Comfortably Numb

Posted: July 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Books, Doctors, Firsts, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Scary Stuff, Summer | 6 Comments »

I’ve gone numb.

Unfortunately I mean this quite literally.

It started innocuously enough the other morning on my left arm. It wasn’t tingly or anything—not like pins and needles—just a little numb feeling. Since I sleep on that side, I chalked it up to a snooze-induced injury. Something that by the time I showered, fed the kids, and walked out the door I’d have totally forgotten.

And that day I kinda did.

But the next day, it seemed to have spread. Toweling off after my shower I thought my left leg and foot were a bit numb too. Not a close-my-eyes-and-I-won’t-know-you’re-pinching-me lack of sensation. It was more like Numb Lite. And it was only on my left side. Enough to make me think I’d gone half mad.

By the time I got in to see a doctor, the left side of my head and neck had joined the fun.

Oddly, I wasn’t freaked out.

And blessedly, I didn’t need to be. Because, the good doctor explained, that as someone who’s got a history of migraines, this kind of crazy thing can happen. I didn’t even had a headache (though I did have a stressful day Sunday), but some kind of neurological episode—called a complex migraine—was apparently making all this happen.

“These kinds of migraines,” she said, “can bring about symptoms that imitate stroke.”


But, she went on to explain, I hadn’t had a stroke. And this wasn’t something to indicate I was about to. (Phew.) My numbness was likely to fade away as un-dramatically as it had appeared. (And actually, today, it’s barely discernible.)

But, to be on the safe side, the doc wanted me to get an MRI. Of my brain. She didn’t expect to find “anything unusual.”

Any hypochondriac worth her weight in worry would immediately conjure some horrible citrus-fruit shaped tumor. But for some reason I thought of that scene in Jaws, when they finally catch the shark and cut him open. Inside they find stuff like an old boot, a Sony Walkman, and a New Jersey license plate. I pictured those miniscule Polly Pocket doll shoes that Kate loses nearly immediately, and all the socks that went into the wash as a pair and came out alone—I imagined all those things (plus some other random lost items) showing up on my brain scan.

Considering this is where my mind went, I guess I’m not really worried.

We’ve been back from vacation for a few days now. And in what I imagine was an attempt to condense commentary on a three-week trip, several friends have asked what the highlights were of our time in Rhode Island. I tend to have trouble answering any superlative questions (favorite food, favorite movie, favorite band). There’s so much to love, I hate picking one thing. But that’s not why I couldn’t answer their question.

Was it a good vacation? Yes, an excellent one.

Were there better parts than others? Of course.

But in general, what was wonderful about our trip was all the small happy moments that made up our days. Watching my dad teach Kate card tricks. Early morning runs with my old friend Ellen. Dinners outside in dad’s big yard, where the girls tiptoed around looking for bunnies, played “fairies” in the flower beds, and wrestled giddily in the grass while the dog barked, desperate to join in.

And the beach. The beach, the beach, the beach.

We spent so many days at the beach—mostly in Newport, but also on Cape Cod, and one day at Coney Island. And even with one cold foggy day, the beach never let us down.

Kate spent the entire time in the water. She’d be alone squealing with laughter and jumping around as each wave came at her. Paige was content packing wet sand into buckets, smoothing the tops with the palms of her hands, then anointing the center of each one with a single decorative shell. (That’s my girl. She knows less is more.)

I presided in my low-slung beach chair, tattered sea-sprayed novel in hand, keeping an eye on the contented kids and getting in a paragraph or two here and there. All this and a sun-warmed peanut butter and jelly sandwich was just about bliss.

There was no time we had to arrive at the beach. And, forsaking Paige’s naps as we did, no time we needed to leave. Most days there was no one to meet up with. And like many of the activities in our usual world—school plays, or ballet classes, or preschool potlucks—no compulsion to record it all with photos or videos. Our camera doesn’t mix well with sand and sea air. No choice but to live in the moment.

And that was fine, because somehow I knew that a video—the mental Super 8 of our time there—was being recorded directly onto all of our memories. In the same way that I can play back the happy beach days of my youth. A truly transcendent beach day has that unique ability to time travel—combining nostalgia for the past, imprinting a future memory, and soaking it all up right then and there.

And so yesterday, when the technician slid the tray I was lying on deep into the MRI machine, delivering me into a claustrophobic metal tunnel where I was ordered to remain still for 20 minutes, I kept my eyes closed tight and went to the beach.

I tried to block out the loud clacking noises the machine made as it xeroxed my brain by picturing Kate jumping over waves, her blond hair hanging in slick wet ropes. I imagined Paigey clinging to my side like a koala as we edged tentatively into the water. Later my mind had us all head in towards the blanket, where I dug my wallet out of the tote bag and we walked down the beach for lemonade. (I was unable to imagine making any headway on my novel. I was only in the machine for 20 minutes, after all.)

I managed to survive the entire MRI without any heightened panic setting in. Never came even close to squeezing the rubber “panic” bulb they’d set in my hand.

Now I just need to find a way to retain that sense of calm while I wait for the test results.


6 Comments on “Comfortably Numb”

  1. 1 Amy W said at 12:16 am on July 30th, 2011:

    I too suffer from migraines & have since I was 15. Awful. I got scared when my left arm went numb as well as the left side of my face & tongue during a migraine onset. On Tuesday of next week, I’m having an MRI of my brain & cervical spine due to a month of chronic headache (which has woken me up in the middle of the night). I hope your MRI results are good. I’m a hypochondriac too, and totally unafraid to admit it. :)

  2. 2 Judith Bruno said at 2:24 pm on July 31st, 2011:

    I just had a MRI of my brain and brain stem last week (to understand my long lost sense of smell and diminishing ability to taste).
    Wierd coincidence!

  3. 3 Susie Bloom Hudgins said at 4:32 pm on July 31st, 2011:

    Hope the results inform the situation. That loud machine can be a bear. Houlder has had so many this year. He swims or goes to the beach too. Thinking you calmness is a great talisman.

  4. 4 Megan Bibbo said at 10:07 pm on July 31st, 2011:

    Forgot to ask you today – did you ask for pictures? When I had mine some months ago, the tech gave me a DVD of the images and it is some crazy stuff. Migraines – never a dull moment – what will they surprise us with next?

  5. 5 kristen said at 7:45 pm on August 1st, 2011:

    Good luck, Amy! I actually just had the cervical spine MRI *tonight* and took the pill my doc gave me, so now I feel like I’m moonwalking. Not bad for a Monday evening at home. So crazy that you’re going through a similar thing. Good luck to you. On the up side I’m v. happy you’ve found my blog and have bestowed upon me so many excellent comments. Keep reading, sister!

    Ah, Susie–my heart goes out to you and Houlder. I’m sending him lots of good hippie healing vibes from California. They’re organic!

    Hey Sis: Let’s compare notes on our strange maladies soon.

  6. 6 Mary said at 8:30 am on August 3rd, 2011:

    Yikes! I had no idea you had to mri-it. So glad everything came out clear, of course. Had to laugh out loud about the polly pocket shoes ending up in your brain. I think they would find crucial lego pieces in mine.

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