The day must come for us all when we have to get that first Cat-Scan. Maybe we think we're going crazy, and our doctor thinks we're irritating enough that it could just be so. Sometimes we're convinced we're dying, and the Cat-Scan seems like the proof we need. It's possible, too, just to have that inconclusive general feeling that, "Oh, my head's stopping!", as I once so famously exclaimed as a child while trying to put on a dramatic skit with my sister Annie.
My first brain scan came last Friday, and it was all in all simply because I woke up on the wrong side of the bed in the wrong way at the wrong time.
I have been sleep-deprived for the majority of my adult life, so I think I can safely say that when I tried to get out of bed at a little after 5am a week ago, it was much too early if not unusual. As for the wrong side of a bed, well I didn't really have an option. I was getting out of my toddler son's bed, and one side of it is flush against a wall, so my sole option was to sit up and sling my legs to the floor on the side with the bed rail.
The moment I attempted to accomplish the simple feat of getting up, my brain set the world spinning at crazy carnival-ride speed, and I fell back to the bed with my son in my arms, excruciatingly dizzy and closing my eyes against the funny house of distorted, whirling objects. I kept still a moment or two, thinking it a momentary dysfunction of my operating systems. Then I made another go at freedom from the low toddler bed. If I had known what I was defying, I never would have done it, but I managed to gain the cooperation of feet and legs as I stumbled into my own bedroom to peer at the fuzzy alarm clock. From there I staggered to the living room and just made it out of the hall before I fell forward to roll my son out of my arms and then fell back groaning and moaning and at full mercy of my suddenly deranged, malfunctioning brain.
That's how my husband found me. He kept our toddler son free of me, though the little guy kept reaching his arms toward me and crying out, completely discombobulated by his mother's bizarre behavior. I had to push him back and repeat, "No!" a little desperately, because it was now apparent that my body was going to be violently affected by my brain's haywire signals. I should have shouted to my little boy, "Save yourself!" Instead I said to my husband, "I'm going to be sick...."
So it went. My brain absolutely insisted that my body join it out to sea for the entire day, and it was to be no Carnival cruise. Instead I was dumped in a physiological Bermuda-Triangle with no navigational controls and despairing that I would ever make it home to solid shore again. Every movement I made, each small shift of position on this tour of travesty built into an intense nausea that had me bending over a plastic-lined trash bin. I threw up about twice an hour. I ate only half a bagel, and it did not stay where it should have. I drank water simply so I wouldn't get dehydrated and so that I wouldn't be forced to dry heave.
Thankfully, while I was lost at sea, there were those intent on aiding in my recovery. My husband came home from work when it became apparent that I couldn't drive the kids to school. Then he stayed home to tend the children while I tried to remain perfectly still on the couch. When his boss called him back into work, our very dear friend picked up our oldest kids from school and brought them home. Later, when it was evident that I could not overcome the illness on my own, there was a harrowing visit (for my man) with all four kids to our family practitioner's. When she discovered that I was experiencing an alarming drop in blood pressure and rise in heart rate each time I went from lying to sitting or sitting to standing, she determined that I should go to the ER for that first Cat-Scan.
Matthew felt certain neither he nor I would likely survive a trip to the ER with the kids, so we sent out a distress signal to some friends who abandoned dinner plans to come to our house to watch them. Here I was set to moaning about something new - the disastrous state of our home - forgetting to some degree my own sorry circumstances.
Matthew was so frazzled that when I begged pitifully for a different solution that didn't involve our friends seeing the near unlivable state of our house, he said sharply, "There's nothing to be done about it. It's the best solution," and then basically told me to close my trap. By some luck, we got to our house a few minutes before our friends, so my man and kids had time for a bit of frantic straightening. However, I feel quite sure that nothing could have removed altogether the smell of sea-sickness mingled with carpet-crushed cheerios from the atmosphere.
Ah, vertigo. For, of course, that's what it was. After a shot in the bum for nausea, a Cat-Scan, blood work, and more futile medicine for nausea, they determined no cause for it - no tumor (thank goodness), no vital vitamin deficiency, no fluid in the ear. Just vertigo - mysteriously tossing me about on an ocean of malcontent.
Until a bright ER doc decided to give me some "anti-vert" medicine, saying, "You're not going to get rid of that nausea until you get rid of the dizziness."
Yes. Amen! Illumination in the distance, a shore, a lighthouse, a miracle. Gradually after taking a little pill, I felt better sitting there in my PJs in the exam room, and my sallow, sullen face and dull eyes no doubt gained some color, depth and spirit at long last. I begged for food and was offered instead a cup of the best ginger ale I have ever had the pleasure of imbibing. Life, it seemed, would be livable again.
And so it is. The dizziness still comes and goes, haunting me like a temperamental spirit with a wrong turn of the head or a sudden forgetful flopping on the bed, but I am not nearly so ill as I was on that freaky Friday and hope never to be again. People have confided in me that this strange ailment shows up out of the blue for no reason, stays several months or a few years, and then usually disappears as strangely and as suddenly as it came. It's a chess game where the brain says check every so often to the body, keeping it at its continual mercy.
Still, this unwelcome vertigo taught me some things. I have now a new-found and intense respect for my brain and for all the signals it conveys to my body all day long with no special attention from me. It is a beautiful thing...and a terrible thing when it betrays us.
And it hit home profoundly, that which Count Rugen tells Prince Humperdinck in The Princess Bride. "Get some rest...if you haven't got your health, you haven't got anything," he advises before flashing his one-two smile from one self-interested psychopath to another.
Lastly, I learned to trust family and friends when things hit the rocks. I don't know what we would have done without our friends since the nearest relative is several hundred miles away. As for family, I must give a shout-out to my eldest son. He was enormously kind while I was so ill and became my young nurse. Every time I went to get up, he reminded me gently, "Slow, Mama, slow..." When I said I needed water, pitifully, and then tried to go get it, he said, "No, Mama. I got it." Whenever I got dizzy and fell back or was sick, he exclaimed in alarm, "Are you okay?" Most mercifully, he kept his siblings out of my hair. In short this nine-year-old child of mine who requires so great an investment of my resources and energy as a mother gave me it all back with interest when I was down and out, and I thank him for that.
And I thank God that I am a normally healthy person who had one sorry abnormal day.