent my husband and son back to Higgins Lake to take care of the dog. Darcy and Jack headed back to Midland. Jeri and John returned to their Traverse City home. I slept like the dead, or as I imagine the dead sleeping: deeply, no nightmares, no nothing, waiting to walk like Zombies through the night. This was my brain on drugs.
In the morning, the nurse came in and told me I should get up and come with her to the end of the hallway. I shuffled along in my hospital pants and shirt. My left arm was covered with bruises from the fall and from various nurses trying to insert an IV into my crappy veins. I realized a long time ago that I could never have been a junkie.
“Look at the sunrise this morning,” she said. She’s young, cute, and has her future ahead of her. I wonder what she thinks of me, a fifty-six-year old woman with a brain tumor.
“The sunrise is beautiful.” I realized how exquisitely happy I was to be watching the sun rise from the seventh floor of the hospital in Traverse City. We walked back to my room, and I ordered a huge breakfast, because I was starving. My husband and son walked in, and I cried stupid tears at the sight of them. The doctor and nurse came in and explained that I should check out surgery in Ann Arbor or perhaps Gamma Knife surgery in my Midland, my former hometown. They tell me that it is imperative that I do something. I can’t let the tumor continue to grow even though it is possible I have had it since I was a child. Meningiomas are slow-growing. I imagined yeast slowly rising in my left temporal lobe.
My husband and son brought some clothes to me since mine had been cut into pieces. They drove me back to Higgins Lake, but I have no memory of the trip, just snippets of sitting in the front seat. The storyteller had been knocked into silence.
Home. My dog did his crazy dance at the sight of me. I walked down the dock and stared at the water I was no longer allowed to be near. One hundred feet of prime lake frontage, and I was supposed to stay away. Waves rolled into the shore as if they were a heart beating.
Yes, I didn’t see this coming, but do doctors check seemingly healthy people for a brain tumor? Mammograms, gynecological exams, and physicals don’t reveal that one thing no one expects. I reminded myself that I was lucky. I could have had a seizure driving or out running the back roads by myself. I could have died. I have a meningioma and not a stage four glioblastoma. I had a seizure with a whole lot of Zombies watching.
I looked at the water I am not supposed to be near and imagined myself swimming, and fish, the color of pearls, guiding my way.