I was sitting on the couch, working on an article on the morning of December 4th when the first one hit. I was consumed with a surreal sense of Deja Vu, followed by a dreadful sort of panic that insisted, in my mind, that whatever was in front of me at the moment was the source of all of the horrible things about to happen to me. Next, a tingling wave of heat swept up from my feet toward my neck, stopping at the base of my skull, then evoking a paralyzing sensation of nausea. And as the bizarre series of phenomena began to subside, a lingering chemical smell, like acetone or rubbing alcohol, overwhelmed by senses.
All of this took no more than a minute. It scared the hell out of me.
My first reaction was to search for the source of the chemical smell, assuming I was incidentally being poisoned by the fumes. Finding nothing, my second impulse was to withdraw. I sat back on the couch and tried to return to my writing. Don’t tell Amy, I thought to myself, palms sweating, hands trembling. She’ll only worry.
The second episode hit a couple of hours later, while I was alone at a restaurant. Everything in the same excruciating order, though tis time, the people around me were the source of all the horribleness taking place inside my own brain. Cognitively, I knew none of this made sense. And yet it was happening. Though no one around me had any clue beyond, perhaps, thinking I was having a dizzy spell or a bad case of heartburn, it was very, very real.
I called my doctor, who insisted I go to the ER, but only with someone else driving me. Amy left work to take me, now moving quickly from worry into caretaker mode. I just sat there, helpless, hoping I wasn’t dying because, my God, what would Amy tell the kids?
Of course, nothing happened in the ER. It’s like when you take your car to a garage with a persistent issue, then it stops as soon as the mechanic lifts the hood. So after a couple of hours, they disconnected me from all of the machines and let me go.
Naturally, the next episode hit me like a semi truck on the way home. Back to the ER we go.
Eventually, the neurologist diagnosed these curious occurrences as Complex Partial Seizures. They put me on one medicine, then an other, both of which made me feel weird. They ran CAT scans, sleep-deprived EEGs and other tests that also made me feel weird. Long story short: they have a diagnosis but no cause. The anti-epileptic meds have reduced, but not yet eliminated the symptoms. I agreed to let my wife drive when we’re together, and not to drive the kids at all for at least three months.In short, a series of massive but inexplicable brain farts changed my life in the course of one day, and no one seems to know why now, at age 43, this started happening.
“In some cultures, seizures would be a divine calling,” joked my friend Reba, who had recently spent a year practicing thirty different world religions. “Maybe you’re actually a shaman, and you’re just coming to terms with it.”
“For better or worse,” I said, “I don’t live in those cultures. I live with cars, airplanes, a career that requires me to travel and a society that sees all medical anomalies as a problem to be fixed rather than some curious, mystical spiritual gift.”
Do I think God did this to me to get my attention somehow? Of course not. Do I think it’s a divinely endowed gift I’ve yet to entirely unwrap? Let me jus say that, if it is, said “gift” could suck a lot less than this one.
The real question for me, at least from the spiritual/psychic perspective, is: can I use this? Can I find something good in the middle of the fear and messiness. Can I be like the hopelessly optimistic kid whose dad found him digging through the massive pile of crap behind their barn one day. When asked why he was digging through a mountain of shit, he replied expectantly, “There has to be a pony in here somewhere!”
I’m ready to find the pony. But maybe I have to dig through a little more shit first. As some of my less pastoral friends and family put it, it could be worse. I could be dead. So I’ve got that going for me.
In the meantime, I’ll keep making my way through the tests, the meds and the vertigo of unknowing, hopeful at some point I’ll trip over a stinkin’ pony.