I spent the afternoon in the emergency room today. Not exactly how I expected my day to go.
Around 10:30 this morning, I realized I was having a harder and harder time reading my computer screen at work. The very center of my vision was all wonky, and I had to concentrate extra hard to see each word I was reading. I couldn't write a complete sentence. I couldn't concentrate long enough to understand one voice mail. It freaked me out. I sensed a migraine was on the way. It felt like the strange headaches I had in 2006.
Four years ago, I had several migraines with "auras" (like pinwheels were spinning in my peripheral vision)and I went to the ER two separate times. Half my body would go numb (pins and needles all on one side: arm, leg, face, tongue). It was bizarre. It happened at random times: once while camping with my sister, once while driving to check out a house I was considering renting, once in the grocery store. Each time, it was followed by a massive headache that brought me to tears. I even spent a night in the hospital as doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with me.
That summer was the last time my mom helped me with medical care. She was still driving then, and brought me to my doctors office when I was complaining of a headache. When my primary Doctor said I should go to the hospital, she drove me to the emergency room. By the time we got there, I could barely stand and I couldn't speak. It was the most frustrating experience I've ever had. I wondered if I was having a stroke or if I had a brain tumor. Mom found a wheel chair and pushed me to the admittance desk. The nurse started asking identifying questions. Mom hadn't been diagnosed with Alzheimer's yet, but her memory was sketchy at best. Under the stress of the situation, she couldn't remember my date of birth. I couldn't spit the words out to answer when I was born. I felt totally dependent and totally trapped.
Eventually, Mom and I made it into a room. My head throbbed. I tried to ask the nurse to turn the florescent lights off, but the words wouldn't come out. The nurse handed me a tablet of paper and a pen so I could write whatever it was I was trying to express but the only thing I could write was the number two. I tried several times to spell "Turn out the light" but I didn't get any further than "2." My hand would just involuntarily make a little loop, and that was all.
Doctors took a CT scan, MRI, blood work, and even a spinal tap. Nothing unusual showed up on the tests. They gave me pain killers to help me sleep that night. The next morning, I felt fine. The nurse who had helped me the night before asked what I had been trying to say since it had obviously been really important to me. When I said I just wanted the lights off, the nurse said, "You should have pointed!" Good call. I was too shook up for that simple solution to even occur to me.
I've had migraines since that fateful year, but nothing nearly that scary. So today, when I started feeling similar symptoms, I panicked. I told my husband what was happening. He suggested I call the insurance company's nurse hot line and ask if I should just go home for the day or go to the hospital. I got a hold of an RN by phone, and explained my symptoms (with lots of stumbling over my words and feeling like a bumbling idiot). She asked, "Have you noticed any change in your alertness?" Without hesitating, I said yes, I felt disoriented and couldn't concentrate. She said, "Call 911."
That scared me even more. Husband and I left work and he dropped me off at the emergency room. He asked repeatedly if I was OK by myself and I assured him I was. I didn't want us both to miss work, especially if I spent a bunch of time in a waiting room.
Sure enough, I was there three hours before I saw a doctor. The headache I was expecting never came, and I felt a little sheepish sitting in a hospital bed, feeling fine. There was another woman in the same room, and from the other side of the room-dividing curtain, I heard her moaning in pain and complaining of a headache herself. Thankfully, a doctor came and gave my roommate pain killers. When the nurse came in to ask me how I was feeling, I was self conscious admitting that on a scale of 1 to 10, my pain level was only a 1. I kept the lights out in the room (just to be on the safe side) and I napped.
The doctor who saw me was glad to hear that I wasn't experiencing the same kind of pain I did several years ago. She said what I felt this morning was most likely a "visual migraine." She said it could be triggered by stress or dehydration. She said to take it easy for a few days, drink lots of fluids, and get regular sleep (but not over-sleep. Sleeping too long can also trigger a migraine. Dang it). She didn't think any brain scans were necessary since I wasn't in any pain and passed a visual acuity test just fine. She said if the symptoms come back and last longer than 30 minutes (and can't be easily treated with ibuprofen) I should go back to the ER.
So, crisis averted for now. Thankfully, I was able to schedule an appointment with my counselor for next week. First item on the agenda: deal with stress more effectively.