Health status update

Deutsch: MRT einer Hirnmetatase eines Bronchia...

Deutsch: MRT einer Hirnmetatase eines Bronchialkarzinoms (T1 nach Kontrastmittelgabe) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First of all, thank you to everyone who has been so supportive and nice throughout my most recent health crisis.  It means the world to me and inspires me to be really careful about this.

This has been a very strange few weeks.  In case you don’t know what happened, about a week ago, I had a grand mal seizure while walking down Wisconsin Avenue.  What I remember is thinking about what I wanted for lunch (Thai or Italian?) and the next second, a paramedic was trying to convince me to get in his ambulance.  As it turned out I had just had a grand mal seizure and my head was bleeding, my knee was the size of a football and I had bitten nearly all the way through my lip.  When I saw all the blood on my bag, I let them immobilize my head/neck and bring me to the George Washington University Hospital.  If you are wondering why I keep repeating what happened, it is because I am still trying to wrap my head around it.

If this was the first time this happened, it would not be as big of a deal but it isn’t.  In 2008, this happened when I was at work and it scared the crap out of my coworkers.  Ever since that, I have described that experience as the scariest of my life.  Then I remember being really sick and then waking up on a stretcher.  The paramedics then asked if I knew my name and I replied something like, “F*&% you!  Of course I know my name!”  Then I realized that I didn’t, which is what makes that so scary.   In February, I had another experience like that.

So last week is a lot like 2008 in that I had been pretty sick before the seizure.  For about a week I was not able to eat or sleep, creating conditions that were a lot like 2008 when I was working all the time and had also come down with a stomach virus.  My hunch is this seizure was caused by low blood sugar.  No, I don’t have diabetes but I have a terrible habit of not eating every day and low blood sugar has been linked to seizures.  For the record, I am making a point to eat every day and I start with breakfast.  I promise to do whatever I can to make sure I don’t have any more seizures.  I do not want to put anyone I care about through the experience of seeing that.

What has happened since the seizure?  I have spent a lot of time in doctors’ offices.  The neurologist I saw diagnosed me with epilepsy, due solely to the fact that I have had three seizures (according to her, two or more qualifies me for this diagnosis).  I still have to get an MRI and MRA on my head but the EEG was completely normal.  She had to alert the DMV so I am not supposed to drive for the moment.  If I go six months without another seizure, I can get my license restored (fingers crossed on that).  Because I believe in doing my due diligence, I am getting a second opinion but in the meantime I am being super careful.

My other main health problem has been anemia and my hemoglobin has been down.  My new primary care doctor prescribed iron and I am taking it.  Even my insomnia has been better.  Since the seizure, I have been sleeping without any medication.  At least twice this week I slept more than eight hours.  Seriously, I don’t know how this has happened but it has been wonderful.

Long story short, I am really fine.  I know how worried people were when they heard I had a seizure and I would be lying if I said it did anything but scare the shit out of me, too.  I have a favor to ask, I am not going to text people health updates and I really need to have some conversations where this is not mentioned at all.  I hope you understand and know how strange that might seem — I am the one who told everyone I have ever met.  My normal reaction to things is to freak out and that’s why I told everyone, also talking about it made it easier for me to accept.  After the initial freak out I usually want to forget the whole thing happened.  That’s where your support has made a difference that might not be totally clear for some time.  By asking me about how I am, you have prevented me from ignoring my problems.  Instead of doing the whole ostrich thing, I am doing the right thing and taking better care of myself than I have in years.

Next steps?  I have an appointment to get an MRI/MRA (with and without contrast) on Tuesday morning.  I am seeing a second neurologist on November 1.  For the record, I am not disputing the first person’s diagnosis, I just don’t like her plan to deal with it or her propensity to talk to me like I am an idiot.  I am also going back to see my primary care doctor and an orthopaedist (follow up for the knee issue).  Both doctors are wonderful.  On a related note, the tachycardia I developed from the seizure has gone away (explanation: the pain from the seizure caused it).  Some of you might know that I was advised to have the back surgery I had done a few years ago redone but that can wait a bit.  So it’s good news all over the place.

The next time I will have news will be either Tuesday (though that’s not likely unless my tests are really strange, which they won’t be) or in early November.  If anything happens before then, I promise to post it here. A la prochaine!

Back from the grave and through the rabbit hole

Photograph of President William Jefferson Clin...

Photograph of President William Jefferson Clinton and Chelsea Clinton in the Study of the Chappaqua Residence in Chappaqua, New York, 11/07/2000 (Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives)

What a difference a few days make.  Do you ever have a few days that feel like a few years?  Yes?  That would be the week I am having.  It has been very strange, even for me, that it is hard to not be a bit freaked out.

One day last week, I was on my way to meet someone for lunch in Georgetown.  We hadn’t decided where we were going to eat but were going to meet up.  I was walking down Wisconsin and my last cogent thought was “Do I want Thai or Italian?”  The next thing I know, literally, I am entering a conversation with several paramedics about how they think I need to go to the hospital.  No big deal right?  Except, I had been actively participating in this conversation.  I wanted no part of them or their ambulance, which is the saving grace of this experience because it tells me that I had not lost all of my spunk.  The massive amount of blood I was losing from the top of my head convinced me they might have a point about me needing to go so I relented.

What happened?  I had a grand mal seizure and managed to bang up my knee, chomp up my lip and cut myself square on the top of my head.  The exact top.  Moreover, one of the paramedics stayed with me in the hospital until the doctor came into see me and it was then that I learned he had been called in because I was being “uncooperative.”  Yeah, that sounds like me.  After seven hours in the George Washington University Hospital, all my tests came back normal and I was sent home with a diagnosis of “recurrent seizures” and the advice to see a neurologist.

How did I get here?

I blame Steve Young.  You see, the NFL won’t have me, I am way too lazy to become a lawyer and as much as this makes me feel like a bad person, Mormons scare me.  If I want to be like Steve Young, concussions are my only option so I have racked up at least 12.  I am only counting times I have been hit on the head and knocked unconscious.   How has a mild-mannered PR person gotten so many?

1. What happens in Iceland…  When I was five I spent the summer with my mother on a sheep farm in Iceland.  I think it was called Holar.  A group of children and I were playing in a house that was being either built or renovated when a beam fell and hit my head.  I don’t know how long I was out but when I came to, it was getting dark and my mom was pissed when I got home.  Now, Iceland is known during the summer as “the land of the midnight sun” so if it was getting dark when I work up, I was out for a dang long time.

2. Attack of the killer shop projects.  It was a long time before my next head injury.  In the seventh grade I took wood shop.  One afternoon we all stacked our projects on a shelf in the closest.  By “stack,” I mean throw on top of the elevated shelf pile.  As I was the last to do this, my project dislodged them and they all fell on my head.  I could have moved out of the way but the collective weight of all of them hitting me must have been too much because my next memory is of my shop teacher laughing at me as he called the nurse’s office.  This would not be my only shop injury.  I also soldered my fingers together at least a few times.

3. & 4. Batter up!  Gym class was never my favorite.  One day during baseball, I was walking to get something when another student swung their bat and clocked me.  No strikes but I was out.  This would happen again a few years later.

5. Just take the 101… No youth spent in the San Francisco Bay Area would be complete without some driving mishap or another.  When I was about 14 I was with a friend, he was driving, when the car in front of us stopped short.  His breaks locked and into the vehicle we went.  My head went into the passenger window. (I was wearing my seat belt, I hit the window sideways.)

6.  She’s dead, Jim.  I was in the back seat of a friend’s car and had fallen asleep.  We had all been drinking (this was several years later) and my friends assumed I was dead rather than sleeping.  In an effort to save my life, they tried to get me out of the car to perform CPR but when they pushed me out they did not coordinate efforts and ended up shutting the door on my head.  Not dead but concussed.

7. Pizza movers.  I delivered pizza in high school and college.  On one perilous delivery, I left the road to drive on the sidewalk and was going a bit too fast for the staircase I was on.  As I had only been going through Kelly quad at Stony Brook so I didn’t have my seat belt on.  Anyway, I hit the brakes to avoid a pedestrian and my head hit my steering wheel.

8. & 9. Daddy dearest.  If you ever wondered why I don’t like my father, it is because he is a violent sociopath.  He tried to strange me twice in high school and once in college.  Two of these times he gave me a concussion in the process.  Thanks, dad.

10.  Chappaqua motorcade.  When I did advance for the Clinton White House, I often rode in motorcades in “camera one.”  That’s the first of the press vehicles and is typically a minivan.  On one trip to Chappaqua, NY, we prepared to leave the airport but were not yet loaded so I screamed for the driver to stop.  He did and the middle door closed on my head.  I landed in Mark Knoller’s lap.  If you have ever met Mark, you know, he has the lap you want to land in.  This is, by far, my favorite concussion story.

11.  You have my bag!  A few years ago I was mugged on Capitol Hill.  A man I didn’t know appeared at the end of my street and I knew he wasn’t supposed to be there.  If I had listened to that little voice we all have that alerts us to danger, I would have been in my building.  I didn’t.  He grabbed my bag, we fought over it, the strap broke and he got my bag.  Joke’s on him, I took off after him and being in the best shape (I was training to climb Kilimanjaro at the time) of my life, I caught him.  He hit me — probably with my own bag, I fell into the street and hit my head on the pavement.  Woke up a bit later in the street.

12.  Trippin’.  Slipped on my hard wood stairs while wearing socks and hit my head.  Not the most exciting way to round out my dozen concussions but there you have it.

That is by no means all the times I have been hit on the head.  I have fainted at least twice from anemia and have had more bumps and bruises than I care to think about but I am only counting times when I was knocked officially out.  I may have given myself concussion number 13 last week with the seizure, I mean I would be surprised if I did not.

Where do I go from here?  Not really sure.  If my doctors had their way I would never leave the house and if I did I would only do so when fully enclosed in bubble wrap.  As it is, I have been warned against driving, biking, stairs, escalators, my bed, baths, climbing trees, swimming, boating, balconies, ladders, windows, hills, roller blading, and a host of other things you encounter on a daily basis.  In my defense, I have told all my friends and coworkers about what has happened and asked that if this happens again, they call 911 and should not trust that I will go to the hospital on my own; I won’t.  In fact, unless I am bleeding, bathing or falling out of a tree, I don’t think 911 needs to be called at all.  We know what is wrong with me, let them use their resources saving someone else (seriously, this concludes our Alyson as a cooperative patient portion of this evening’s entertainment).  I know my doctors mean well but while they are experts on bodies in general, I have gotten to know this one pretty well and it seems to be ok.  It might not be ok tomorrow but right now, I feel pretty good.

So, I cannot promise what happened last week won’t happen again.  I cannot promise that if it does I will not fight as hard as I can to not go to the hospital.  All I can promise is to do the best I can to take care of myself to prevent it and to deal as best I can with it if it does.

Go directly to the ER. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. (updated)

Original cast of the show (1994–1995)

Original cast of the show (1994–1995) (Photo credit: Wikipedia). I have spent way more time in ERs over the past eight years than I would like and I have never seen any of these people there. Bastards!

My new least favorite sentence in the English language is “You need to get to the emergency room as soon as possible.”

It had been, “If you leave here, you will die.”  That one is what a hematologist told me one time during a “get to know you” appointment before she had even talked to me but saw what my vitals were and concluded I had orthostatic hypotension, caused by decreased blood volume.  I ended up getting multiple units of blood and iron infusions and clearly survived.

Of course, while I am thinking of things medical professionals should not say, “Wow, that’s fucked up.” makes the list, too.  A doctor looked at my palms and saw they look like Rand McNally.  In his defense, when I was doing the Georgetown pre-med program, I was treated differently than other times.  I have noticed three levels of treatment since my medical odyssey began in 2004.  As a pre-med student, I was a potential future colleague.  Doctors would actually listen — the same physician spent nearly 45 minutes convincing me WHY I needed a certain procedure — to me. When I worked on the Kerry/Edwards campaign, I was a VIP.  When I am just me, well, that sucks.

In any case, today’s dreaded phrase changed because I started having really bad chest pain yesterday.  That was troublesome so I called my doctor and his office told me to go to the ER.  I didn’t like that answer so I called another one.  Shampoo, rinse, repeat.  I hate the ER so I then tried to convince myself to go by thinking about what some of my friends would do in this situation.  When I didn’t like what I thought they would tell me, I went where most people go for real, reliable medical advice: the Twitterverse.  Is there really a better place to go for a real evaluation of health issues than random strangers on Twitter?  Of course not!  I should have started there.

What actually got me to come is that in 2006-07, I had two near death experiences due to the aforementioned anemia.  My blood level got so low that my heart stopped and I had to be resuscitated with the paddles.  Something that really hurts afterwards.  The first time, I was walking home from dinner and woke up at the George Washington University Hospital where I asked, What did you do to me?  To which they responded, We saved your life.  Ok, then.

So, as we are on the eve of the baseball season and I got to thinking this afternoon that the third time might actually be my third strike and I have too many cool things going on right now to go and die and miss them.  That’s a cool development for me because in the past self-preservation has not always come so naturally to me.  Like the time when I was mugged and I chased the guy down and caught him. How stupid is that?  Incredibly stupid.  The guy hit me, I think with my own fucking bag, and knocked me unconscious. I woke up in the middle of the street.  There was no thought process there, it was instinct.  And my instincts clearly suck ass.  So having any self-preservation instinct kick in, ever, is a very good thing.  A very, very, very good thing.  Yay, me!

The second piece of good news came at the hospital where my EKG was totally normal.  The only bad news is that I have to CT and they need a much bigger IV in me than will be possible unless they go with a central line or something and they suck.

While Sibley Hospital still won’t give me frequent flyer points, the staff here are great and this is the best ER in Washington, DC.

Hopefully, I will go home tonight.  Thanks for listening.

Updated (as of 24 March 2012):  They did release me last night and I am ok enough to be back at work so all is good.