AS FEATURED ON THE TV PROGRAMME “SELL SECRETS” BBC1
“Cor! Look at all these!” my housemate Becky, 22, gasped.
Our fridge was crammed top-to-bottom with home-made vodka jellies.
“How many are there?” she spluttered.
“Five hundred,” I said. “Do you think that’s enough?”
“For 50 people? I think so!”
Yes, I’d gone overboard.
But I was celebrating my 21st birthday!
It was December 2, 2005. I’d spent the day finalising the last-minute party arrangements. Tomorrow, my family and friends from Chichester would be arriving at my university house-share in Bournemouth.
“I hope all this effort is worth it!” I sighed.
As excited as I felt, I was stressed-out too.
It was my second year of studying for a degree in Advertising, Marketing and Communication.
I’d been hitting the campus’ 24-hour library for four days straight.
Desperately trying to complete my coursework before the Christmas break.
“Go and have a sit down,” Becky said. “I’ll bring you a cup of tea.”
I rolled my shoulders forward and backwards. Kneaded my throbbing temples.
“Actually, I think I’m better off going to bed,” I said.
“But its only 10pm!” Becky gasped.
“I know,” I nodded. “But I’ll probably be up till all hours tomorrow night.”
My bedroom was just off the kitchen and lounge. Great when I fancied a midnight snack.
“I’ll turn the TV down,” Becky offered kindly. “Sleep tight sweetie.”
“Thanks,” I yawned.
As I closed my bedroom door, I caught sight of my party dress.
‘Gorgeous!’ I thought – shivering with excitement.
Stripping off, I dived under my duvet.
It was toasty-warm and I should have been out like a light.
But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get to sleep.
“Stupid pillow,” I huffed – fluffing it into shape.
“Damn streetlight,” I scoffed – adjusting my curtains.
Counting sheep, clock-watching. You name it, I tried it.
By midnight, I was still wide awake.
As my mind wandered, I thought about some of the flings I‘d had as a Fresher.
I’d always slept brilliantly after sex. It was the ultimate stress relief.
Scrunching my toes and pushing my hips into my mattress, I felt my cheeks flush.
‘I might be single,’ I thought. ‘But I shouldn’t have to go without.’
I knew my own body and what felt good…
As I started to pleasure myself, I felt better already.
‘There’s no shame in it,’ I reassured myself. I’d read dozens of magazine sex columns over the years. All of them encouraged women to explore their own bodies sexually.
And I was desperate for sleep.
The tingling warmth down below rippled outwards – stronger by the second.
But, as I arched my back and let out a small cry, it was as if a sledge-hammer had crashed down on my skull.
‘What have I done…?’ I screamed silently – screwing my eyes up in agony.
My stomach contracted and my chest heaved as I vomited.
Coughing and spluttering, I tried to get up.
‘Impossible!’ I realised.
I was paralysed. The best I could manage was to roll on my side.
A fresh surge of vomit caught in my throat causing me to gag.
Panicking, I cried with fear.
There was a real chance I could choke on my own vomit.
Through glistening tears, I spotted my mobile phone on my bedside cabinet.
‘If I could just reach…’ I thought – willing my arms to move.
They hung limply at my sides.
‘I’ve broke my brain masturbating!’ I thought.
If I pulled through, what would I say to people?
How on earth would I explain it to my mum – Helena Rayss, 50.
The splitting pain behind my eyes made it difficult to think.
I’d never, ever had a headache like it. Not even after a boozy night out.
Every so often, I drifted off into unconsciousness. Each time, I woke up to find myself vomiting.
The sticky feel of it on my skin was disgusting. The stench was foul.
‘This is Hell,’ I sobbed. I was lay alone – dying – in the middle of the night.
After eight-and-a-half hours, I heard the rustle of a cereal packet in the kitchen.
“The girls!” I realised. Four of them all had a 9am lecture.
Usually, I prayed they’d keep quiet. Now, I silently begged one of them to come in.
But as I heard the front door slam, I burst into tears.
My chance of rescue had gone!
An hour later, just as I was about to give up all hope, Becky bounded into the room.
“Happy birthday!” she squealed. “Oh my god!”
Watching her hands fly to her mouth, seeing the look of shock on her face, I felt ashamed.
‘I must look like something out of The Exorcist’, I realised.
“What’s happened? Did you go out drinking?” she gasped.
“My head,” I managed to croak.
In their panic, the girls decided to call NHS Direct rather than the hospital.
The operator asked them to hold the phone to my ear.
“What’s your address?” she said.
“Don’t know,” I slurred. “Don’t know where I am.”
“Get an ambulance,” she advised Becky.
Finally, by mid-morning, I found myself in the care of paramedics.
“What happened to you?” one clucked sympathetically.
‘Oh no!’ I cringed. ‘I can’t possibly say’.
“I was fast asleep,” I mumbled guiltily.
It was half-an-hour before I was stable enough to be taken to Bournemouth Hospital.
Becky rang my mum. She rushed to my bedside straight away with her partner Paul Birchall, 52, and my sisters Vicky, 23, and Jenny, 25. I don’t have a relationship with my dad.
“We’ve put Sarah in isolation in case it’s meningitis,” the doctor explained to them. “Her symptoms seem to be pointing towards that.”
For a split-second, I felt relief.
There was no way my ‘naughty’ fun could’ve caused that!
Then I realised, if it was meningitis – I really could die!
Luckily, the tests came back clear.
“Rubbish birthday!“ Jenny joked. “We’ll make it up to you when you get out of here.”
‘If I ever do,’ I thought.
People sent cards and presents, even a balloon, but I wasn’t in the mood to celebrate.
“She’s not pregnant and we can’t find anything else wrong,” my doctor said. “It must be a viral infection.”
Four days later, that seemed unlikelier than ever.
My anti-sickness drugs hadn’t worked. Every few minutes I vomited watery bile.
“What’s going on?” Vicky stormed. “She’s not getting better!”
“We need to do a CT scan,” the doctor said. “Look for more clues.”
As I lay in the scanner I cried with guilt.
‘What if my naughty secret holds the key to my cure?’ I worried.
But the thought of telling anyone…
I could hardly bear to hear the results.
Sat perched on the edge of my bed, my doctor tilted her head sympathetically.
“Sarah, you’ve had a bleed on your brain. We’re going to rush you to Southampton Hospital for brain surgery,”
I gulped, tears pricking at my eyes.
“The blood vessel is likely to have been swollen ever since you were born,” she explained. “It was a time-bomb really. Anything could have made it burst – even blowing your nose.”
‘Or having an orgasm,’ I thought. ‘I’ve done this to myself!’
At Southampton Hospital, the specialists did some more tests to work out the exact location of the bleed.
I coped by pretending it wasn’t happening.
“Cor!” I whistled. “Fit doctor!”
Vicky smiled. “You’re being really strong,” she said.
“Better than moping,” I shrugged.
Becky and my other housemates came to visit.
“We haven’t eaten the jellies,” Becky said. “We couldn’t bring ourselves to.”
“Stuff that!” I laughed. “Get them down you. Have a wild night out for me!”
Who knew when, if ever, I’d be out on the tiles again?
“Especially with a haircut like this!” I joked.
I’d had to have half my hair shaved off!
On December 9, 2005, I was wheeled into theatre.
During a pain-staking eight-hour operation, my brain surgeons ‘clipped’ the burst blood vessel with a titanium clip.
I had to have 26 staples in my head to close the wound.
Afterwards, I was transferred to intensive care. I woke up festooned in drips, drains and attached to monitors.
“I feel like a science experiment,” I slurred to mum. I watched as blood from my brain dripped into a bottle near my elbow.
“You had a second bleed on the operating table,” my surgeon told me. “It would’ve been fatal if we hadn’t have been there to clip it.”
I’d almost died again!
“Funny, most people haemorrhage when they’re having sex or they’re on the loo,” he frowned.
“Imagine that!” I squeaked.
Now that I’d had surgery, I breathed a sigh of relief. There was no need to tell anyone my guilty secret.
I just wanted to concentrate on getting better.
I did so well with my exercises, I was allowed home to Chichester for Christmas.
“Glad you’re back,” my sisters squealed.
A blinding shaft of pain shot through my brain.
“Another headache love?” mum cooed sympathetically. “Let’s get you to bed.”
I had to take pain-killers eight times a day. I spent most of my time sleeping.
“I feel like a zombie,” I complained.
Before the haemorrhage, I’d been a straight-A student. Now my brain felt fuzzy and slow.
I tried to go back to university in September 2006. I even moved back into my old house.
But, within months, I confessed to mum: “It’s all too much.”
Studying wasn’t the only thing I didn‘t feel up for.
Privately I’d decided: ‘No sex. No masturbation. I’m living like a nun!’
That was until I met Joe Worthington, 24, at a party in August 2007.
“What do you do for a living?” he asked.
“I work 16 hours a week at a clothes shop. I’ve had brain surgery you see…” I blurted out.
“Poor you,” Joe said – handing me a drink. “You’ve had a rough time.”
We started dating and, within weeks, I confessed everything about the night of the bleed on my brain.
“I’m so embarrassed,” I said.
“Don’t be,” Joe soothed. “You should be proud to be open-minded.”
Gradually, we eased into a sexual relationship. He was a gentleman and took things slowly.
It gave me the push I needed to open up to my sisters too. And, eventually, even my mum!
“You silly thing,” she smiled. “You should have told me before!”
Easier said than done!
The great thing is, I’m off my medication now. I don’t have headaches any more and, in January, I was given the all-clear at the hospital.
Before I met Joe, who I love with all my heart, I was afraid to go to sleep in case I never woke up again.
Now, I feel confident enough to be sexual and get a good night’s rest!