Brain sag and good friends


I often feel like my experiences aren’t complete until I write about them and as I’ll be slumped on my couch for the next two weeks, I’m going to tell you about my recent medical dramas, why I’m not afraid of dying alone any more, and how I dealt with surrendering control of my life..for nine days at least.

A few weeks ago I came down with headaches and nausea and thought I was having an adverse reaction to some new medication. However, when I developed a strange purple rash on my arms, my motherly internal monologue began wagging her finger at me and I summoned the last of my energy to stagger into my doctor’s consulting rooms, quaveringly describe my symptoms, and slump over in my chair unconscious. Not only did I stay completely oblivious for seven minutes, I briefly stopped breathing and woke to paramedics trying to stick tubes down my throat. Unlike my previous episodes of fainting like a Victorian lady, I feel no shame here – this was no swoon! No amount of corset loosening or brow mopping was going to help me!

After being admitted to hospital, blood tests indicated that I wasn’t suffering a reaction to medication. I apparently had a virulent, mystery infection somewhere in my body and by the middle of the night, I was convinced that my head was going to collapse inwards, like a squishy melon.

The only things distracting me from my impending cranial doom were the antics of my fellow patients who were mainly elderly folk suffering dementia, and though the nights were punctuated by angry demands to be taken home and Lady Macbeth-esque moans of ‘blood, blood, blood, blood’ following a cannula mishap, I was struck by how in-the-moment their existence was. They didn’t seem too bothered by their illnesses or being alone, they were more interested in why the hospital decor was reminiscent of a warehouse.

Sadly, I wasn’t so easily distracted the next day. The doctors were speaking to me slowly and saying things like “viral meningitis” and “lumbar puncture” and I was wishing the lights weren’t so bright and that my head was detachable. By the end of that day, I was hoping that death would hurry up and claim me because it turns out that lumbar punctures are possibly the most painful and disgusting procedure in existence. Seriously, having somebody stick needles into your spinal cord to suck out samples of your brain fluid?! I mean, who even thinks of that? Yeah, yeah…it’s the only way to test for infection in your brain, but c’mon!! After three failed attempts, I was screeching “why won’t it work??” at the doctors and crying hysterically. I feel like it was a reasonable response given that they kept making my legs twitch…yes, poking somebody’s spinal cord with needles MAKES THEIR LEGS TWITCH. Can anybody spell horrifying?? Brrr..

The lumbar punctures, though eventually successful, did nothing for my pain levels and I was mercifully given a large amount of morphine. And Oxycontin. And everything became really, really, really funny. Hearing a doctor introduce himself as “Biggie” sent me into paroxysms of hysterical laughter. Which is unfortunate. Because his name really was “Biggie.”  Awkward.

But the laughter didn’t last long because it turns out that chasing the dragon brings out my subconscious’ gothic tendencies. The walls started moving in on me. And they were covered in fur. And gesturing my hand in a circular motion made velvet covered chaises appear and disappear. There were black lace drapes, chandeliers, fur lined walls…I think my mind is a tacky brothel.  I may have been stroking my blanket, twitching and moaning at this stage, but in my mind I was Maleficent casting (terrible) decor-spells.


It was at this stage that, for the first time in my life, I voluntarily surrendered control of my life to other people. I’ve always been slightly afraid that if anything happened to me in C-town, I would die alone and unloved. It turns out that I have friends who would sacrifice entire long weekends to holding my hand (even if they did comment a little too often on the softness of my skin and made me afraid that they would skin me and make gloves out of my hands..), taking me to the toilet, wiping my vomity face, and looking after my mama’s travel arrangements. At the time, I cared about nothing except the fact that my head felt like a malignant growth trying to kill me, but knowing that people loved me enough to be there for me, made everything a little less traumatic. I’m not going to die alone in C-town, I am not going to die alone!

Apparently I didn’t have viral meningitis. Nobody knows what I had, but the anti-virals and antibiotics killed it. Killed it stone dead. But that left my enduring, blinding, vomit-inducing headache a worrying mystery. The words “stroke” were being mumbled in my presence and if I didn’t feel like I was already halfway dead, I would have been worried.

But, it turns out that after a lumbar puncture, a leak can occur. Yes, A LEAK OF YOUR BRAIN FLUID. And when the fluid levels in your brain gets low(ish), it makes the lining of your brain SAG AWAY FROM YOUR SKULL and gives you a terrible, horrible migraine. I know, I know, I’m sorry that I’m traumatising you with this, but that’s what my neurologist diagnosed. And if I hadn’t recovered (ie if the leak had continued), he was proposing injecting blood into my spine so that the clot would block the leak. What??? WHAT?! Just, just leave me be, ok?!

An MRI and an MRA indicated that my brain was in good health despite the leaking and sagging. And though everyone kept telling me that the MRI/MRA noise would probably make my headache worse, it actually felt like my poor achey brain was getting a massage. I particularly liked the sequence that felt like the inside of my head was being tapped and polished. (I was on painkillers at this point and may have still been high…)

Anyway, after nine days in hospital, losing six kilos, and discovering my low tolerance for opiates, I plan on using “saggy brain” as an excuse for anything and everything, for at least a good six months. Because, apart from feeling loved by everybody, a good, useful excuse is the only thing I’ve gained from this whole deal. Oh, and some good stories of course.

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