Sunday, December 02, 2007

Why I've Been So Slow, Part 1: There's Something Wrong With My Head

It appears I've written only three blog posts since July, only two since August, and none since October. I've never been a particularly attentive blogger, but really, I've never been this slack before. So what gives? The way I see it, while there's been the usual assortment of often unexpected demands on my time, the real causes of my blogging slowdown are basically three. So maybe if I blog about them I can do a bit of cyber-exorcism.

For months (or maybe even longer; one of my big regrets as I've repeatedly gone to see a doctor is that I simply don't have good sense of how long things have been going on--I just don't pay very much attention to my own health, more about which later) I've been getting headaches. Now I've always gotten headaches, pretty bad ones too; it was something I had lived with for years, beginning when I was in elementary school. I figured I'd inherited them from my father, who suffered from migraine headaches for years. Still, it'd been many years since I'd gotten headaches so regularly, so predictably (they'd hit at about 3pm, like clockwork). And gradually, other specifics began to emerge: there would be a ringing in my ears (or a hum, or a dull roar) that would interfere with my hearing, and there'd be a haze or a place I couldn't focus properly haunting my eyesight, and--worst of all--I'd find myself nauseous, woozy, unable to maintain my balance. (Why was that the worst? Because I depend upon my bicycle for commuting to work, of course.) These symptoms would build up, and then then fade away, sometimes abruptly, only to come back without warning weeks or months later. I didn't finally go to see a doctor about it all until last July. The assumption was that I had some sort of ear infection, probably allergy related, that was throwing the mechanics of my inner ear for a loop, resulting in headaches and vertigo and nausea. I took some medicine, and that was that. I'm not sure if the problems ever really went away, but they were minimized to the extent that I could forget about them. But looking back on it now, I can see the evidence of their effects was all around me: I was getting little done, I was finding it hard to concentrate, I was often exhausted in the evenings, which used to be some of my most productive times.

Anyway, October rolls around and it was back again, with a vengeance. I went to see a different doctor, who came to the same conclusion (and checked and said he didn't see anything of concern going on with my eyes), prescribed a different set of anti-biotics, and sent me on my way, with instructions to get back in touch with me if conditions persist. And they did persist, but only sort of. Sometimes they'd seem to be going away, and I figured I was on my way to health: at least, it was enough for me to, once more, try to forget about it for a while. But then I'd have a bad time hearing my students in the classroom, or I'd nearly fall off my bike while making a turn, and I'd be reminded all over again. Just this past Wednesday I woke up with the room spinning and my head aching; I couldn't function at all. Going back the same doctor again, he this time concluded that this might not be allergy related at all: maybe something's gone wrong inside my head, particularly in the region of my inner ear (my eyesight problems haven't been very pronounced lately, though they're still lurking around). He mentioned acoustic neuroma as well some other possible conditions, and scheduled me for an MRI next week.

I've since spoken with a couple of people who have dealt with this and other related causes of tinnitus; the consensus seems to be that it's a tough break, but nothing catastrophic--the tumors involved are basically benign, after all. I have to admit, however, that it was the MRI that freaked me out the most. Good grief, I though to myself, does he suspect I have some sort of cancer? Which, really, gets at my own ignorance mentioned above: I know a fair amount about health policy, but I've never really known--never wanted to know--much about my own health. When I'm feeling poorly, and I can't just tough my way through it, I just take some aspirin and lay down until I can get through. When I was a teen-ager I broke my collarbone (just a hairline fracture, but that's just an after-the-fact assumption; I don't really know) in an accident while my family was on vacation; rather than seriously trying to articulate exactly what kind of and how much pain I was in to my parents, I just sat in the back of the mobile home and tried not to move too much and whined when appropriate. (The result is that the bones healed over the weeks to come in such a way that one of my shoulders is nearly an inch taller than the other.) Part of this is, or at least as I've grown has become, almost philosophical in its grounding; I can cite all sorts of arguments against the medical establishment from Ivan Illich, for example. But in truth, it's probably more of an almost stereotypical laziness: I mean, I just want my car to run, too; I don't want to have to think about properly attending to its engine. And so what has apparently become a staple of modern medicine was wholly beyond me; when I got back to my classes and mentioned recent events to my students, I was stunned to discover that about two-thirds of them have had MRIs, sometimes multiple MRIs, for all sorts of perfectly ordinary things. I'm embarrassed to admit this, but this really struck me: maybe I shouldn't assume that the doctor is assuming he's going to discover the worst about me after all.

Well, so anyway, that's more than any of you would have ever cared to know about what's happening inside my head. Who knows? Maybe my inner ear is fine, and the ringing and the headaches and wooziness are being caused by some kind of infection after all. Then again, maybe I have a brain tumor. I should find out, or at least begin a serious effort to finally find out (something I should have done months and months ago) next Monday. All I know is that I'd like to be able to start hearing music without the annoying, fuzzy, echo effect in my head, I'd like to never again feel like I'm going to fall over while climbing the stairs to my office, and I'd like to have the focus and energy to get back to blogging again. So maybe I should take the fact that I actually managed to get all this down as a sign of hope.

9 comments:

Amira said...

I hope the MRI gives you some clues as to what's wrong and what can be done. One of the worst things about something like this is not knowing what's wrong and therefore not being able to do much about it. Good luck.

FreedomDem said...

This will be the first time I've ever commented on your blog after an extended period of time of frequently reading it when you did post. I pray everything works out for you. Your writing is among the best I've encountered, online or off.

Anonymous said...

If the MRI come back positive for a tumor.. go to: http://www.anausa.org/forum/ for support and ideas

Matt said...

Good luck w/ it Russell. I've had some of these symptoms at various times (related to migrains, mostly) and now thankfully don't have them that often. They are unpleasent as hell, though. For headaches leading to nausia and so on might I suggest Imatrex? When I was getting serious migrains, ones too strong to work, 2-3 times a week this stuff quite literally changed my life.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Freedomdem, thanks for the kind words.

Amira, so nice to hear from you! I didn't know you ever checked out my blog, especially considering how rarely I've been writing lately. Thanks also for the good wishes; I'll be sure to update the story when more is known.

Anonymous and Matt, thanks for the recommendations. Imatrex, huh? I've never heard of it, but then, as I confessed, I really never have invested much effort in knowing even the basics about the medicine I'm taking, much less knowing what medicine I ought to be taking. I'll check it out, and give it a try.

Matt said...

Hi Russell. It obviously won't help w/ any possible underlying problems (which I hope will be small, if anything- I had an MRI for my migrains once and it showed nothing at all) but Imatrex really works wonders for migrains (at least for me), and the injection kind (very easy to use) starts working w/in a minute or two. The pills take a bit longer- 30 minutes or so. To my mind it's preferable to taking things like amatryptalin (SP?) since you use it only when needed and it doesn't have any very serious side-effects, unlike drugs taken every day for migrains. I swear by the stuff.

Scott said...

Sorry to hear about the health concerns. Hopefully you can get some answers soon.

Jesse said...

Russ, we love you and you're in our prayers. I get headaches too and Amy is always bugging me to go to the doctor. Hope all goes well.

Amira said...

I've got In Medias Res on my blog reader because I never know when you're going to post something fascinating.

After reading your last post, I have to appreciate moving often a bit more.