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Wednesday, October 20, 2004  

My Brain Hurts

Everybody knows about the actor’s nightmare, where you’re out on stage and you don’t know any of your lines. That’s nothing, because a) that actor is eventually going to be off of that stage, and b), most actors are, by and large, pussies.

Take a moment, if you will, to imagine the writer’s nightmare. I don’t have to imagine it, because I’ve lived it.

Let me take a moment to set the stage, if I may use that expression without spooking any thespians who may be reading. About eight or ten years ago, I had a migraine. This wasn’t the kind of migraine that consisted entirely of a headache, although I understand those suck plenty as well. This was a migraine that came with a few neurological glitches. I couldn’t connect names or faces in my head for a while. It went away later that day, much to the relief of that really hot chick in my house.

So when I started feeling a slight sense of mental disconnection on the way home from M. Tiny’s hospital room this past Sunday night, I had a suspicion as to what was coming, although I hoped I’d be able to catch it in time. As soon as I got home I took some aspirin and went to bed.

(Zen Viking, who works in an emergency room, later told me that these kinds of stories always have the part where the guy takes some aspirin and goes to bed.)

Around midnight I was awakened by major cranial pain. I went downstairs to where Trash was using the computer, and tried to tell her what was going on.

"My head space frog work gold plant," I explained.

"What?" Trash said.

"I was nose from but collar Spider-Man blender," I reiterated.

After that it quickly stopped being funny.

34-year old men can have strokes and aneurysms, right? I would have asked someone that night, but my question would have come out sounding like "Ever blue the star the from with not over thing the."

Trash made a couple of phone calls and the next thing I knew, my living room was filled with firemen and paramedics, putting an oxygen mask over my face and asking me questions, none of which I could answer, because every time I opened my mouth nothing came out but gibberish. It was English gibberish, with recognizable English words, but they weren’t in the right order or even the right sentences. My speech center had gone completely pear-shaped, but my mouth was still stringing together random words beyond my control. Do you ever have a dream where you’re reading? Do you ever try to really concentrate on what you’re dreaming that you’re reading, and find that it doesn’t make a lick of sense? That was the kind of language that I was pouring forth. It was like everything I said was being instantly run through a couple dozen iterations of Babel Fish and then back to English before it reached my tongue.

Now it's kind of funny. Kind of silly, kind of goofy, kind of "oh, drat my luck." Sundy night, it was fucking terrifying.

A few minutes later, I was in the back of the ambulance, trying my very hardest to answer the paramedic’s questions. Maybe the oxygen gave me a jolt, because I was able to enunciate bits of information that had been in my head for twenty years or more: my name, my date of birth, my Social Security number, and an upsettingly relevant Monty Python quote: "My brain hurts."

I spent most of the rest of the ride to the emergency room trying to answer the question as to whether I take any medications. "Anarchy," I said. I tried again, repeatedly. "Energy…Synergy…Angry…Injury…"

Once I finally succeeded in getting the word "allergy" out, purely by trial and error, I kept saying it until I’d been wheeled into the ER and wired up to a bunch of machines. Trash sat next to my gurney, holding my hand and telling me it would be okay, that I was already better than I had been before the ambulance came for me. I tried not to cry more than I already was. I wondered what would happen to me, to Trash, to M. Tiny, and to me some more, if I were now in the midst of some stroke that was permanently destroying the speech center of my brain. "My words," I wailed to the ever-patient Trash, "I need my words!"

Then the drugs came down my IV tube and I got very sleepy.

At some point there was a CT scan—my first ever—and I remember being glad that they didn’t slide me all the way into the tube, because I didn’t think I was up for it. I also wasn’t up for another two hours of lying on a gurney in a curtain area while waiting for the doctor to come back with the films, but that’s what I got anyway. It’s a testament to how uncomfortable it is to sleep on a gurney that it’s practically impossible even while doped to the gills. I had a better nap in the front seat of the car on the way home.

By the time the doctor got back to assure me that my brain appeared normal (if a little overdeveloped), the worst was over, although I kept calling Methodist Hospital "Madison" in the aftermath of my microphone—microwave—migraine. We would have looked in on M. Tiny while we were there, but he was at a different hospital. Trash drove me home, and I was undressed and in bed practically before she had the front door closed behind us.

I slept in the next morning, and barely got to M. Tiny’s hospital room in time to be there with Trash for his 1:00 p.m. feeding. I looked down my little guy, crashed out in his Plexiglas bassinette, and I realized that I had a new understanding of what it’s like to be helpless in a hospital, fully dependent on others for your basic needs, attached to wires that monitor your vital signs in real time. The thought of him constantly being as miserable as I was on Sunday night, and not even able to complain about it, breaks my heart.

But then it’s time to change his diaper and I see that he can complain just fine when he wants to. In Trash’s hair, if necessary.

As for my brain, it’s back to its normal level of performance. The day after felt like kind of a hangover, either from the headache or the drugs, but there seem to be no permanent aftereffects. They’re so not worried about me that my follow-up appointment with Neurology is next month. It looks like I either had a migraine or a TIE. ("Transient Ischemic Event," or "brain-fart.") Both of which suck during the experience, but which have the upside of being both temporary and highly unlikely to recur.

But, God? If this is some message from you, telling me to quit wasting my talent? Try to be a little less subtle, okay?

Today’s best search phrase: "Square superhero centerpieces." Did you know that M. Tiny was born within two days of Christopher Reeve’s death? You know, just in case you believe in reincarnation or anything.

posted by M. Giant 8:02 PM 6 comments


Bless your heart, in the middle of M.Tiny's trials, having to go through this. Sounded scary! Keep us posted, buddy.

By Blogger Julie A., at October 21, 2004 at 5:12 AM  

You didn't say if they explained this to you, but what you experienced is called aphasia; the specific characteristics suggest the aphasia type called "anomia". It's *customarily* caused by physical lesions in the speech centres of the brain, but if that were the case in this instance it wouldn't go away.

Not to be alarmist, but it may be wise - if only for your peace of mind - to check in with a neurologist at some point. If nothing else, a neurologist may know of some way to prevent/treat migraines so severe they start causing aphasic disruption to your brain's function, especially if they're getting more severe with recurrence.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 21, 2004 at 5:42 AM  

Oh my goodness! Are you feeling better? I bet Trash went nuts. I hope the whole family improves soon.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 21, 2004 at 7:09 AM  

I've had migraines off and on for the past 15 years or so. About 50% of the time, mine come without the headache portion, leaving me only the blindness part. Yup, an inability to see. Sometimes the blindness is complete blackness, and other times it's as if someone put a television screen full of static in front of my face.

It's disturbing, to be sure, but for what it's worth, not nearly as much as the first time it happened. I hope (and expect, based on evidence - albeit only anecdotal - of other folks with migraine/aphasia disturbances) that your experiences with migraines turn out to be no more than the minor inconvenience that mine tend to be.

By Blogger jlp, at October 21, 2004 at 1:28 PM  

I have also had horrific migraines, regularly over the last 8 years. And mine also come with that vocabulary disconnection. (And blindness, flashy lights, projectile vomiting, mental chatter, acute pain - all the symptoms that one can get with migraines, in fact.)

Hospital is *definitely* the place to be. Yay Trash! Hope you don't have any more repeats...

Mahal (mahal.diary-x.com)

By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 22, 2004 at 3:28 PM  

It sounds like a terrifying experience! I, too, think that losing my words/language would have to be one of my worst nightmares. I remember reading fiction writer Jean Stafford's biography, and how, during the last years of her life, following a debilitating stroke, she completely lost her language abilities, and how painful it was to read, and how I felt as if I couldn't really imagine a worse fate for a writer. I'm so glad to hear that the brain fart has passed, however, and that you're feeling better. Also, a belated congratulations on M. Tiny who is delightful and amazing!

By Blogger Artichoke Heart, at October 22, 2004 at 10:14 PM  

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