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.