Let Them Eat Cake
Most readers know of my bicycle accident two years ago on the day before a race. They know about my brain injury and how the experience has defined my life for the last couple of years. If you don’t know and want to, you can read a synopsis here.
As weird as that whole experience has been, here’s another, more recent one, that, as Marie Antoinette used to say, takes the cake.
I had just clicked my feet into the pedals of my Peloton and started spinning slow and easy, playing with the dashboard. In my lower right periphery, just when I was starting to ride, I saw a tiny silver liquid-gel bubble, hanging in the air. I see these things periodically, and if I focus on them, they disappear. I only sense them when I look at something else. Of a sudden, this liquid gel drop exploded in a bright silver flash, almost blinding. I felt pressure immediately in my forehead: it wasn’t a pain or headache but a dull drone. I don’t wear headbands, but it felt like I tied a headband on way too tight.
“Here I go,” I thought. “It’s six am on Saturday morning and my wife and kids will find me here, dead, strapped into my bike. What a fitting way to go.” I really wondered if this was the end.
Not to worry! I’m still here, writing. This sensation lasted for only a moment, and then I felt fine. I did a 30-minute climbing ride and then went grocery shopping with my wife and worked in my shop on a cabinet for our bathroom remodel. I drank half a dozen cups of coffee – decaf – and went swimming with our girls.
During the day, I’m not sure when, I realized my brain felt normal. I didn’t feel ‘WOW, what just happened?” great, but I felt normal, like I would at any time before the accident. And it wasn’t specifically my brain, but the cotton candy and sloshing water feeling in my head that I’ve come to live with. It was completely gone.
I talked about it with Mal, and in case you wonder, neither of us are neurologists. We’re just guessing. But we see some possibilities:
- The therapy staff at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta started calling me The Miracle Man because I recovered with a speed no one expected. I couldn’t sense anything different happening to me compared to other patients – I just did what I was asked – but I apparently funneled two years of recovery into a month. When I left the hospital, the doctor who released me looked through my records and said that whatever my hometown doctors did to me before I came to Shepherd shouldn’t truthfully be called medicine. “This is magic,” he said.
So, one possibility that I have never argued with is a healing of sorts. All the elements are there. A flash of light blinded me. The vision was, at first, painful. I thought I was dying. I kept doing what I set out to do and felt wonderful. And just like the doctor from Shepherd said, it was magic.
- Another possibility is in line with how memories came back to me when I awoke from my coma. At first, I couldn’t remember if Mal and I were married. When I ginned up the courage to ask her, she laughed and asked if I remembered when she pulled the bell-rope in her wedding dress to announce to the town that we were doing the deed. As soon as the words left her mouth, as soon as they floated in the air, the first node of the entire experience came back to me. Everything connected to that node – the wedding, the dancing, my dad’s pasty makeup – everything, it all came back. When she gave me that association, her dress, and the rope, the dam broke and the whole shebang flooded back.
- I’m a scientist and have always read lots. Since my accident, I’ve become fascinated with brain science. On this morning when I got my brain back, I was paging through a book about Traumatic Brain Injury and diet, and I thought, “You know what? It’s time for me to be done with this brain stuff. My brain works fine. I should be working on my body now.” I’ve wondered if this realization and change in focus was what I needed to drain the water out of my brain?
- Did I have a stroke? I don’t know but I have no other symptoms. Should I have it checked? Without symptoms, I don’t see why. I know that people sometimes go to the doctor and learn that they’ve had multiple mini-strokes. I don’t know if this is one but all my functions seem more clear: my memory, my writing, my work. Very weird.
Feel free to chime in with any experience you’ve had or you know of. Or do you have another possible explanation?
If you are so inclined, here’s a tough one for you. Pretty academic and exactly what you expect from an MD, with a Ph.D. in neuroscience and philosophy.