Adventures in Imaging

I am sitting at the computer and struggling with chapter 9 of my book.  It covers over a 2-month span between major events, and despite (or maybe because of) my detailed notes I can’t pull together the minor details into stories worth telling.  I know there are stories there, but the events happened over a year ago now and there are so many other stories crowding my mind.

Naturally this means I have to do something to procrastinate.  In response to a meme on someone else’s blog the other day, I answered a question about x-rays I’d had and she said it was a lot.  I had only included actual x-rays, not other imaging tests, so I guess that means that list would seem even lengthier.

1993 or 1994, I was in my early teens and began having severe headaches.  When I finally had one that left me screaming uncontrollably in the middle of the night, my grandparents rushed me to the emergency room.  I remember nothing of this trip other than lying in the backseat as we went down the twisty road to the hospital, and being embarrassed that they took me there in my nightgown.  I don’t know whether they gave me some kind of medication or if the headache subsided on its own, but they did have us schedule some follow up testing: an MRI of my head and a carotid Doppler ultrasound which felt like they were trying to strangle me.  Nothing was ever determined about the cause of the headaches and they went away after that summer, but based on the timing I suspect they were triggered by exposure to too much chlorine while swimming.

1999, I was in my freshman year of college and taking a step aerobics class.  On the day before Spring Break I stumbled off of the step and sprained my ankle.  I ended up walking several miles on it to go to the local library before finally being picked up by my mom and taken home, where they insisted I get it x-rayed.  As suspected, it was just a sprain and I limped around in an aircast for a couple of weeks.

2001, I was in my junior year of college and doing some work for a local community theatre.  I had climbed up to “heaven”, the area in the ceiling above the theatre which served as storage for costumes and props, and when I stepped out on a beam to reach something my right foot slipped off.  I got two sets of x-rays this time – one on my initial ER visit and a follow-up set back home after the radiologist saw a suspicious line on the first x-ray.  This was also just a sprain, although worse than the previous one, so not only did I get the aircast but I also hobbled around on crutches for a few weeks.

2014, after many years of avoiding doctors, I was in a car accident and ended up getting x-rays of my right knee (which hit the steering wheel when I was trying to brake to avoid the accident) and chest (which got smacked with the airbag).  In both cases, I just had some bruising.

2015, I went to the ER after a day of abdominal pain and got a CT scan that showed gallstones.  A few hours later they also did an ultrasound to get more information in preparing for the surgery that I had a mere 12 hours after seeking help.

2015, I was in another car accident, this time hitting my left knee on the driver’s side door and getting smacked in the left arm with the airbag.  The ER doctor said it was unlikely anything was broken but recommended getting the x-rays for peace of mind, so they x-rayed my knee, upper arm, and elbow.

2015, a couple of weeks after the latest car accident, my nurse practitioner ordered another abdominal ultrasound because I had complained of some digestive issues and pain in the former location of my gallbladder.  I had my money on there being a gallstone left in one of the ducts, but it turned out to be fatty liver.  This doesn’t typically cause symptoms, but I’m “lucky” in the same way that I got symptoms from my high blood pressure.

This little off-topic jaunt has not exactly worked to encourage making progress on the book, so I guess I’ll procrastinate a little more with a snack of kiwi and some raspberries.

Oops, I Did It Again

About a year and a half ago I detailed my first car accident in Life Experiences That No One Needs.  I didn’t need it the first time, and I definitely didn’t need it again.

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To start at the beginning, I went to work at the hospital at 7 am Tuesday.  Around 9:30 the phone rang with a call from an outside line.  I never answer these calls, as they’re never for me, but I was sitting at the desk and happened to glance up at the phone and see that the number was my mom’s cell phone.  I got excited, thinking she’d gotten the call that a kidney was available for her.  The actual purpose of her call was much less exciting.  She said that she had fallen and thought her wrist was broken.  She asked me to come get her and take her to the ER.

I got off the phone and rushed to the back room where a coworker was filling in for the crew lead who is on vacation.  I frantically told her I needed to leave and why, and she told me to drive carefully.  I did, and the 10 minute drive to home felt like it took hours.  I brought mom to the ER, waited around with her for what felt like more hours, and she learned that her wrist was just sprained.  She got a wrist splint and was released.

Mom had been planning to get a blood test redone that day and asked if it was okay if she did that before I took her home.  At this point I’d missed so much of work I figured it didn’t matter, and went with her to the outpatient lab.  I finally got her home and headed back toward work.

A couple of miles from work, I was going around a curve when the car slid on the wet road and went into the other lane.  As I tried to correct it, the car slid the other way, into the grass, and turned sideways and the back of the driver’s side slammed into an electric pole, breaking it in half.  I sat there, stunned, and a moment later someone pulled into the driveway of the nearby church and came running over.

I was shaking too hard to dial my phone, so she called 911 for me and waited until the police arrived.  I had some minor pain in my left knee and left upper arm, but my bigger concern was that I hyperventilated so badly that my entire torso and both arms went numb.

A county sheriff’s deputy asked me to explain what happened and took my driver’s license and insurance card.  The paramedics let me get out of the car on my own and walk to the ambulance, where they just had me sit on the bench seat and buckled me in.  A different deputy brought my license and insurance card back before we took off, and gave me the report # on her business card.  She said that the road doesn’t slope correctly on that curve and there are a lot of accidents there.  After some time to calm down, I wondered if I could file a claim against the state department of transportation due to that fact.

The ambulance took me back to the hospital, so it was kind of like getting a very expensive taxi to work.  I had to put on the sexy hospital gown and the doctor said he didn’t think anything was broken but recommended getting the x-rays anyway for peace of mind.  So I got a couple of x-rays of my knee and a couple of my upper arm, and then the x-ray technician wanted one of my elbow too.

It didn’t take long for me to be released and I headed back to work, where my supervisor asked if I was cleared for duty.  I think she might have asked if I was okay first, but that’s not what stuck in my mind.  I finished out the day and a coworker gave me a ride home.

I didn’t call mom and tell her what happened.  I thought I would wait and say it when I got home, but then I realized I was too scared to tell  her face-to-face so I texted her.  She said, “Seriously?”  As if I would joke about such a thing.

I didn’t freak out too badly until I got home and she reminded me that I needed to report the accident to my insurance.  I did so and had to answer a million questions asked by some foreign lady at a call center, and one of the questions I didn’t know the answer to so I had to call back later with that information.  Then I asked mom a question and she said I should have asked them, so she called them back and I ended up having to talk to someone again because she couldn’t answer his questions.

Juggling our schedules to share a car was a nightmare last year, and finding a new car was even more of a nightmare.  This time will be worse, because the budget is much tighter.  I don’t know how I’m going to survive this.  I was supposed to be working on that driving anxiety hierarchy and can’t make progress on that as long as I’m sharing mom’s car, if I can even get over the increased post-accident anxiety.

Then I had to drive mom to a concert she was singing in.  It was in a city I don’t normally drive in, and it was after dark.  I got almost there before I completely freaked out and had to pull over at a gas station.  She drove the last couple of miles with me having to buckle her seatbelt, start the car, and put it in gear.

The next day I had an appointment with Brent.  My notes already said that I wanted to increase my BuSpar dose, and with this turn of events I felt even more strongly about that.  He agreed to increase it to 15 mg 3x a day, but still prescribed it as PRN and told me not to take it if I don’t need it (but then turned around and reassured me that I should take it if needed and not try to suffer through the anxiety).  He was not willing to make two changes at once and I was still bringing up the idea of Lamictal, so he agreed that when I see him again in a month we will start it then and eliminate the Latuda, if I still want to at that point.

Brent has a bunch of questions he has to ask every time and one of them is “Do you have any thoughts of hurting yourself right now?”  He literally means “right now” – if it was the day before he’s not concerned.  I always say no.  I said no, and then said, “Wait, that’s a lie.”  Last night around the time I was talking to the insurance company I started planning to buy a couple of bottles of Benadryl.  Surely if 40 pills screwed me up as bad as they did, 200 would do the trick.  I didn’t get a chance to buy them because mom was with me, but I was still considering it even when sitting in the waiting room before my appointment.

I kind of spaced out and Brent asked me a question that I swear sounded like something about coffee.  I have a bad habit of not asking people to repeat themselves and just giving a vague answer and hoping it’s right.  So I said, “No.”  The question was whether I would call if I needed help.  Oops.  I didn’t understand the next question either and this time did ask him to repeat it.  He wanted to know if I needed to be in inpatient.  He said he had no grounds for making me go there.  Really?  I just admitted to current suicidal ideation and there are NO grounds?  I would have expected at least tiny ones.

I said I’d avoided going for a year and now was aiming to get through all of 2015.  He asked again if I’d call for help (this time I said yes) and he repeatedly assured me that if I called he’d squeeze me in, even the same day.

Later in the day, I also had an appointment with Sadie.  We focused primarily on the obstacles this development would present for working on my driving anxiety.  At this point mom and I are sharing a car, which means I can only take it for necessities, such as work and therapy.  That rules out doing any of the steps on my hierarchy, given that even when I had my own car mom told me not to do them because they were “too dangerous”.

Sadie said it was crystal clear why I had anxiety.  At another point she said she’d like a session with my mom to tell her to stop sabotaging what we’re working on.

I had committed to doing the first four steps during the week between appointments, and I did complete those, plus three more.  I practiced making left turns onto and off of the US highway, and Tuesday night I drove someplace new locally by dropping off my car keys at the towing company.  Sadie was excited that I managed 1/3 of the list in a week, but I still need more practice at the left turns, and all the other steps on the list are harder and more time-consuming.

Life Experiences That No One Needs

Your 21-year-old car has looked a little better in its time, but it’s still running great as you coast toward a green light on the US highway that cuts through your small Midwestern town.  An oncoming car sits waiting and waiting in the turn lane, waiting through the huge gap between you and the car ahead.  As you reach the intersection, the driver abruptly turns left.  There’s a split second that lasts an hour, in which you hold your breath, choking on fear as you slam on the brakes, already knowing that the laws of physics make impact inevitable.  The noise as the two cars crush together is familiar from years of Hollywood’s most thrilling action films, but now you are inside the noise, not separated from it by a widescreen and a projection system, and it echoes in your ears long after the sound waves have dissipated.

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The air bag explodes with a cloud of suffocating powder, filling the close confines of the car.  You choke, gasping for air, and somehow find the presence of mind to inch your car out of the intersection and into the driveway of the nearby high school, hoping the cloudy air and your watery eyes don’t cause you to hit anything else along the way.  You roll down the window, desperate for oxygen, and in between gulps of fresh air you fumble for your cellphone, feeling like Homer Simpson when you think, “What’s the number for 911?”  As you remember the number, you forget how to operate your phone, and as you remember that your fingers forget how to move without shaking uncontrollably.

You have just managed to dial for help when you’re interrupted by a voice at your window, spilling out of the lips of a man in a blindingly fluorescent yellow vest.  You wish he would go away, and let you finish doing the responsible thing.  You try to focus on the voice on the other end of the phone, asking for the location of your emergency, and when you name the intersection the voice asks you what city you are in.  The rest of the call is a blur, and after you hang up you are surrounded on all sides by witnesses reassuring you that the accident was totally the other driver’s fault and that they are staying to give a statement.

It seems like mere seconds between the end of your phone call and the beginning of sirens, and it may very well be seconds given how tiny this town is.  The fluorescent yellow vest belongs to a man who has identified himself as a volunteer firefighter who happened to witness the accident.  He keeps telling you not to move, and you are incapable of listening, trying to reach for the window handle on the passenger side, reach for the hood release when the official firefighters show up.

You won’t realize until days later that you never give a thought to the condition of the other driver, as you sit there filling with panic and trying to focus on the paramedic’s instructions, asking you what hurts and whether you can squeeze his fingers.  In the back of your mind, you’re convinced that you’re okay, but you know what happened a few weeks ago when you thought the same thing after taking a tumble on an icy sidewalk.  You know that even if your body isn’t hurt, your fragile emotional state is well on its way there, so you agree to go to the hospital.

This is when things take a turn for the embarrassing.  Out comes the neck brace, which does its job of immobilizing you – perhaps too well, as your chin no longer functions when you try to answer an onslaught of questions.  Out comes the backboard and you are surrounded by dozens of disembodied hands trying to pull you onto it and out of the driver’s seat as gently as possible, which is, as it turns out, not that gently.

You lie on the backboard on the stretcher, face to the sky, being pelted by raindrops in Mother Nature’s sick game of Chinese water torture.  You reach blindly, unable to open your eyes in this weather, for the wallet tucked into your lunch sack, and successfully present your driver’s license and insurance card to the person you have to assume is a police officer.  You seem to lie here in the rain forever, the sky crying tears you are still too shocked to muster, before finally being loaded into an ambulance.

After a series of steps to secure you in place, and the removal of a glaring light that still prevents your eyes from opening, the ambulance takes off, blaring its sirens as you think, “This is not an emergency!”  It is a small town though, low on excitement, and clearly the paramedics will take any opportunity to show off their siren.  You jostle and bump along, then head up a steep hill which gives you the bizarre sensation of lying down and standing at the same time.  You are thankful that your injuries are minor, as this carnival ride would have you shouting in pain otherwise.

Somehow, amid all the noise of the siren and jostling of the stretcher, you are expected to answer a series of questions, to which you can barely remember the answers.  You hesitate when asked for the name of your family doctor before finally remembering that you’ve seen your new nurse practitioner a whopping two times and she does have a name and it’s right on the tip of your tongue…  You are asked to name any medications you currently take, and hesitate again when one of them leads to a blank expression and a “What’s that one for?”  “Bipolar disorder,” you mumble.

Eventually the ride comes to an end.  It seems to have taken an awfully long time in spite of the aforementioned smallness of the town.  You are rolled out of the ambulance and into the ER, seemingly inches away from the lights zipping by overhead.  You barely notice when the combined 200 lbs of your body and the backboard is transferred from the stretcher to a hospital bed.  Someone comes to get your health insurance card and ask you a million more questions, and by now you’re so overwhelmed that you’re not going to remember anything that was said.  Except that after again asking for a list of medications, your medical history is repeated back to you as “high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder”.  Clearly someone is not up-to-date on what “bipolar disorder” means, seeing as how depression is one of the poles.

A woman offers to call your mother for you, if you can’t get a cellphone signal.  You barely get a signal, and your mother doesn’t answer, so as you are leaving a voicemail the woman has to remind you to let your mother know that you’re okay.  You do, but if you were totally okay then you wouldn’t be at the hospital, would you?

Your mother arrives in no time, and that’s when you start to cry.  You feel awful about the car and are terrified of the process of dealing with insurance companies and hunting for something new to drive.  A sweet young nurse practitioner comes in to inspect your knees and chest, and she orders x-rays of your chest and right knee.  You go off to play the most contorted game of Twister in order to have the x-rays taken.

At some point, a police officer arrives to return your driver’s license and insurance card, which is now smeary from the rain.  You think about how you’ll need to get it replaced, before remembering it’s for a car that you will no longer have.  The officer takes your statement and thankfully remarks that it matches the one given by a witness, so the insurance companies should determine that the other driver was at fault.

The results on your x-rays come back and everything looks fine, so you end up leaving with an ACE bandage on your knee and a naproxen prescription in your hand, but not before grudgingly accepting a tetanus booster.  You know you’ll spend days feeling like a bullet ripped through your triceps, but given that you work in a filthy warehouse and are exceedingly accident prone, perhaps the shot is not such a bad idea.