Monday, September 7, 2009

Changing hairstyles, solved

Those who've had any interaction with me in the last 6 months know that I've had an interesting time of things.

Laptop and fire issues aside, perhaps most notable was my unusual haircut:


Except that's not a haircut. Back at the end of March my hair started falling out in a stripe around my head.

But let me back up, I have to tell you this other story first.

Tuesday, March 10th. No lunch, and a rather stressful day at work. After work I head over for my racquetball league match, which proves to be one of the most intense games I've ever played. I lost too. =(

Getting home, stepping through the back door, I knew something wasn't quite right. I couldn't see quite straight. Looking at Kyla, it almost looked like I was looking through a gemstone or something, with pieces of my vision fractured and shifted around. Scary.

I went in to the living room and lay down on the floor and soon was asleep. I remember Kennedy (2 yrs old at the time) kept trying to climb on me, and I kept pushing her off since I was feeling dizzy and hurting oddly -- I'm sure I scared her and hurt her feelings.

When I woke up I knew things were worse. I was more dizzy, and it sort-of hurt, almost like the pain you get from really loud noises except it was quiet. I laid my head back down and stared at the TV. I watched as the closed captions go by, but quickly realized I couldn't read the words. I could see the shapes clearly, it's not that they were blurry or anything -- I just couldn't process those shapes into letters or words. Now I'm really scared. I can't read!

(Note, curiously I tried to say the alphabet and I could...)

I tell Kyla something's really wrong, that it might be a stroke or something, so she goes in and starts checking the internet for symptoms. I go in and grab my cellphone and call my dad. I describe my symptoms (poorly), and he says, "Sounds like you're having a migraine, go take a couple of aspirin." I go in and grab the medicine, the whole time feeling dizzy and almost like I'm going to pass out. I pick up the bottle that looks like the aspirin, but I can't read the label. "Regan, does this say aspirin?!" Maybe I'm having an aneurism??* I take two aspirin and go lie down on the floor. Dad, still on the phone, says, "Yeah, something's wrong with you, you're not making a lot of sense." Great.

I hang up and Kyla calls our paramedic friend, Greg, who suggests that it might be a TIA, and says we need to get to the hospital asap.

Long story short, we call 911, freak out our neighbors, and they put me in an ambulance. About the time we leave for the hospital, I can start reading things again. Ah, finally things are starting to improve.

Sort-of. Except the medicine is worse than the disease. Hospitals are miserable places, not due so much to people as to process. I was moved 4 times over the course of 1 night, and was woken every 30 minutes or so by someone wanting to check my blood pressure, get another blood sample, or introduce themself as the new nurse on duty. I don't care, I'm tired!

The EKG, CAT scan, and MRI went off fairly quickly, before midnight. I had to stay, however, because they wanted to do an ultrasound on my carotid (?) arteries, and nobody could do those till 8 am. (So why wake me up every 30 minutes again?) Thankfully Kyla was able to come soon after I got there and stayed with me through the worst of it -- it would've been much worse without her.

Bottom line? They don't find anything. No stroke, no evidence of TIA, nothing. (Except a little plaque in my carotid artery, which is apparently normal.) "Atypical migraine" was the diagnosis. They said they'd tell me what to do different in life, but they couldn't think of anything to tell me. I don't drink, smoke, do drugs, not overweight, etc.

Then they tried to put me on cholesterol medication. What? Was my cholesterol high? No. So why put me on that? Oh, because it might have contributed to your arteries getting plaque in them. But that amount is normal, right? Uh, well it's just a "preventative measure"... Uh uh, no way, I'm not doing it. I'm really bitter about the shotgun trial-and-error approach the medical community uses for making medications. As David Hamlin says, roughly, "you don't get to shoot the side of a barn with a shotgun, draw a circle around the hole, then take credit for a bullseye." Especially when you have no clue what you just destroyed inside the barn.

They send me home.

Another sidenote, in case you're curious, this is how the hospital and insurance company reconciled:


Click to see the whole thing. So the hospital collected less than 3% of that bill. Make sure you have your "97% off" coupon the next time you go to the hospital, nice to save a little money here and there.

Okay, anyway, back to my hair story.

Three weeks later my hair starts falling out like the picture above. Now I'm really scared. I immediately make an appointment with the doctor. They think it's a bad haircut. "You should go see a neurologist about your migraine, maybe it was a TIA. No idea on the hair."

At the neurologist: "No way you had a TIA or a stroke, you have none of the risk factors or signs, and looking at the test results, the likelihood is pretty much zero. Let's talk about migraines. Family history of them?" Yes. "Unusual stress?" Yes, some. "Missed meals?" Yes. Consistent symptoms, bingo. "Migraine symptoms depend on where in the head they occur. Yours was a little lower in your brain than where most people experience them, but about the same."

But what about the hair?

"I don't know, I thought it was a bad haircut. It's not neurological, that's for sure."

Great, back to square one. At least it's not some form of cancer, insanity, or known alien abduction torture technique. We talk to about a dozen other doctors -- and the best we get is maybe an allergic reaction to latex on a headband on the MRI (wait, what headband?)...

I spend a few months like this. I practically shave my head so it doesn't look so creepy, and people who don't know the story think I was just being weird. Still no clues on the cause.

Then, a break.

In ~July I go to climb in the attic and put on my Energizer 1W headlamp**, and instantly realize that the headband on the headlamp follows the bald line around my head perfectly. Perfectly.


Ah, now we have something! There's no way that's a coincidence! I mention it to Maureen at work, who says she might be able to help. "Somebody put Nair on your headband, I know it! Bring it in, I'll get it tested." You know someone who can test it?? Like CSI? I don't know anybody who would put Nair on my headband.

Another couple weeks go by, and then the verdict comes back from the chem lab. Ready for this? Battery acid. All over the headband.

Oh sure, that makes sense, I remember one of the batteries in there blew up a few months back and I dumped them in the trash and put new ones in. And yes, as a matter of fact, I do wrap the headband around the whole lamp and battery compartment.

The tech was apparently quite surprised that I didn't have burns on my skull. Maybe my hair protected my skull.

Here's how I look now.


So, mystery solved. Hair's back, and no new migraines. Lessons? Learn to relax better, and watch out for Kirkland (Costco) batteries leaking in your headlamps, I guess.

Glad we finally got answers to that crazy sequence of events. And I hope it never happens again.
* BTW, I learned that aspirin is the *wrong* thing to take for strokes and aneurisms, as it makes the blood flow easier and therefore bleeds more freely into the brain. It's a good thing, however, when minor inflammation in the brain (?) constricts blood flow to take an anti-inflammatory like aspirin or ibuprofin.

** Energizer actually calls these "headlights". I think it's ironic that the guy whose blog is called "head-lights" has an experience like this actually being caused by one.


Betsy said...

Now I know the rest of the story! WOW!

bryan said...

I just re-read this and realized I didn't give my wife all the credit she deserved -- yeah, she thought I just needed a nap when I first said I wasn't feeling good, but after I explained how I was feeling she was a super-sweetheart and took good care of me. I also realized how nice it is when you're in the hospital to just have someone there who cares about you, even if there's nothing much they can do... Love you babe!

Benjamin said...

Closure is always a good thing. I'll have to watch my headlight for any issues.

Does anyone read this thing?

views since Feb. 9, 2008