Big Head

I have always had a big head, literally. If a hat label says “one size fits all,” I don’t even bother trying it on. I need “large” at a minimum, preferably “extra-large.” Over the years there have been both great millinery victories — my fuchsia, feathered Royal Ascot extravaganza — and disasters, as when my favorite Kangol white safari-style summer hat strayed into the clothes dryer and forever out of my wardrobe. But last week my brain decided to take the “big head” issue to new heights by engaging in what my neurologist terms “a clinically isolated incident of inflammation.”

I don’t mean to make light of my medical condition, but I hope that by demonstrating my good humor you’ll be more likely to forgive me the vanity I demonstrated upon hearing that my immediate course of treatment for an inflamed brain would be three consecutive days of intravenous steroid treatments.

“Are there are any side effects?” I asked the doctor, by which of course I meant would the steroids make me puffy. I am currently doing puffy just fine without any extra assistance.

As it turns out the steroids are an anti-inflammatory and therefore no puffiness involved. I can vouch for that now, having finished day three yesterday. The only side effects seem to be that I am fatigued and incapable of staying on my feet for more than an hour without becoming very tetchy. Which gives me time to blog.

The whole “incident” started a week ago last Saturday. Husband and I were out for a bike ride when I commented that I felt like I had marbles in my mouth. This continued over the weekend. I was finding it increasingly hard to talk, which is not without irony since I am well known for being a motor-mouth interrupter amongst both friends and colleagues. I felt like a drunk person trying really hard to sound sober or someone coming off Novocaine trying to form words convincingly. By lunch hour on Monday I knew something was wrong.

I knew something was wrong even though nobody else seemed to notice. I only vaguely sounded like I was slurring to my own husband. When I asked two co-workers with whom I share an office if I sounded funny they laughed and said only because I was American. Then one asked if I had been drinking and laughed some more. Trusting my instincts got me into treatment within a week of first recognizing something was wrong. And so concludes the public service announcement portion of this post.

Last week then devolved into a series of rapid progression, process of elimination medical appointments. Tuesday afternoon the GP put me through a drill not dissimilar to that of a drunk driver before handing me off to an ear, nose and throat specialist on Wednesday. After a camera up my nose to look at my vocal chords and more drunk driving tests, I was dispatched swiftly to “the donut,” or MRI scanning machine and given an appointment with the neurologist for the following Monday night. On Thursday the ENT called me during a break in the operating theater to assure me there were “no tumors or anything like that,” but to also let me know he had gotten me in with the head of neurology at 6pm on Friday. No tumors good, prioritised Friday night neurologist appointment bad.

The neurologist had me tell the whole story of my symptoms and did yet another round of drunk driver tests before he spilled the beans on my scan. I knew there were some beans to spill because he waited for me to put on my shoe before he’d start. Then out came the “clinically isolated incident” bit. The bad news was that multiple incidents constitute a diagnosis of MS. I had to ask if multiple meant two, as in if this happens one more time. It does.

I usually call people by their first initial in this blog since I am generally either poking fun at them or commenting on their prolific drinking habits. However, I feel obliged to give a shout out to my neurologist, Dr. Fuller, who refused to allow husband and I to get carried away with what might happen and instead kept us focused on the immediate steroid treatment. Dr. Fuller is tall enough to look like a retired pro basketball player and calm, gentle, and patient enough for me to wish just a little bit he was my dad. He even made a special trip to see me on Saturday at the hospital when I was getting my first treatment.

The hospital is a private one in Gloucester, a town I last visited in February for my citizenship ceremony. I am glad to be getting my treatment out here rather than in London. For one, husband can drive me and park easily. There is neither the hassle or the expense of taking a cab, just rather pleasant green space on the twenty mile drive between our cottage and the hospital. The hospital itself is more well maintained Travel Lodge than institutional. For the three days of my treatment I had the same private room overlooking a courtyard. There was a flat screen TV, a nondescript Impressionist framed print, and wood effect laminate flooring. The nurse wrote a note so the janitor didn’t throw my newspapers and magazine away. Each day a waiter brought a pot of tea. The doctor who poked me with needles every day was a Romanian named Elian who practised his English idioms on me. I didn’t mind because it distracted me from the vials of blood he was filling from my arm, except for the time on day three he tried to make a joke about having to take more blood but I didn’t get it was a joke.

The nice thing about the post-treatment fatigue is that I don’t have any interest in investigating websites on MS or Lupus (husband rifled through my chart to look at the second round of blood tests that had been ordered and blurted out Lupus, doing nothing to relieve my anxiety). I am surprised by my willingness to sit in the not knowing this week and attempt to recuperate, considering I am normally a control freak. I figure there will be plenty of time for obsessive medical investigation. Right now I’m more about Gilmore Girl reruns.

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