The Doctor is IN

Keen Observations on Life … Whether You Need Them or Not


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Six Months Later …

IMG_3703Most days, I’m a perfectly happy 39-year-old Wonder-mother, wife, author, friend, daughter, and free-thinker. But just when I let my guard down and think that my post-concussion syndrome may finally be considering me in its rear-view mirror, the shit hits the fan. One thing’s for certain: recovery’s a pain in the ass.

Six months after passing the kidney stone that rendered me unconscious before hitting the floor, thus delivering the mother of all concussions and post-concussion disorder, here’s a laundry list of minutiae still plaguing me:

  • Two broken molars. They’ve presented themselves in the most painful, least convenient times possible, damn it. The first one required a crown; the second one broke while we were out-of-town for Christmas, and I had to go to an emergency dentist for a temporary filling … in the two weeks since, I’ve had two permanent fillings done to fix it. I can stand to glance my toothbrush off of it now, but the sensitive gum underneath can’t take any pressure—so no biting or chewing on it. Hopefully, that’ll resolve itself before it seems that a root canal and crown are necessary.  But, seriously,  I’d rather just have the payment than the pain.
  • Forgetfulness. What was I saying … ? Oh, yeah, bad memory strikes when I’m least expecting it, like when I was trying to show my son something at Fresh Market last week. I was pushing the basket and he was walking next to me, but when I stopped to show him something he kept walking. So I said, “shh,” and he said, “what?” I said, “I meant ‘stop’.” Dumb stuff like that. I have a gap in my memory from the summer. It’s like we got back from our trip to the Grand Canyon and Sedona in May, and then our son was starting high school in September. I rented Men In Black III last week, totally excited to finally see it, but the boys told me we rented it the weekend it came out on DVD. In November. When I realize my simple mistake now, I don’t tear up or cry. Mostly. Sigh …
  • Movie dizziness. Man, I LOVE going to the movies. It was our treat when I was a kid, and the same celebratory feeling has transferred to adulthood. But when I went to the movies in September, I had to close my eyes through half of it, be led down the steps and out of the theatre, and hold on to the arm of my husband or son for the rest of the day for balance. Those things cost too much money to miss half of it, so with my continued bouts of dizziness in the everyday mundane shit I come across, we’ve all decided that DVD is the way to go for the immediate future. PS: don’t even get me started on looking up … talk about dizzy.
  • Racquetball disorientation. Damn those stark white walls that blend into the white ceiling with no visible seam! Damn the concentrated power of the overhead gymnasium lights beaming down into the racquetball courts like a sun ray laser. About a month ago, my son said, “let’s try the racquetball court!” Since we love to play, and I was happy to give him something to do at the Y, I said okay. As soon as the glass door closed behind me I knew it was a mistake. The boy said, “you’ll be okay mom! Here, try to hit this one.” And he lobbed it to me gently, knowing I wouldn’t be speedy. It felt like I was tracking in slow-motion, swiping through peanut butter air. Three times he tried before I felt like my head was spinning like a whirling dervish. I had to close my eyes and let him lead me out of that hellish room to a bench, where I sat for a good half hour before getting my land-legs back. Again, the disorientation and headache lasted until I could sleep it off. Lesson learned there, too: I’m still not ready for racquetball. Rats.
  • Occasional agoraphobia (for lack of a better term). This one’s totally new to me, but the best I can figure is that the additional stimulus of peripheral vision hits me in strange, inconsistent places. Like, when we’re hiking, I’m normally okay–but now that the leaves have fallen off the trees I can see farther beyond the path. I think the added dimension of the forest makes me really dizzy. I find when this occurs, it’s best to shift my gaze downward and narrow the field I’m looking at. I tend to do a little better when there’s not so much visual stimuli.
  • Concentration. This one is the absolute worst. In my career, I have written thousands of articles, blog posts, grants, white papers, press releases, books, and the like. I’m quick—I’m an immediate satisfaction kind of gal, so I tend to focus with laser-intensity on a project until I finish so I can get the thoughts out of my head and move on to the next story needing to be told. Not now. Now I’m lucky if I can write four pages in a day. I hate … hate … hate … down time, and not being able to get these thoughts out of my head. I’m working through it, though, and have set some challenging goals for myself this first and second quarter. I can feel my mind getting stronger, and the words come a little easier with everything I type.

Those are the biggies, though in terms of “biggies,” mine are manageable. Most of my gaffe’s fall into those categories, but I can tell you that none of us had any expectation that this concussion and its effects would linger this long. I read an article in the News & Observer a couple of months ago by Katie Bowler (@kebowler) that struck home, and I cut it out to paste into my notebook: Reverberations from my head injuries. Her struggle really spoke to me, and while I’m sorry to know she’s experiencing the things she notes, it is nice to know my issues aren’t unheard of.

I love Hillary Clinton, and I’ve been troubled reading about her recent concussion and subsequent blood clot. I’m sending her vibes of strength and solidarity, just as I send them to Katie Bowler.


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Five Truths About My First Kidney Stone

July has been a hell of a month so far. Last weekend, I discovered that I was passing a kidney stone. Monday (June 25) I went to the urologist who confirmed that yes, that searing, side-splitting feeling I was having on the left side was a pesky little pebble … akin to childbirth in the sensation of trying to suck a watermelon through a drinking straw.

The doctor prescribed me Hydrocodone for pain, FlowMax to pass the stone, and Dramamine for nausea. Here’s what I learned.

1.  The pain of the kidney stone was nothing compared to the severe concussion. That’s right, I said ‘concussion.’ Tuesday morning, around 4:15, I got up to go to the bathroom and could feel myself blacking out from the overwhelming nausea and pain. So I passed out, and fell—face-first—into the edge of the shower and hard tile floor. It hurt like a son of a bitch. I was out, totally unconscious, for about four and a half minutes. My husband said he thought I was dead. It totally cancelled out my kidney pain, though. If you drew a line down the center of my face, a la Harvey Two-Face, you’ll know where I hit. My left temple and cheekbone bore the brunt of the hit, though luckily nothing was broken. My face has been swollen and bruised, and I feel so bad with my husband because everyone has given him disdainful looks. I’ve got a greenish-brown bruise around my left forehead, cheekbone and eye like a Junior Birdman.

2.  FlowMax does not make you grow a prostate. Thank God. Despite your gender, when you have a kidney stone nowadays, you’re prescribed FlowMax. And since I don’t take any prescriptions on the regular, other than Z-packs every couple of years for a sinus infection, medicine affects me swiftly and surely. My husband, who also suffers from kidney stone clusters (bless his heart), always says he feels like his veins flow like garden hoses, but I didn’t have that sensation. My blood pressure was so extremely low, though, that I was dizzy and light-headed for the three nights (while I’m certain I passed the stone after the first dose, I took FlowMax another two nights to be sure). The mister thinks that I passed out Tuesday morning because I had actually passed the stone, and the pain did me in. Who knows. 

3.  A kidney stone and a concussion in the same week = CT scans of a great portion of your body. The urologist scanned from my waist to my hips on Monday. The neurologist scanned my brain on Friday. So far, I’m still rolling with only two arms, two legs, two eyes, two breasts, one brain … you get my drift. No gills sprouting on my neck; no latent rage and anger; no urge to mop. It’s a lot of radiation on the one hand; but like the ER doctor, who sent me to the neurologist, said: it’s not like you have these tests every month. When you need them, you need them. Thank you baby Jesus for health insurance, too. Just saying.

4.  800 mg of Ibuprofin + a hot bath worked better for me than the Hydrocodone. Man, the searing pain of the kidney stone as it moved from my kidney, scraping its way up and over the first curve, felt like I was being torn in half. It was unbearable. Almost. While waiting for my first CT scan to be read by the urologist, I waited at home for four hours of writhing-on-the-ground agony. They finally called in Hydrocodone, and my soul mate went to the pharmacy to pick it up. I took two immediately, which took the edge off the pain. Then, taking a note from the Way-Back machine when I was in labor with my son 14 years ago, I took a long, hot bath to ease my pain. The Hydrocodone took off the edge, but the bath helped the ache (I highly recommend it for stone sufferers). Five hours later I took two more Hydrocodone … but wasn’t able to stand long or eat anything because it made me so utterly nauseated. Then at bedtime I took one more Hydrocodone, plus a Dramamine and one FlowMax. Six hours later, the fall and concussion occurred and I never took another Hydrocodone or Dramamine. Since the narcotic was making me sick, removing it from my pain management regimen meant I no longer needed the Dramamine. Oh, and steady ice on my head has dramatically improved my pain, swelling and bruising. Didn’t take it all away, but really helped reduce them. I think I’ll maintain the KISS principle for pain management in the future: keep it simple stupid.

5.  This fucking concussion is taking forever to get better. Oops … pardon my French. I’ve got a head injury, you know. It sucks to be stuck at home, unable to drive, unable to stand the heat of the day, reliant on family and taking up their time. If I look up or raise my arms above my head, I get dizzy and my head pounds and I have to sit down. If I turn my head quickly from left to right, I get dizzy and have to sit down. I’m not slurring my words and I’m not making crazy-sounding statements anymore. It’s very obvious that I’m on the mend, but slowly. I’ve been THRILLED to go to Wal-Mart or Target because it means a change of venue, new stuff to look at, and a car ride! Yesterday (a full eight days post-fall) was the first day I was able to go three different places without visibly withering and swaying on my feet. We were out for about four hours, and went to Belks, Wal-Mart and BJs (summer camp supplies for the mini me). I kept a cup of cold water with me, and had to close my eyes in the car (my head is still too swollen to wear sunglasses, and the bright light bothers me), but I did it. It helps that yesterday was only 98 degrees, not 100+ like last week and the weekend. When we got home, though, I had to lay down and take a nap and ice my injury. I was dizzy as a goose when I got up, which is bad. But I had a nice long field trip, which was great.

They say that every head injury you get sort of compounds the one before it. This was my third concussion, though only this one and the one from my 6-year-old self, were severe and dangerous. My second one was the mild after-effect of an aggressive racquetball game and a ball to the soft spot. So use this as a cautionary tale: kidney stones are horrible. And they have the potential to lead to other weird shit.

  • If you can work through the pain with Ibuprofin or Motrin rather than a stronger narcotic, do it.
  • FlowMax is taken once a day, before you go to bed. Once you pass your stone, you can stop the flow.
  • If you need to get up to go to the bathroom, wake your partner and have them go with you.
  • My neurologist’s combined prescription for pain and passing regimen did NOT work for me (FlowMax + Hydrocodone + Dramamine), so I know that if I ever get another kidney stone I need to request different stuff.
  • If you have a head injury, ice it right away and as often as you can stand.
  • If you hit your head hard enough to be knocked out and you wake to violent vomiting, you need to go to the emergency room.

Kidney stones suck. But not as much as concussions.

PS. Thanks to the vigilant and supreme care from my husband, my son and my mother, I’ve been able to heal, to function, and to find a little humor in my situation. I have a head injury, you know. And the one upside to the week: since the heat makes me squirrelly and wobbly, I don’t have to take out the dog. SWEET!