It's Sunday morning. I've been in America for 290 days. Nobody has tried to evict me yet.
I'm finally working full-time and I am the most grateful cog in the the free market machine right now. Just smiling and churning out widgets, that's me. I managed to land this gig in February, a month during which the national unemployment average held steady at just below 10%. Pretty grim.
Texas's average was more like 8% at the time, but I like to believe that I'm somehow special.
So it was that after nearly 9 months of carefully embellished resumes and polite rejections I achieved the American dream: affordable health insurance.
But not before racking up $11,466.50 in hospital bills during one terrifying visit to the emergency room on the night of Monday February the 8th. I turned out to be okay, but it took several tense hours of testing to reach that happy ending.
I was surprised to learn that neither of the two beefy ambulance drivers who were carrying me down my apartment stairs strapped to a wheelchair were fans of the NFL.
I was trying desperately to distract myself from the blinding pain in the left side of my head by chatting about last evening's upset by the New Orleans Saints in Superbowl XLIV. I could barely think or speak but I managed to voice one example of the kind of comment that men use all over the world to initiate conversation with their kind: "Hell of a comeback last night," I said.
"I didn't see the game," grunted the guy below me, who was bearing the brunt of my 200 pounds as he slowly descended backwards down the last of the steps (BTW, how did I swell to 200 pounds!?!?!? More on that later...)
I started to think of some response to that but another blinding surge of pain on the left side of my head washed over me and my mind went blank again.
This had all started about forty-five minutes earlier, right after driving home from my part-time computer technician job and right before finishing dinner with Sarah. Halfway through chewing a mouthful of stir fry my right eye suddenly went dim. I blinked a few times and rubbed it but the dimness persisted.
I sat down on the couch and tried to ignore the throbbing pain that had begun pulsing outward across my head from a spot above my left ear. I tried to say something to Sarah to tell her I was okay but the words were nowhere ot be found. I focused and told myself to calm down and think but the pain in my head was growing in volume.
Suddenly, I couldn't feel my right arm from the shoulder down. It was as though someone had simply flipped a switch off. I can clearly remember that first taste of fear as Sarah was trying to calmly tell our address to the 911 dispatcher.
"This is a stroke," the fear whispered. My chest filled up with ice water.
I don't remember everything. I can remember how frustrated I felt when the EMS guys showed up and started asking me questions I couldn't answer, like "Where do you work?" and "What is your birth date?" It felt like the answers were perpetually on the tip of my tongue just out of reach behind a growing wall of pain.
Sarah told me later that when one of the EMS guys asked me what my relationship was to her I replied, "She's my girlfriend."
I don't remember much about the trip to the ER, nor do I remember much about my initial exam by the PA. I can vaguely remember the needle going in my arm for the blood test, I don't recall the physical exam at all, I have only a brief memory of the EKG and the CT scan is a blur except for the name of the guy who performed it, Luis.
By contrast, I remember every detail of the MRI. From waiting in a wheelchair in the hallway outside of the room while tensing my toes into balls to the MRI tech Matt's bland smile and vague reassurance that everything would be fine.
I'm not claustrophobic, or anything phobic for that matter. You can pack me in a crate and ship me to infinity as long as I get full bars in there. I told Matt this, but he went through his spiel anyway about how if I "became uncomfortable" I could cry Uncle and he would pull the emergency brake or whatever. I popped in the earplugs he gave me (identical to the little yellow ones I've used when playing loud drums) and laid down on the little loading tray.
Matt positioned some things next to each of my ears and clamped a plastic mask thingy over my face. Then the loading tray slid me back into the guts of the machine and I felt like a human burrito sliding into the oven. That image made me smile.
But then the noises started.
Matt didn't say much about the noises, just that there would be some and I should put the earplugs in. I soon wished that Matt would have prepared me a little more thoroughly because the noises very quickly threatened to whip me into a panic.
I can give you a fair approximation:
1. Lie down. Ask a trusted assistant to tie you to the bed and blindfold you.
2. Rent, or own, or rent-to-own a pneumatic jackhammer.
3. Ask your trusted assistant to gently lay the jackhammer across your forehead lengthwise.
4. Issue the predetermined verbal signal for your trusted assistant to activate the jackhammer.
5. Attempt to tolerate the loud volume and repetitive mechanical hammering sound at close range.
6. Fail. Taste the nauseous tang of madness.
As ear-shatteringly, sanity-stealingly bad as the noise is the dye going in me was a full order of magnitude worse.
"Okay, I'm going to put the dye in now. It might feel a little cold for a second," Matt blandly informed me.
Frigid, creeping death suddenly began to invade my right arm. I spasmed in shock as the frigid trickle of pain shot through my heart and raced to my lips and face.
"Are you still doing alright?" Matt asked in a bored tone.
I struggled to marshal my wits against the din mere inches from my head as waves of ice skated through my veins.
"Fine!" I blurted out.
"Okay, just let me know if you need to stop," he droned.
All I could think was, "Please God, make this cardboard cutout stop talking to me so that I can focus on something besides the intense sensory violation which he keeps calling my attention to!" Thankfully, Matt did stop asking questions and I recited 'Ice Ice Baby' in my head in rhythm with the beat of the hammering noise until the MRI was over.
Afterward I realized was more or less back in control of my faculties and my right eye and right arm had returned to normal. I tried to describe the MRI to Sarah but the ordeal was too fresh and all I came up with was, "It was really loud."
Sarah's folks had shown up to offer support. My parents had just begun a week-long cruise and I didn't see much point in worrying them since there was nothing they could do to help anyway.
I laid in the emergency room bed with my family-in-law gathered around me as we waited for the doctor to come in and give us the test results. We watched some fictionalized show about teenagers and their youthful relationship issues).
The actors were each photogenic twenty-somethings whose characters never went to the toilet, ate food or closed doors behind them. It seemed like a very nice world to live in (if not for the rampant relationship issues).
I vaguely wondered if I would be okay.
The doctor told us in no uncertain terms that there was, I quote, "nothing weird going on in my head." Proof positive that medical technology still has a long way to go, but very reassuring news to hear.
His diagnosis was something called a' complex migraine' (which I later learned is also called a 'complicated migraine'). Bascially a big damn headache. Can present with the same symptoms as a stroke since the blood vessels of the brain constrict and cut off blood flow. Then when it subsides and the vessels release again functionality returns. Which is exactly what happened to me. Everything works like it did before.
It can be triggered by extreme stress, among other things, and I suppose we'll never know for sure what caused it in the first place.
My explanation is that I had a 'stress premonition' where my brain magically foresaw that I would soon be starting with a new company, buying a house and baking twins in my wife all at the same time.
I get little paranoid during times of stress that this migraine thing is going to suddenly kick off, but the doc assured me that if I didn't have a history of migraines (I've never had one before) that I would probably never have one this big again.
But the fact that this all happened while I had no health insurance is not the luckiest bit of timing. Though it has turned out that most of the professionals we've owed money to over this have been willing to cut me a pretty big discount for having no coverage and paying in cash. Which I'm told is king.
Meanwhile, the events of February 8th 2010 have caused a big shift of perspective in my life. As in, I pretty much agreed to finally track my birth parents down (which is a post for another day). And about 8 days later I made some babies, which was no coincidence.
Laying in that MRI machine all I could think about (when I could think over the noise) was of all the things I still wanted to do with my life. Birth parents and babies were the two big ones; my past and my future. I wasted no time on either.
Playing with video games used to be a good way for me to wind down but the feeling has changed since my time in the human burrito oven. It feels like my time as a healthy, mobile, alive person is too valuable to spend on fake stuff that doesn't mean anything. Probably a good topic for a post later on, now that I think about it.
Anyway, I appear to be in working order. As best as medical science can tell.