With only a few memorable exceptions, every time I went to the doctor’s over the past 35 years, I had left with a perfectly clean bill of health. Except the one time I didn’t. So you can imagine it’s a bit of a shock to view one’s heretofore unassailably healthy body as a potential source of calamities. This realization does strange things to one’s confidence, and can lead to some unpleasant hypochondriac tendencies.
EEG for neurology:
Last Friday, I went back to Barnes for a follow-up EEG that my neurologist requested. This is about as low-stakes as medical tests get for me these days. The EEG was not intended to look for anything specific, it was merely going to establish a baseline brain activity profile so that if I decide to taper my anti-seizure medications in two years, they will be able to evaluate whether I’m at risk for another seizure. Jing summed it up best: “If it’s normal, they’ll tell you to keep taking your Keppra. If it’s abnormal, they’ll tell you to keep taking your Keppra.” Jing always keeps things in perspective. In solidarity, Jing also subjected Carolyn to a DIY EEG. All the same, I’ll admit a bit of trepidation about the results. The last time I had my brain scanned as a precautionary measure, my entire life changed. Besides, going back into the hospital as a patient isn’t much fun at all. Endless repetitions of reciting my birth date, blood pressure cuffs, waiting rooms, and bad jokes by administrators. That, and hospital parking is always a nightmare.
The EEG itself isn’t all that bad: you go into a typical hospital room, lie down on the bed, and a technician affixes electrodes to your scalp with some sticky goop. They’re not very gentle, since the one way an EEG turns out badly (for the technician) is if an electrode comes loose midway through. Then you close your eyes, and they make you answer some easy question: “what’s 4 x 9?” or “what day of the week is it today?” or “what day of the week was it three days ago?”. Then at the end, just for kicks, they put a strobe light six inches from your eyes and blast you for about five minutes, while you pray that you don’t have another seizure, even though you know that the tumor is gone and that your remaining lesion isn’t anywhere near visual processing centers. Then it’s over. 45 minutes, start to finish. My technician told me that 80% of people in his experience sleep through the entire thing, which would have been nice, had he stopped talking long enough to let me fall asleep.
As expected, my EEG was perfectly normal, and the folks in the neurology clinic seemed surprised that a patient would call them first thing Monday morning to get the results. But like I said, this whole experience has prompted a major re-thinking about my body and health. I’ve never had any tendencies towards hypochondria, but then again I’ve previously always had a body that could do anything I ask it to do. For better or worse, since the surgery, every little symptom one would normally completely ignore takes on an added significance and must be evaluated and tracked.
Examples of symptoms I’ve spent too much energy fussing about:
1. Any slight tinge of a headache
2. Atypical fatigue or sleepiness (both are common for patients post-surgery, doing rehab, and on Keppra and melatonin).
3. Slight hand tremor (which we’ve subsequently determined to be caused by low blood sugar).
4. Unsettling dreams about the onset of another seizure (again, troubling dreams can be caused by low-blood sugar, meds, or just the weight of so many life-changing events).
5. Slightly elevated temperature and/or flushing that may be a sign of a budding infection (as above, melatonin, etc. cause flushing and body temperature changes).
Brain tumors in the United States occur in about 6 of 100,000 people, so in the grand scheme of things, they’re (happily) uncommon. And in context, my brain tumor actually had a number of silver linings: it was only Grade II and it was on the right side and away from anything neurologically essential. I find myself and those around me a bit snake-bit by this whole situation, and we are now more inclined to fear the extremely rare but extremely bad possibilities. This loss of confidence is understandable, but it’s worth remembering that most of the time the stuff we fear never actually happens. My EEG was perfectly normal, although I’ll admit I did worry that they’d see something out of the ordinary. I’m hoping this EEG was the first medical test in a long, long winning streak.