The Day Neil Young Had a Brain Aneurysm
Throughout his life, Neil Young suffered from polio, epilepsy and back pain. But nothing he faced was as life-threatening as the brain aneurysm that required "minimally invasive neuroradiology" treatment on March 28, 2000.
Young, who was 54 at the time, began having problems two weeks before he inducted the Pretenders into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “I noticed this weird thing in my eye, like a piece of broken glass,” he wrote in his memoir Waging Heavy Peace. “I noticed that no matter what I did, it was still there. And then it started getting bigger. … So I went to my doctor, had an MRI and the next morning I went to the neurologist. … He says, “The good news is, you’re here, you’re looking good. The bad news is, you’ve got an aneurysm in your brain. You’ve had it for a hundred years, so it’s nothing to worry about – but it’s very serious, so we’ll have to get rid of it right away.”
A brain aneurysm is a bulge in an blood vessel. If untreated, it can rupture and cause a stroke or subarchanoid hemorrhage, both of which can be fatal. Young received treatment at New York-Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center via embolization, in which a tube is inserted into the artery, with soft coils used to fill the aneurysm, reducing the possibility of a rupture.
"The procedure corrected the problem and has been characterized as a complete success with a total recovery,” Young’s agent Bob Merlis said. “And resumption of normal activities by the 59-year-old rock legend is predicted for the near future.”
Merlis spoke a bit too soon. As Young wrote, “[T]wo days after the surgery, you can start walking – I went out for a walk, and I made it half a block, and the thing burst on the street, and there was blood in my shoe and […] Let’s just say there was a complication. It was my femoral artery [which the surgeons had used to access his brain]. I was unconscious, and the emergency guys had to revive me.”
The aneurysm forced one major change in Young’s lifestyle: He stopped smoking marijuana so that he could be more cognizant of his body as he aged. “The straighter I am, the more alert I am, the less I know myself and the harder it is to recognize myself. I need a little grounding in something and I am looking for it everywhere.”
In September 2012, Young admitted that years of his lifestyle have caught up to him, saying, “I don’t think I’m going to be able to continue to mainly be a musician forever, because physically I think it’s going to take its toll on me — it’s already starting to show up here and there.”