And then I woke up

I laid low. Avoided attention. Kept my mouth shut. During class I dreaded being called on. I used the tried-and-true technique of keeping my head down, never make eye contact with the teacher. When I raised my hand, I knew the answer, cold. Or I wouldn’t raise my hand. The class was Human Development, one of those hip courses they just started offering in the late seventies. Expecting maturity from kids still in puberty. Mrs. Snell asked a question. My hand shot up. “Jeff?”

“Awarawarghawa.” No words, just a slurred moan. The room contracted, the big bang in reverse, everything in my vision slid forward to a pinpoint at the front of the room. A tornado roared in my ears. And then it ended.

“Are you OK?” Mrs. Snell gave me a concerned look. The rest of the class watched me with excited anticipation. Pat Hess, sitting right behind me said “Wow, that sounded weird.”

* * *

Yesterday was Boss’s Day—not the sort of holiday I celebrate. In fact, it’s not a holiday I’d even know existed except I have coworkers who are far nicer than me. Other than Marion, the janitorial employee, I’m first to arrive at work every day. Librarians’ work schedules skew late in the day. Some of them complain about nine o’clock meetings. At nine o’clock, I’ve been working for two hours. Just don’t call me at night.

Yesterday morning, I found a card on my desk. Boss’s Day. Vivian must have left it the night before. I’m not even her boss. But she helps me out constantly with all sorts of stuff. I should be buying her a card. Later in the day, Dawn corralled Laura’s direct reports—fundraising, marketing, accounting, line management. We descended on her office to wish her a Happy Boss’s Day and give her a gift that Dawn bought. I chipped in after the fact. We stood around Laura’s office and talked. Kids, weekend plans, a restaurant, the pandemic, and then I woke up.

Everyone was still talking, but the topic had shifted. They were in the middle of a new conversation without me. I didn’t know what they were talking about. I didn’t hear the start of the conversation. I don’t know where I went, but for a while I wasn’t in that office.

In 1995, I collided with a car. Ripping down a long hill on my bike, a minivan coming the other way made a left turn right in front of me. I barreled head first into the side of the van. In the nineties, Traumatic Brain Injury wasn’t widely discussed yet. They CAT scanned my brain for bleeding and seeing none, they moved on to my other injuries. No one ever mentioned my head injury again.

Months later, at my father’s house, I looked out his kitchen window and saw his neighbors. “Oh, the Felders are outside.”

“Who are the Felders?” my dad asked.

“You know, your next-door neighbors, the Felders.”

“My neighbors aren’t named the Felders.”

At my father’s badgering, I saw a neurologist. She suspected a seizure, but she couldn’t find any brain-wave anomalies in the tests she ran. She called it one-and-done. And it was, until yesterday.

“Dad! Stop checking Web-MD.” This was Eli. “Don’t think about it until you see your doctor. The internet will only make you worry.” Of course, I googled. What happened sounds like an absence seizure. A ten to twenty second blank-out of brain activity. You can’t hear or see or think. The time is simply lost. This morning, Eli and I drove fifty miles down the highway to go biking. By googling, this is what I learned. People with absence seizures don’t drive. Twenty seconds is a long time for a car to pilot itself. “Hey Eli, if you look over and I seem sort of vacant, grab the wheel.”

A few months ago, I went through a scary period of dizziness, high blood pressure and tingling fingers. It seemed to clear up with a medication change. Related? No idea. At my job, I spend ninety-five percent of my day sitting at a desk working on a computer. My hobbies are reading and writing. I could be having absence seizures every day and I’d never know.

As a mountain biking coach, I spend a lot of time weighing risk against consequence. Sending kids over a skinny bridge a foot off the ground. High risk of falling off, but low consequence. A fatter bridge ten feet off the ground? The calculus changes. No one’s going to fall off… unless they do. Now I’m thinking about my daily activities with the slim possibility of an absence seizure. Like Eli says, maybe I should get some real medical advice. Google just tells me to freak out.

20 thoughts on “And then I woke up

  1. Do you *remember* this blank out? Or did someone tell you about it after the fact?
    Would be unusual to have a blank out and a history of suspected event like the one you did way back when at your dad’s and have them both be seizure activity; they’re different localizations in the brain (and the brain likes to do stereotyped things for seizures…) Also unusual to have something now after so long without. Don’t panic (and don’t google!)!
    But either way, worth a neurological reassessment and repeat EEG, IMO.
    Feel free to reach out if you have questions.
    I often tell my patients that if they’re feeling “off” that day, to hold off on driving, just in case, until things can be investigated.

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    • I haven’t checked in with my coworkers to see if I was behaving oddly. All I can remember about it is that I seemingly woke up right in the middle of the room after a break of some period of time. In truth, it took me a while to find the event sufficiently odd to start worrying about it. Frequently, when asked a question, I’ll freeze, not responding and not really thinking of an answer, just staring ahead while people wait on me. Those events I can remember. I’ve always chalked that behavior up to the TBI. Do I go straight to the neurologist or go via my PCP? He seems frustrated with me from all the vague issues I come to him with.

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      • I think these latter descriptions are not uncommon but the one in question warrants checking out. Check with the family too to see if any other observed events. Seizure activity, if that’s what it is, tends to recur, and especially in the context of fever or sleep deprivation. So you could always “test” to see if it happens again.. ultimately, the question is if this is of enough to concern to warrant a trial of medication.
        In Canada, you can’t see a specialist unless you go through your PCP, so if you can get into someone, why not? Though PCPs should be able to order EEGs, which is the test I’d be most interested in results of..

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  2. I understand your worries. I would see that neurologist again. Professional medical guidance usually helps relieve my anxiety. Maybe this is a good time to tell you that I loved your book. Such smart and witty self exploration. I enjoyed reading it immensely, Jeff!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with everyone else and your decision to see a doctor. I know I spend way too much time on Google diagnosing myself. And then I spend so much money on supplements and different aids to help with the diagnosis I gave myself. The doctor is a smarter, safer way to go.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I hope you do see the doctor, hopefully it’s nothing to worry about and it will put your mind at ease. Please do stay safe in the meantime. I haven’t started your book yet or done any reading at all as I’ve been sick all weekend… annoying.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. OMG!!! Stop Googling!!!
    I’m glad you’re gonna get it checked out. Brain injuries do weird things from what I know.

    I had to take Older Daughter to Urgent Care in Saturday. She had a fever, cough and bad case of the Freak Outs.
    The did a chest x-ray… clear and a COVID swab. She’s a nurse so it’s always a concern. I knew she didn’t have the Kootie, and her test came back negative. Just some random virus and a little bronchitis. A prescription for two inhalers and rest.

    Maybe you fell asleep standing up? I fall asleep in some odd places and positions…😂😂😂

    Stop Googling!!😉😆

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