Being Thankful During a Tough Time

Prior to Thanksgiving I found it difficult to find anything to be thankful for when faced with going through a special holiday without my Mother’s physical presence. It didn’t seem appropriate to be thankful when I felt such loss in my heart. Though I was faced with a situation that caused me to change that feeling.

Starting Monday night I started to notice the inside of my mouth was numb. I was eating pizza and noticed it tasted weird, almost metallic tasting. Then it dawned on me that my mouth was numb. Obviously I was concerned by didn’t pay much attention to it. By Wednesday morning I started to get a dull headache. I had trouble sleeping but finally was able to fall asleep at 8am. I had plans that night with a good friend and woke up around 4pm. As I was brushing my teeth I noticed that the water was running out of my mouth like I had just had a mouth full of Novocaine.

I probably should have went into the ER right then but I really wanted to see my friend. As I was driving to Ann Arbor I noticed something different about my face. As I looked into the rear view mirror I noticed that the left side of my face was paralyzed. As I smiled only the right side was affected.

My first thought was Bells Palsy, as I had it once before in 2005.

Having it before I just thought I had it again. Though previously it never made my mouth and lips numb. With this information was rather at ease thinking it would be okay if I waited. My friend and I had dinner, which was difficult to do with having numb lips. Afterwards we saw Wreck It Ralph, which was great. From the start of the movie I noticed my left eye get blurry. It became difficult to watch the movie with my eye being the way it was. I also noticed my nose started to run, only on the left side. After the movie ended I went into the restroom and noticed that my eye was all red, and that is when I started to get nervous.

At the encouragement of my friend I decided to go to the local emergency room. As I started to walk into the ER, I started to think about the last time I was at a hospital and it didn’t leave me with a good feeling. They checked me in rather quickly and before I knew it was taken back to the ER room. My friend gave me a hug and said goodbye.

As the nurse left me alone in my room surrounded by a hospital curtain I instantly was transported to the day we rushed my Mom into the ER when she was coughing up blood. I could feel the walls start to close in and the air evaporate as panic started to set in. I quickly texted my friend to see if he could stay. I didn’t want to be alone. Thankfully to my surprise about ten minutes later he came through the curtain and all my panic dissipated. 

Everything reminded me of what my Mom went through… from the beeps, to Brahms Lullaby playing over the loud speaker, to being poked by the staff… It wasn’t easy being there but knew I had no choice but to make sure I was alright.

The Resident was concerned with my symptoms because Bells Palsy doesn’t cause numbness, just palatalization. That is when I started to get nervous, especially when the Doctors started talking about masses, aneurysms and a stroke.

Early on for whatever reason I was moved from my room and into the hallway where I stayed for the rest of the night. Which was both comforting and unsettling at the same time. It was nice to be out of the place that reminded me of that day but then also unsettling because I was out in the middle of everything and had to see some things I would have rather not but I rolled with the punches. There was even an old man who was riding his scooter at 2am and ran off the side of the road, and a man in handcuffs followed by cops in a stretcher.

Due to the symptoms and the concerns over it being something more than Bells Palsy they advised me that they were going to admit me into the hospital in order for them to follow my progress and run more tests. The thought of being in the hospital during Thanksgiving did not give me comfort but I really didn’t have a choice.

It’s funny prior to that day I had thought about just skipping Thanksgiving but I certainly did not have this in mind.

I thought it was better to be safe than sorry. Missing one Thanksgiving was better than missing all of the others.

The next test they ran on me was an MRI… On the form they asked if I was claustrophobic which I answered no… Having never had a MRI I didn’t know what to expect. I certainly wasn’t prepared for what happened next. I was prepared for close, confined space. That I knew was going to happen. The ear plugs they gave me should have clued me into what was to happen next but it didn’t.

I was fine with them putting my head in this weird futuristic helmet like device. I was fine having trouble breathing… I was fine with facing being put into a tight space with no room to move. What I wasn’t fine with was the piercing un-natural alien like sounds that they made me endure. I seriously wondered if I was about to be beamed up into an alien space ship… I was very close to urinating myself. Instantly I felt like bolting. I wanted to run out of that insane place they put me. It felt like they were trying to jack hammer into my brain. I knew that the first test was one minute long. I prayed and bargained with myself to not bolt. I told myself that I could do this, especially after what my own Mama went through.

As unbearable as that was I thought could endure one minute, thought I had to force myself into a calm place. After the sound stopped I asked the technician how long that this test would last. When he said forty minutes I instantly hit the call button, I knew I had to get out of there. One minute I could do but there was no way I could make myself endure that horrible sound for forty minutes. They were crazy if they thought I was going to!!! I could tell they weren’t very happy and made some comment about making sure to tell them next time that I was claustrophobic. I wanted to say that had nothing to do with claustrophobia. No where did it say that they were going to pierce my brain with this horrific sound, not even when I told them it was my first time. Some warning would have been nice…

Thankfully a Nurse from the ER came into the room to give me some happy medicine. You would think that they would have gave some time for the medicine to kick in but that was not the case as they put me right back in… I am not sure how I made it through the next forty minutes but I did. I tried to visualize the horrible sound into healing energy, which is a trick I learned from a dear friend when faced with the constant beeps in the hospital. I also did a lot of praying and talking to my Mama. At one point the music started to sound like a song,  I am sure I just tricked myself in believing this, as nothing about these noises resembled music. I am sure that the medicine had a big role in that. Though there were a few sounds that nothing would change the piercing effect it had on my brain. Each time it would occur I had to muster up every ounce of strength and courage to endure it.

One common thing I kept thinking was that this pain that I was feeling from the MRI was nothing compared to what I felt during the 31 days of my Mother being in the hospital and watching her die. Or the pain I have felt the last two months grieving over my beautiful loving Mother. This piercing sound as horrific as it was didn’t come close to that.

Finally after forty minutes the test was over and I was back to my room. After about a few hours the Neurologist came into my room and advised me that the MRI was normal. She stated that due to my symptoms that she wanted to run further tests to rule out anything else.

Spinal Tap… That is all I have to say… Ouch was the first word that came into my brain. Even though I had never had one I knew that I was about to have another unpleasant experience. When it comes to pain I am a big chicken. Needles and I are not friends. I can remember being a teenager and having to get another measle shot. The Nurse had to almost hold me down, that is how scared I was. As I have gotten older and have endured many more pokes I am no longer as scared. Though every time I have to get a shot or get my blood drawn I always cringe. Blood and I are also not friends. Every time I have to look away, as I get very faint when I see the needle and blood.

Thankfully I didn’t have to endure the Spinal Tap on Thanksgiving. So like a turkey I was saved from being put on a table and poked…

For having to being in the Hospital during Thanksgiving my spirits were pretty good. Intially I had thought there was a chance of getting out in time but the whole Spinal Tap thing did that in.

The room I was in, eerily looked just like my Mom’s room at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville. The constant beeps also constantly made me flashback to that difficult times. So did the crazy woman down the hall but again I just rolled with the punches.

Surprisingly the turkey served for lunch was very moist and delicious. Though the cherry pie they served was very frozen, and not the meant to be frozen variety. I thought to myself, oh well… I also thought how un-thanksgiving like to not have pumpkin pie!!!

I wasn’t going to let a frozen pie bring me down.

Due to the fact that I was up all night, I slept most of thanksgiving. Though the times I was up, I could feel my Mom’s presence very strong. I even was able to talk to her and felt like she could hear me. I know that she was with me comforting my fears. I was not alone.

I had also thought it ironic that my fears of not being alone were also answered. I certainty was not alone. 🙂

My sister was nice enough and saved me a plate from Thanksgiving dinner. I had that to look forward to.

Even before I found out the results and faced with the fears of having the Spinal Tap, I had this sense of thanks wash over me. I was reminded how blessed I was to have a family who loved and cared for me. My sister was horribly worried and I couldn’t help but feel bad for that. As much as I try to protect and shield her, it kills me whenever I can’t protect her.

I also felt very grateful to have such a wonderful Mother to watch over me from Heaven.

I was also very thankful to have a wonderful caring staff that looked after and cared for me. Especially those who had to work on Thanksgiving. I also thought about all those other patients who liked me had to be in the hospital away from their families during Thanksgiving and those who don’t have families…

The one thing that was missing, other than my family, was pumpkin pie. I had joked with the night nurse about ordering a piece of pumpkin pie from the kitchen. He was like I don’t think they have any but I can bring you a piece from the break room and he says, “Would you like whipped cream?” and I am like YES!!! 🙂

He saved the day, that is for sure and I am so thankful for his kindness and the delicious pumpkin pie!!!

I felt some sadness as the night wore on but overall it wasn’t a bad day considering the situation I was in… Having my Mom there certainly made a difference, that is for sure!!!

The next day I woke up and had my spinal tap. Thankfully the Neurologist suggested because of my weight to have the procedure done under xray and I am forever thankful for this as well. Typically the procedure is done by bedside.

I had to lay face down on this long, cold metal table where they put a Styrofoam wedge under my stomach and legs. Every minute that passed my anxiety increased to the maximum. It is very much like waiting at the top of a roller coaster, waiting for the bottom to drop out. You know it is going to happen and you fear for what is about to happen next.

I could hear the Doctor talk to the xray technician about a 5 inch needle and questioning if it was long enough to reach my spinal column. I wanted to shot out, use the larger needle because knowing my track record and my body I knew they would have to use the larger needle.

The Doctor of course went with the smaller needed and of course it was to short by 1 cm… are you kidding me??? So he had to pull that out.

Then he inserted the 7 inch needle and wouldn’t you know that it reacted like a spring (his words, not mine). That was the original reasons for going with the smaller needle, as the longer the needle the more flimsy the needle is… Again his words…

So again he had to pull this needle out… By this point I had the shot to numb my back, which was painful and now I was about to get a forth needle inserted deep into my lower back.

Now they needed to insert a 7 inch needle that had more girth, which made me cringe even more. I held onto the metal table for dear life, as he pierced my skin with a thicker needle which was the most painful yet.  Do you think even the thicker needle would go in easy??? Nope…

Again he was having trouble getting through my skin and reaching my spinal fluid… I started to think here we go again, how much of a bigger needle are they going to need this time??? Thankfully after a little bit of manuring the Doctor was able to get through my skin.

Who know that all this time I was thick skinned! 🙂

I think what gave me the heebie jeebies the most was having to sit on that table at an incline for fifteen minutes (oh yeah, they then type you like you are on a ride at the fair) in order for the fluid to drain out.

They didn’t tell me to hold still but I was so scared to move in the fears of them piercing something they shouldn’t… Again I prayed and thought about my Mama while I went through this painful experience.

After about thirty minutes the procedure was done and I was returned to my room, where I had to lay completely flat for two hours. I was told that this was to help seal the hole in my back and prevent a headache from occurring. All I could think about was having this fluid oozing out of my back, so I didn’t move a muscle.

Wouldn’t you know it that they brought my lunch to me soon after getting back. Talk about taunting a fat person with their lunch sitting for two hours and not being able to eat it… But again I felt oh well, and waited for my two hours and scarfed down the cold food… When you are starving even cold food tastes good! 🙂

I was told that the preliminary reports from the Spinal Tap would take about two hours, while the cultures could take a few days. Initially the Neurologist thought I might be able to go home on Friday, and I was so ready for that…

A few hours later one of the internal medicine Doctors came in and told me that the preliminary reports didn’t show anything. So that was a huge relief but he stated that they were waiting on some other reports. He also advised me that someone from Neurology would be in later that day… 5pm rolled around and no one had yet been in to see me. I was started to think I wasn’t going to get to leave. I asked the Nurse if she had heard anything and she hadn’t. She advised me that they usually like to wait 12-18 hours after the test for the results and didn’t think I would get to leave until Saturday morning.

At this point I was ready to go and started to feel a bit stir crazy. I just wanted to be home with my family. I had also done all the sleeping I could and now was wide awake. Plus I was still anxiously awaiting the final results. Thankfully at about 11pm my friend who was so nice to wait with me in the ER until 4am the night before Thanksgiving, texted me asking if I could get visitors that late. To my surprise I found out that the hospital did not have visiting hours, meaning that you could have visitors whenever you wanted. Having him come visit me was such comfort during a time when I felt so uneasy and uncomfortable.

Granted I looked like Medusa but I didn’t care. He was so kind to bring me a cold Coke as well. It tasted so good!!! He stayed for about an hour and I went to bed feeling happy.

During this whole experience I had this attitude that I would face whatever news in stride, that regardless of the outcome I would overcome it!

This was also the first time I had been away from my family in a while. Two days without my family felt like an eternity. When my Mom died we latched onto each other, and this was the first time I had to let go. It was tough being away from them. I missed them so deeply.

When your Mom gets sick and dies, it really opens your eyes and you realize that nothing is sacred… no one is safe from harm… That is why I knew that during this time, the pendulum could have swung in a different way… Like so many other people.

The next morning came and the internal medicine Doctor advised me that the Spinal Tap results were negative and that the Neurologist concluded that I had Bells Palsy plus a secondary reaction causing other nerves in my brain to be affected. They believe this was all caused by a sinus infection that I had a few weeks prior.

Bell’s palsy is a form of facial paralysis resulting from a dysfunction of the cranial nerve VII (the facial nerve) that results in the inability to control facial muscles on the affected side. Several conditions can cause facial paralysis, e.g., brain tumor,stroke, and Lyme disease. However, if no specific cause can be identified, the condition is known as Bell’s palsy. Named after Scottish anatomist Charles Bell, who first described it, Bell’s palsy is the most common acute mononeuropathy(disease involving only one nerve) and is the most common cause of acute facial nerve paralysis.

Bell’s palsy is defined as an idiopathicunilateral facial nerve paralysis, usually self-limiting. The hallmark of this condition is a rapid onset of partial or complete paralysis that often occurs overnight. In rare cases (<1%), it can occur bilaterallyresulting in total facial paralysis.[1][2]

It is thought that an inflammatory condition leads to swelling of the facial nerve. The nerve travels through the skull in a narrow bone canal beneath the ear. Nerve swelling and compression in the narrow bone canal are thought to lead to nerve inhibition, damage or death. No readily identifiable cause for Bell’s palsy has been found.

Corticosteroids have been found to improve outcomes, when used early, while anti-viral drugs have not.[3] Most people recover spontaneously and achieve near-normal to normal functions.

Often the eye in the affected side cannot be closed. The eye must be protected from drying up, or the cornea may be permanently damaged resulting in impaired vision.

For most people, Bell’s palsy is temporary. Symptoms usually start to improve within a few weeks, with complete recovery in about six months. A small number of people continue to have some Bell’s palsy symptoms for life. Rarely, Bell’s palsy can recur. [3]

For more information about Bell’s Palsy visit:

http://www.bellspalsy.ws/

Within a few hours I was out the door, so relieved to be okay and able to go home to my family.

While having Bell’s Palsy is certainty not fun, I am thankful that is all I have. I know so many people are not as fortunate.

Even if the symptoms last a few months, I will take struggling to eat for two months any day. I will also take the insecurities that come from showing people (especially strangers) my face, especially when I smile. I will take the discomfort and pain from not being able to blink my left eye. Thankfully my sister got me an eye patch to wear. These all things that I can and will endure because in the end I get to spend my days with the people who matter… The people I love. They mean more to me than anything else!

They are who I am thankful for, as well as my health. I am constantly reminded to not take ANYTHING for granted because there are no guarantees in life. All we can do is just enjoy life the best we can and cherish the time we have left on this earth. Our bodies will always fail us, so will time but our love for each other is the only constant and that is something that this world can’t touch!!!

I am also reminded how thankful I am to have such a wonderful and loving Mother. It was the confirmation I needed to realize that my Mom is still with me to protect, care and love me. I am also thankful for the 36 years my higher power gave me and I will always cherish every moment we shared together. I will hold those and my Mama close to my heart forever.

The past week has also been a confirmation of my strength and endurance to overcome difficult and challenging times. I guess sometimes we need to see how strong we really are. It took a Doctor having trouble piercing my skin to make me realize how thick skinned I am… I am strong because of my Mama. I am who I am today because of her. That is another thing to be thankful for.

I am blessed… Eye patch, crooked smile and all… 🙂

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