My entire life I have grappled with the concept that everything happens for a reason. At a young age I remember being taught that if I worked hard, followed the rules, and treated others the way I wanted to be treated, good outcomes would follow me throughout life. As for the more difficult challenges, those too were meant to teach me a lesson that would benefit my future self. I met each success and each setback as events meant for me, especially as I began my career as a cerebrovascular nurse practitioner.
This remained true when my role instantly changed; when my own mother was acutely diagnosed with a cerebral aneurysm. The events surrounding my mother’s diagnosis left me further pondering this idea of fate. The morning my mother began experiencing ptosis and a severe headache was far from my usual. I have never in my career forgotten my hospital ID, but this particular morning, I left it at home. I turned around mid commute to go back when I received her harrowing phone call. Was I meant to forget my ID so I could bring my mother to my hospital to have her aneurysm treated? Was it just a lucky coincidence?
As I watched over her in the Neurological Intensive Care Unit, I remember my colleagues commenting how fortunate she was and that it was fate that I had been still in the area when she called me. Even more so that I was on the cerebrovascular team! The outcome was great; she had her aneurysm clipped without complications, and her life was saved. I learned how to be both a member of her clinical care team, as well as a caregiver for her at home.
This experience served to help me grow in countless ways, especially in my ability to connect with my patients. But it also brought me back to the very troubling philosophical problem, “does everything happen for a reason?”. What possible purpose could having a stroke serve? What about my patients who were not as fortunate as my mother? During her admission and the years that have followed, I’ve taken care of so many people who have not been as lucky.
The number one question my patients ask is “why did this happen?”. I can of course, give some clinical reasons, but I know in my heart at that moment I am really being asked “Why me? Why now? Why this?”. That is a harder conversation to have, but one I am always honored to explore with patients. Whether you believe in a spiritual power or take a more nihilistic approach that every event is completely random, accepting a diagnosis is no easy endeavor.
Caring for people living with aneurysms, AVMs, and strokes has shifted my perspective. Everything does not necessarily have a reason or purpose. That is of course unless you can find meaning in the unimaginable. It is this mindset shift that allows us to transform “the why” into “your why”. You are in control of finding and redefining “your why”, or your purpose for moving forward. “Your why” will constantly change as you do. There is no doubt it will take work and perseverance. With every challenge there is an opportunity for change.
You are never alone, even in the darkest moments. Meeting the challenges that life throws at each of us takes a village, but there is none other I would rather be a part of. Your clinical team, organizations like The Aneurysm and AVM Foundation (TAAF), and your community are always here to support you every step of the way.
To learn more about Dr. Gabriella Tosto-D'Antonio, DNP, click the photo below.