On Medical Things, and Life Altering Events

It’s been one year now. So, this is a bit of a long one. If you’re not interested in medical details and such, then you might as well skip it.

What actually happened?

One year ago, on May 12, 2022. at about 2 in the morning, I woke up with what could only be described as the worst headache ever. You may think you’ve had some bad hangovers, but no… This one wins… It wins all the trophies for pain.

Simulation of MRI

I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just had an aneurysm. Deep down in my brain, in the left hemisphere, near the center of the brain itself, a blood vessel had just erupted and started bleeding into my head. I have seen the MRIs, and while I don’t have a copy of them yet, I’m working on obtaining them.

At the time I didn’t know this, but I had maybe 10-15 seconds of consciousness remaining to me. So what do you do when you wake up with a headache at two in the morning? Answer: I rolled over on my (left) side and fell back asleep. Hey, I’ve had some hangovers in my time. Plus, like I said, I was about to lose consciousness… whether I wanted to or not.

(As I have recently learned) The human brain is a rather unusual organ. It may only weigh about 3 pounds and constitute 2% of your body weight, but it also takes 20% of the total oxygen you consume, and it does that whether you’re awake or asleep. It gets its oxygen through blood, and it is super greedy about it too. A bleed in the brain basically means that the blood is not going to the brain tissue anymore. And as far as the brain is concerned, that’s like a major catastrophe. As an emergency measure, your heart starts beating rapidly, and your blood pressure skyrockets.

However, with a hole in a blood vessel in your brain, this also means it starts pouring a lot more blood into that area. That blood increases the pressure in the brain itself and starts pushing outwards on it. The result is the brain’s expansion until the interior surface of your skull is pressing against it. Increased intracranial pressure (ICP) is the term, and the effects caused by it start with headache, then rapidly go to seizures, coma, and very quickly go to death. There really is no upside to this.

So that headache that woke me up was not actually the aneurysm. It was my ICP rising so fast that it was causing a headache. That headache turned quickly into unconsciousness and from there, well, it didn’t get any better.

When I eventually woke up, it was 8 in the morning. I thought I had slept for 6 hours. In fact, I had missed a whole day, and slept for 30 hours. However, that was not immediately apparent, because I was preoccupied by the fact that no part of the right side of my body would move.

What had happened is that the blood flow into my brain, along with the blood pressure of ~280/180 (guesstimate, probably much higher, and way more scary) had caused the increased intracranial pressure. Along with the fact that I was alone, in the middle of night, I basically stayed like that for 30 hours, until the pressure dropped enough to where I could regain consciousness. Or, you know, didn’t… Not waking up was the most likely outcome there.

But at the time I actually woke, I was unaware of all this, because all I knew was the right side of my body would not move. That is one hell of a thing to wake up to. Therefore, I knew that I had had a stroke. It was a hemorrhagic stroke caused by the blood flow into the left side of the brain, which flowed down with gravity (because I had rolled onto my left side), and that blood flow had touched the motor and sensory cortex. It also grazed a part of the temporal lobe. The result left me temporarily unable to move or feel anything on the right side of my body. (The left side of your brain controls the right side of your body and vice versa. It has to do with the wiring. Don’t worry about it.) It also made speaking extraordinarily difficult.

By the way, brain mapping is a fascinating thing to study. Obviously, it’s not at a stage where they can say “this part of your brain does this” and so on. But with new technologies, they’re really getting there. They have made new discoveries as recently as 2021, and are improving the technology all the time.

Get on with it

Anyway, by the time I woke up, the miracle had already happened, because I was still alive. By all odds, I should not have been. Back of the napkin math tells me that I had maybe 1 chance in 15 to survive all that. The aneurysm could be a 50/50, the bleeding into the brain, plus the increased ICP for 30 hours with no medical treatment at all… Heck, even the fact that I rolled onto my left side and thus the bleeding was to the left, as opposed to the right, which would have likely bled onto the temporal lobe and the corpus callosum… Yeah, I should be dead. Sometimes the miracles happen while you’re asleep.

But back to it; I had just woken up and couldn’t move the right side of my body. I deduced stroke, and immediately tried to call my parents. Obviously, I should have immediately called 911. However, I wasn’t exactly thinking very clearly at the time. It turned out that I did not have the correct phone number for my parents, so I called my sister instead. I got my mom’s number from her, called my mom and told her I had had a stroke. Once she had that information, I hung up on her and then called 911.

Note that I could not accurately speak at this time. It’s somewhat difficult to speak when you can only move half of your face. I could make myself understood if I tried really hard, but I had to be really deliberate about what I said. So all these calls were rather interesting. I don’t know how long it took me to make the calls, but it was not a short amount of time.

Trip to the hospital

At this point, I was laying on the floor of my bedroom. I could not exactly walk, obviously. However, I did manage to get dressed, of a sort. It took the EMT’s about 20 minutes to arrive and by then I was mobile enough to where I figured out how to hop on one foot. So I hopped myself out the door and onto the stretcher. I realize that this didn’t make any sense to the EMTs. At that point, I didn’t care. I knew that it was an emergency, even if they did not fully understand what the problem was.

So, they Uber’d me to the hospital and after a bit of arguing with the nurses, more or less directly to the MRI, where they determined that I had, in fact, had a hemorrhagic stroke and from there, I went to intensive care.

Basically, the event had already happened, and there was not much they could do, except give me lots of drugs trying to lower my blood pressure. Even today, I’m on four different drugs to keep my blood pressure in check. By the way, blood pressure drugs suck, and have all sorts of hidden side effects. As I post this, I’ll be taking a trip to the pharmacy to pick up my next three month supply of these same drugs. They may suck, but they don’t suck as much as dying.

I was in and out of consciousness for a couple of days. Had they not been able to get my blood pressure down enough with medication, I would have died, again.. So, I guess increase those odds to be even worse.

Fortunately, I did eventually respond to the drugs, and then they moved me into a recovery/recuperation area where I stayed for about 4 weeks. I rather rapidly gained the ability to move again and slowly learned to walk. I did not enjoy my time there, and I lost about 20 pounds. The PT/OT was rather useless.

I have no doubt that such therapies are useful for people, so don’t get me wrong. I just found them useless for me, because they were moving far too slowly. I realize that the goal is to gradually work your way into it and to feel your way safely through it. But I know my own capabilities and that was not nearly quick enough or useful enough.

I tried to communicate that to the therapists, but I wasn’t good at communication by then, and I did not get the results I wanted from them. I was frustrated and making a better recovery without their help. Despite their help in fact, as they were deliberately trying to hold me back. And yes, that is their job… which is why I wanted the hell out of there as fast as possible.

Back to the living…

With my parents help, I got out of the hospital and spent about 4 weeks at their house. I learned to walk again, more or less, and have now spent the last year or so on my own and at my own home, back in Memphis. Basically, in my comfort zone. This has been my home for 16 years. It may be small, but it is definitely mine, and I know everything about how to behave, move, and live here.

What I have learned from this experience is that brain injuries suck. Obviously. Also, take high blood pressure seriously. That shit will kill you. My blood pressure had always been high, but I did not really put much thought into it. If you have high blood pressure, see a doctor and get some meds. Don’t wait for the need for them to become this bad. And if you have frequent headaches, tell your doctor. That was the only indication I had before of the aneurysm, but I didn’t do anything about it.

I also learned how dependent I am on my hands. Being unable to type for the most part has left me a little unsure of what to do. But most importantly, I’ve learned that I have to be in a place where I feel safe. I did not do well at the hospital or in my parents house, because those are not my home. I needed to be at my home.

It has been a year now, and I can type again if I need to. However, I have gotten fairly used to using speech to text programs and that is quite effective. I can walk fairly well most of the time, however, any long distances, and I need a cane, mostly to support my back. Lately, my back muscles have been a problem because, well, half of them didn’t work for a long time. That makes it difficult to walk or sustain any kind of sitting position for any length of time.

Most recently I have started getting feeling in the right side again, by which I mean I can tell temperature again. This after the last three months of it being essentially freezing on my right hand side. Seriously, the entire right hand side of my body was freezing at all times. It was not actually freezing, but when you can’t tell temperature and you start getting feeling back, then all you sense is cold, no matter how hot it is. And yes, that sucks just as much as it sounds like.

Last August, as I was sitting on the patio outside of a local bar, I essentially got heat exhaustion. It was a hot day, but I couldn’t have told you that. I only noticed when I went back inside into the air conditioning, that I was having trouble. Fortunately, my kind bartender noticed, and she got me ice water while I essentially had to cool myself off. I was much more careful after that.

But just the other day, I picked up a cold drink with my right hand. I had a sip, and I put it back down. It was only then that I realized that the drink was exceedingly cold in my right hand, because my hand started hurting from the intense sensation. But, I picked it up and put it down without dropping it, just by instinct. That is immensely reassuring.

So I’m gaining more control over my right hand (which takes some effort) and am able to do tasks I couldn’t do before. I can see now why they say recovery is a full two year process, because it’s going to take every minute of those two years. Unsurprisingly, video games helped a lot. Sometimes my hands might twitch, but that often helps in video games. ๐Ÿ™‚

What’s next?

Back in September 2022, I went to San Diego for Wordcamp US. On reflection, I should not have gone. Don’t get me wrong, I had fun and it was good to help me get going and see everybody. However, I was not ready for it, at the time. I was tired, I was annoyed (at myself) most of the time… Basically, I was crippled. And at the time, I didn’t really understand what that meant. I was really having a hard time of it. I didn’t get anything substantial out of attending, and didn’t give enough back to other people that I would have preferred to. It made me feel rather useless at the time.

Now I’m looking at Wordcamp US this August in Washington, DC. For one thing, it’s a hell of a lot closer to me. That helps. And with a whole year of recovery behind me, I feel I’m probably pretty up to the task. But the fact is, quite simply, that I am still crippled. However, now that I know what that means, it brings on a whole new level of knowing what speed I am capable of. I know how to go at my own pace better, and not to push too hard.

Before, I was frustrated by the things I could not do. Now, I’m happy about the things I can still do. And knowing that it’s going to get better with time, well, that is all-important. If you are attending, I look forward to seeing you there. ๐Ÿ˜€

Otto Ale

Victory Otto Ale. I approve.

So, this now exists: http://beerstreetjournal.com/victory-otto-arrives/

In 1987, when we arrived in Bamberg, Germany for the first time, St. Otto was not there to greet two thirsty travelers in a rented Fiat. Heโ€™d been dead for 848 years but we were alive, and our recent visit to the Belgian brewery of Orval only fanned the flames of our desire for fermented pleasures. The smoked malt (โ€˜rauchโ€™) beers of this lovely town where St. Otto was once Bishop were our siren song, luring us into deep, exotic flavors that we never before imagined in beer. Three decades later we wondered what smoked malt might add to a Belgian-style dubbel ale. Here is it, an Otto revival of sorts. We hope it helps rejuvenate some of our brain cells that were martyred in Bamberg so long ago. โ€“ The Brewmasters of Victory

If anybody in PA would be kind enough to send me some, I’ll gladly give you my mailing address.

Email me.

Canoeing and Kansas City

I took a trip to canoe in the Buffalo river last weekend, and then followed it up with a week in Kansas City. Didn’t get any river pictures due to a foul up in which the party got separated and the camera got left with the other party, but I snapped a shot from the cabin. Also got some shots from the Boulevard Brewery and a few shots in St. Louis. iPhone pics, the lot of them. I need to get a decent quick shot camera, or a nice Android phone. Either way.

Continue reading “Canoeing and Kansas City”

Bought a new car

Drove up to North Carolina this weekend for the Durham Beer Festival. Somewhere along the way, the transmission in my 2001 Impala decided that it was time to destroy itself, presumably in a fit of angry rage. I presume that it was rage and it was angry from the sounds that came out from the thing about 80% of the way here. I would have honestly never believed that the cruise control could actually cause it to redline the thing, but the proof speaks for itself. Regardless, it was dead-on-my-arrival.

So after some thinking, and talking it over with my dad, I decided that enough was enough. I did love the Impala, but all good things must come to an end. So after 9 years and 74000 miles (I don’t drive much), I traded it in. Got a really good value for it too, especially considering that it probably had negative value given the blown transmission.

Put that money down toward a 2010 Ford Fusion. Used, but only 19000 miles on it, and in excellent condition.

Obligatory pictures:

I like it. The Sync isn’t playing well with the iPhone, but I’ve learned that this may be an iPhone software problem. Maybe I’ll upgrade it soon to solve the issue. Notably: Plugging in the iPhone kills the USB connection on the Sync system entirely. I had to pull and re-insert a fuse to reset the damn thing. No worries though, automotive hacking is one of my older and less-used hobbies. Never had to actually upgrade software in a production car before, but it worked without too much effort. Anyway, the thing works with Bluetooth for now, so as long as I don’t connect it via USB, it’s fine. Bluetooth audio streaming works perfectly well.

So I’ll be driving back to Memphis tomorrow. The triangle is fun, but not really that much fun. I’ll be glad to get back to Memphis. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Waze – Free iPhone Directions Application

Playing around this weekend, I discovered a neat and fun little app for the iPhone.

A lot of new apps have came out for the iPhone lately that are based around driving directions. TomTom came out with theirs for $100, and Navigon is another popular one that runs $90. But, if you want to try out something a little different, this one is free.

iPhone image

Waze is a free driving directions app, with a twist. Basically, the maps on it are “incomplete”. That is, they’ve got the map data, but like all maps, the data is inaccurate. So, to get the data to be better, they’re enlisting your help.

How do you help? Simple. You use the app in the car, then drive around. As you do so, the GPS will be reading your location and noting that there is indeed a street there. It makes it kinda fun to confirm streets in this way since a little Pac-Man like figure appears, eating dots on the map where you are driving, and giving you “points”. The points aren’t useful for much, except a ranking system with everybody else using the app, but it’s fun nevertheless.

So what else? Well, obviously it’ll do driving directions. However, when I tried it to get to my friend’s place at Cooper-Young fest this last weekend, it was laughably wrong. It suggested an 8 mile trek through ridiculous parts of town for no reason. I drove there the normal route instead, letting it complain that I was “off route” all the way and listening to the Waze-pacman gathering up the points as he munched his way down the road. However, something odd happened then. On the way back, when I turned it on, it knew that route. Investigating today, I’ve found that it really doesn’t like to route people on routes that haven’t been “confirmed” yet very much. So, since I’d confirmed that route already, it picked it for my way home.

But there’s a bonus to all that. By confirming the route, it’s getting more than street maps. It’s also getting average speeds. So it can use that information to give optimal routes, knowing how fast each street tends to be.

iPhone Event Reporting

You can even more than that though. Along the way, you can report events too.

An event is like an auto accident, or a speed trap. Whenever you see one of these, you can touch the report button and report one quickly. If you’re totally stopped in traffic, then you can also type in a short message (it won’t let you do that while moving), and the message will instantly be sent, where other drivers (and their iPhone’s) can see it. Those drivers will then get routed a different way, possibly saving them some time.

Or, even better, somebody else reports a problem, and you get to save some time.

Downsides to the app: Battery life. Like any other GPS app, it sucks the battery right down. You’ll need a car charger to run the thing. Probably a quality iPhone mount too. It does do landscape mode as well, and hidden down in the options is a “3D mode”, which makes the map lay back and look like the more expensive iPhone driving apps, if you prefer that sort of thing. The 2D map is easier to read, to me.

From what I’m reading, Waze has only been around a month or so, and not many people are using it. As far as I can tell, almost nobody in Memphis is using it, since almost all the roads are unconfirmed. But it would be pretty neat if everybody driving around was sharing data like this, what with Memphis traffic being what it is. I sure wouldn’t mind getting routed around half the crap I see on the streets around here.

If you’ve wanted to try out a driving directions app without spending $100 or so, then you cannot beat free. So I highly recommend it. I’m using it all the time now.