By Rene Nevarez
It started out to be a normal Valentine’s Day in 2022. As I arrived at work that day, I felt good and excited about plans for dinner with my partner. Two weeks prior, I had noticed a weird headache at the right side of the base of my skull. I never had a history of headaches, so it seemed odd, but I chalked it up to stress and fatigue. On that particular day, I had no headache at all. I was too busy to worry about a headache as I had recently started working at a new clinic as a chiropractor. At the same time, I continued to work as a clinician in an orthopedic practice and assisted in surgery. I was working 50-plus hours a week. To top it off, I cared for my elderly mother a few nights a week. While attempting to balance my time, I started to stress out. I thought I had it under control, but something did not feel right in my body for the weeks leading up to that Monday. All the working and time crunching led me to turn off the warning signals my body was giving me. I just kept pushing through. I was 10 minutes into my third client of the day when I felt the most excruciating headache. My ears started to ring loudly, and the headache worsened with every move of my body. The best way to describe it is like a pressure cooker steaming in my head. I remember learning in my medical training that the worst headache of your life should be treated like a medical emergency, no matter what. I excused myself and asked my assistant, Jamie, to call 911. There was a split second where I thought I would play through the pain and just take some Advil and lay down for a bit. Thank goodness I resisted that urge and acted quickly.
I was transported to a local hospital via ambulance, where they started to work me up for a migraine and elevated blood pressure. I was very persistent with the ER doctor that this was not a “normal” headache. He ordered a CT scan and then a CT angiogram, and I was wheeled back to the emergency department. By that time, I was vomiting violently and sensitive to all the bright lights. When he said the words “aneurysm” to me, I was in total shock. I had some experiences with aneurysms in the past, and hearing that word made me shudder with fear. My grandmother had an aneurysm in 1992 and was brain-dead instantly. My Aunt Rose had an aneurysm at the age of 70 and survived after the coiling procedure. She had some deficits but went on to live a vibrant life into her late 80’s. Her story gave me hope. I was terrified but hopeful. I was still able to talk and communicate a bit on the phone and text with my loved ones, but my speech was slurred, and my vision was blurry. Unfortunately, this happened during a COVID spike, so I could not see my partner Mel or sister Becky, who were out waiting in the parking lot. I argued with the staff to let them come in, but they would not relent. I ended up having to tell my loved ones about my aneurysm over the phone. It was scary and emotional, to say the least, given my family’s history, and I know they were all terrified. I was so determined to remain conscious. Something kept telling me to stay awake and be aware and to not surrender to this aneurysm. I kept reminding myself of my resilient Aunt Rose. If she could do it, I could do it too!
About eight long and painful hours later, I was finally transferred to the hospital, where they would be performing brain surgery. I spoke to the surgeon, who briefly explained the endovascular coiling procedure. The surgery involved going through a vessel in my groin, traveling up to my brain to create a little bird’s nest in the ruptured artery. That would lead to clotting of the damaged artery and, hopefully, stop the bleeding. If that didn’t work, they would have to open my skull and fix the ruptured vessel with a clip. Again, terror and then hope flashed through my head. I consented, and everything started happening quickly.
I had about 6 minutes to make five short video calls to my loved ones. By that time, my sight was very impaired. I had the nurse dial the numbers for me. I knew my family and friends were terrified, and I wanted to tell them how much I loved them before the procedure. I felt they would be comforted by the calls, and I tried my hardest to sound and act normal. I was so worried that I would leave this earth without expressing my love and gratitude if something went wrong. I felt the desperate need to speak this truth. These conversations were the hardest of my life. I was wheeled into the operating room and was waiting to be prepped. I said a quick prayer and allowed myself to surrender for the first time all day, I finally felt I could let my guard down.
Moments after my prayer, an incredible experience took place. Earlier in the day, I had asked my partner to tell all my friends and family to send me love, prayers, energy, etc. I have such a vast network of friends from all religions and all walks of life. Once my prayer was complete, I felt this sudden rush of tingling, loving energy surround me. I felt like I was being lifted off the table. I imagined being held by the most beautiful, gentle, and loving light. I knew at that moment that I was feeling the collective love of all my people, praying, sending energy, lighting candles, holding space, etc. I felt God in that loving light. I realized at that moment that we were meant to love. Love ourselves and love each other. That was the true meaning of life. This profound moment changed my perspective on life forever. It all happened in the moments before the anesthesia, and yet I can remember every single detail. I felt so much peace, and I was able to drift off to sleep feeling that love.
At around 3 am on February 15, I recall waking up and feeling giddy because I felt GREAT! I wasn’t feeling the crushing headache that had tortured me all the previous day. I immediately placed a video call to my partner, Mel. She was surprised to see my face, as the surgeon told her she would likely not hear from me until much later in the day. My nurse convinced me to put my phone down and try to sleep. I was so excited to call everyone and tell them the great news, but it was way too early in the morning. When I think about this now, I know that the pain medications from surgery had something to do with my giddiness. Nevertheless, I was so happy to be headache-free.
Later that morning, a swarm of doctors came in and out of my room in the Neuro ICU. They all seemed very happy and excited about the outcome of my procedure. All night, I was woken up and tested with manual neuro exams. All were normal. Not one single deficit was noted. I was taken down for a scan and was happy to hear that there were no longer any signs of blood in my brain and no signs of any brain damage. Just the coil in my basilar artery doing its job. I was a little sore, but overall no signs of a headache. The next morning, I walked around the floor with the physical therapist and was able to eat my first meal sitting in a chair. I kept remembering the beautiful, loving light, wondering if it had helped bring me to this place of healing. I had one neurologist tell me I was experiencing what they called a “miraculous recovery,” and in the top 3% of patients recovering from a ruptured aneurysm. Hearing those words sparked so much gratitude in my heart.
Post-op days 2 through 6 were the worst. The headache pain returned along with the extreme nausea and vomiting. I also had the worst lower back pain that I have ever experienced in my life. I was having sciatic nerve pain in my right leg. This is a common issue after ruptured aneurysms due to the blood leaving the brain and traveling into the spinal canal. The blood becomes an irritant and can cause nerve inflammation. This made walking, sitting, and even lying in bed difficult. I did my best to move as much as possible and walked the hallways daily. I could not wait to get out of the hospital to visit my chiropractor, I was counting the days.
After coming home, I spent so much time reconnecting with my body. I also worked on forgiving myself. I realized that this could happen to anyone. As we are all so focused on our daily tasks, we can forget about our self-care and disconnect from our body’s signals. I spent a lot of time meditating, using stress-reducing breathwork and yoga to rehabilitate. I cried a lot and allowed myself to feel all the different emotions that came up. I felt like I was on a rollercoaster of feelings and it was different every day. I had an amazing support system, including my partner, family, friends, an incredible somatic psychotherapist, and, of course, my neurosurgeon. I also had amazing bodywork, energy work, and chiropractic care. I finally realized how important it was to prioritize my own needs. I was relearning to feel, listen, and bring consciousness to my body’s messages. I was feeling unconditional self-love.
During the early months of my recovery, I felt so much gratitude for everyone who supported me through that time. I kept reminding myself of the love I felt that night, and the support I was receiving was like that love in physical action. So many of my friends, family, and colleagues came to visit, providing much-needed hugs, laughs, and even tears. It was all very therapeutic. My sweet and resilient mom, Martie, held my hand and encouraged me to keep “hanging in.” I also spent so much time cuddling my sweet rescue poodle, Holly. It was an important part of my recovery. I truly believe that animals have amazing healing powers.
After my experience, my main goal became to create a wellness community focused on stress reduction and connection, utilizing holistic modalities such as chiropractic, meditation, breathwork, sound therapy, and yoga. I have also become a fierce advocate for awareness of brain aneurysms. Again, it is so easy to get caught up in the hustle of the human experience that we sometimes find ourselves turning off the signals that are set in place to keep us safe and healthy. I have made it my mission to help others find their way back to the body while listening to subtle cues.
On 02/14/24, I will be celebrating the first anniversary of my wellness center, L3 Collective. It will also be the second anniversary of my rupture. L3 stands for “Love, Love, Love,” a mantra my mom has taught us for generations. As children, I recall my mom telling us kids just to love, love, love one another. Considering my experience that night and the profound shifts in my life that followed, I felt it fitting. It has been quite a journey for me, but I continue to count my blessings and share my story in hopes that it can help prevent ruptured aneurysms as well as assist others in reconnecting to their bodies in general. I do not take one minute for granted, and I always express my love to everyone. I encourage my clients to find unconditional love inside themselves and not feel selfish for creating time for self-love and self-care. Loving ourselves is the most important love of all!
Dr. Rene “Ren” Nevarez is a Board-Certified Chiropractor and Board-Certified Orthopedic Physician Extender. She is also a Qualified Medical Evaluator for the state of California. She is a Holistic Chiropractor, Reiki Master, and Spinal Energetics Practitioner. In addition, she has worked alongside an orthopedic surgeon as a lead clinician and first surgical assistant for the past 15 years. After experiencing a life-changing, personal health crisis in 2022, she founded the L3 Collective Wellness Studio in Southern California. She has achieved her lifelong dream of creating a safe space to explore holistic healing modalities focusing on radical self-love and self-care. Dr. Ren’s passion to help others reconnect to the body’s innate healing has deepened since the start of her career and she remains driven to continue to help others on their healing journeys with her unique skill set that combines both holistic and allopathic modalities. Her goal is to guide others back to the consciousness of their body’s wisdom while listening to the subtle messages. She has researched the connection between physical, energetic, and emotional trauma and how it affects the human body. With the scientific evidence, she has since developed an integrative chiropractic technique that combines the movement of joints, muscles, and energy, allowing the body to “release and restore” to optimal function. Dr. Ren remains deeply dedicated to helping others integrate stress reduction, balance, and connection into their daily lives and she loves to share her stories, tips, and tools. For more information, reach out to dr.ren@L3Collective.com