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Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Crisis Returns

The abrupt stabbing pain in my head startled me. I dropped my pen, listening to it roll off the desk and onto the floor. Gingerly, I inched my chair back, rotating my head to find a position to stop the pain.

Nothing relieved the stabbing, but tipping my head back seemed to make it worse. “Humph. What’s happening?” I said to my empty office. “Please, God, don’t tell me whatever that was, is back.”

I slipped from my chair to pick up the pen, fearing I might forget it had fallen until someone stepped on it. “Yeow! Tuck that chin!” I told my head, which had followed the natural inclination to maintain balance by tipping back when the body is bent forward. I managed to grab the ballpoint, righting myself before toppling over. A wave of nausea crashed over me like the surf, warning of a storm ahead.

Fortunately, the wave dissipated as soon as I sat upright in my chair. Closing my eyes, I tried to breathe deeply with exaggerated exhalations. I felt my heart rate slow, which reassured me a bit.

The onset of the now-familiar dancing chains of brightly-colored pyramids ratcheted-up my anxiety level a few notches again. “C’mon God. What the heck’s happening here?” I tugged at the cervical collar, which seemed to be tightening as my stress increased.

Finally, I ripped open the Velcro fastener at the back, and threw the piece of circular foam on the desk. The sharp pain had been replaced by a growing tension; rather like the sensation of a balloon being inflated inside my skull. Tears of frustration poured down my cheeks.

“What do I do now?” The lights still paraded across my field of vision; but as long as I didn’t move my head suddenly, the pain didn’t overwhelm me; it couldn’t really be anything serious, could it?

I must have jumped three feet in the air when the wall phone behind me rang. Since Lillian should be answering the phone, I’d normally have let it ring, but the clanging got the best of me. “Hello,” I said, totally forgetting even the name of the hospital let alone how to properly answer the phone. “Uh, er, yes, you’ve reached the hospital. Are you looking for Lillian? She must have stepped away from her desk for a minute.”

I started to replace the receiver in its wall-mounted cradle, when another thought hit me. I depressed the little lever that returned the dial-tone. “Maxine? Is Doc in town this week?”

“I think so, but Dr. Greg’s downstairs, if you need to ask the doctor about something. If it’s about a particular patient, I may be able to help you.”

Remembering his incorrect positioning of the patient needing cervical traction, I hesitated to submit myself to his expertise for my own neck issue. “No, it’s not one of our patients, Maxine, but thanks for offering. Do you have Doc’s phone number handy?”

When the retired physician failed to answer his phone, I looked for Dr. Williams’* number. I had shied-away from calling him immediately because I didn’t want another week stretched-out on the traction rack.

After explaining the situation to Dr. Williams, he suggested I come in on Thursday to see the orthopedic specialist he consulted when a case left the area of Internal Medicine. Hearing the name of the specialist, my face lit up. “Yes, I know Dr. Southerville* well, I worked with him when I trained the Highway patrol officers in Emergency Medical Technician classes.”

After reassuring Dr. Williams I didn’t need anything for pain, because the pressure had begun to lift, I accepted his advice to go home to rest until the Thursday appointment. Actually, I put my paperwork in my briefcase, figuring I could rest between intervals of work at the kitchen table.

Two days later, returning from the city alone, I sang my little heart out, country music station blaring familiar gospel songs. I’d had a cordial reunion visit with Dr. Southerville, who reassured me that I’d be fine; I just needed to spend less time bent over a pile of papers at my desk. “Get up and move around. Exercise your neck and back every thirty minutes before returning to the grind. If that doesn’t do it, give me a call and we’ll arrange some tests in Billings.” Even though, the specialist had no idea why I saw chains of colored pyramids sometimes, I’d found his words comforting; I trusted him.

Over the next couple of weeks, the pressure and lights made intermittent appearances. The painful pressure felt like a headache but I found it difficult to describe. Same with the waves of lights; I’d never known anyone who’d experienced that.

Then came the day when the dancing pyramids didn’t leave; in fact, they multiplied to the point of obstructing my eyesight. I squinted, trying to see around the chains dancing in my field of vision. The pressure filling my skull increased until the intense pain sickened me. The episodes of reprieve seemed fewer and of shorter duration.

During an evening dinner invitation at the home of my former-college roommate and her husband, my symptoms worsened. Although trained as a French teacher not a nurse, my friend rallied and did her best to care for me. The pain in my head made it impossible to relax; I just wanted to moan and roll around on the bed.

At last, I asked her to phone Dr. Southerville for me. This time, I feared I’d not get over it. He instructed my friends to get me to the hospital in Billings, where another specialist would be waiting to see me.

Getting to the city involved a road trip of 192 miles. How would I ever make such a long ride on the passenger seat of someone’s car, even if they could find someone to take me?

“Don’t worry about that; we’ve got it covered,” said my friend’s husband, overhearing my concern expressed to his wife. “Joe’s going to take you.”

Soon after, my friends helped me out of their car and over to the waiting plane, owned by the Chairman of the Hospital Board. “Are you blind?” Joe asked as I walked right into the fuselage of his plane.

“No, I can see. It’s just that there are chains of colored lights blocking the way.” I felt his hand on my arm, guiding me over to the spot on the wing where I’d need to step up and over to the open passenger door. Once I had the picture planted in my mind, I easily climbed aboard the small plane.

As the aircraft lifted off, I returned to Joe’s question. A person whose blind doesn’t see anything, does he? It’s just all black. I can’t be blind because I see the lights; and it’s white in the background, not black. But why didn’t I see the side of the plane? Those questions and more would soon have answers, though not the kind that brings relief to an anxious soul.

*Names changed.

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