Sunday, June 12, 2011

Another Health Scare

If you scroll down the page a bit, you may recall that I had a PICC line IV in March and part of April to clear up a respiratory infection that'd been nagging me ever since SVP in Bristol. That lasted two weeks and really wasn't all bad.

But then something else happened!

But on May 16th, I developed a nasty headache...what you might call a migraine headache. I actually wasn't super-worried about it. When I was a teenager, I got migraines on an annual basis. The problem is this one wasn't going away. It lasted three days, and in fact the pain became so intense that the wife and I went to a clinic to get it checked out on day 2. They told me (at first) that it was a migraine and gave me some pills and sent me home to rest with the caveat that if it was still bothering me that night, I should go back for a re-check. Which I did. At that point, I was told I had a meio-facial headache. The doctor gave me a deep-tissue massage to my neck and scalp, and they pumped me full of fluids via IV (saying I was dehydrated, which would make the pain worse). Indeed, I felt a little better after that.

But that night? I couldn't sleep because the pain ratched up to about a 9. It felt like my brain was being stabbed every time my heart beat. We actually went back to the clinic the next morning and they forwarded us to the ER. At that point, I pretty much lost consciousness.

You all might have heard this story already if you've been following me on Twitter (@zmiller1902) or on Facebook, but a few of you readers probably aren't (you should!) so I'll go over the quick 'n' dirty version here. The ER doctors gave me a head CT scan which showed an abnormality, so they also did an MRI, which showed a blotch on my brain. Then they did a lumbar punction (spinal tap) which I'm super-happy not to have been awake for. My spinal fluid was cloudy--it should be clear--and that MRI made the neurosurgeon jump up and take notice. The man, Dr. Marshall Tolbert, was working on a gunshot victim but when he saw my test results he put that guy on ice and rolled me into the OR.

He installed a tube (maybe a "port") in my skull underneath my scalp. This tube could be used for three things: monitoring my endocranial pressure, draining spinal fluid, and (if need be) delivering antibiotics directly to my brain. I had a brain abscess, which basically means that some bacteria was sneezed onto my blood-brain barrier and slowly ate away at it until it was sitting directly on my brain. If any more time had passed before I got into the OR, there's a good chance the infection could have penetrated the brain tissue itself--and then I would've been royally screwed. A total-brain infection could have killed me or left me with lasting disabilities. Neither thing happened, so I'm extremely grateful to Dr. Tolbert and the nursing staff at Providence.

At any rate, I was pretty out of it for about two days. When I finally did get back to consciousness, I was lying in an ICU room with a tube in my head, a few temporary IV's in my arms, and lots of wires on my chest, monitoring my vitals. There was also a...uh...catheter in my down there parts. If I recall, that was taken out first. People came to visit me during those missing two days but I don't remember them. I don't remember my nurses from those two days, either. I guess my head was pretty messed up, too (superficially).

I spent seven days in the ICU, during which time they figured out that the bacteria to blame was simple Streptococcus, which lives in all of our mouths and sinuses. So my advice is to not sneeze! I was hooked up to another PICC IV and was given a powerful antibiotic called Miropenim, which attacked not just the Strep but also the Pseudomonis in my lungs. Unfortunately, it also killed my gut bacteria, so I became a raw sewage plant. Eventually my spinal fluid cleared up enough that Dr. Tolbert felt comfortable removing the tube, and at that point I was wheeled up to a lower-intensity ward. I went home two days later.

There are some lasting effects. I'm on a steroid to kep my brain from expanding. The steroid has been tough, especially at higher doses. It affects my mood and energy level, but I'm tapering off it now, and the one good side-effect is that it makes me hungry all the time. That's been great, because I lost 15 pounds at the hospital! It also really screwed up my body chemistry, so I had diabetes for about two weeks. I'm coming off that, too (insulin suuuucks). I lost a lot of leg muscle because you can't move in the ICU. It's still surprisingly hard to go down slopes and stairs. I feel like my knees give out more easily. I also haven't come off the PICC yet, and I probably won't until early July at the earliest. At least we change the antibiotic to simple penacillin, which doesn't kill my gut bacteria. Finally, I have a lot of scars and bruises that I'm unusually self-conscious about.

But I'm back at work and going to a lot of follow-up appointments to make sure I'm recovering at a good clip. It's strange to think I almost, or at least could have died in the hospital. This has certainly been a wild ride, but I'm getting back to normal now. Posting should resume before long! If I can find it, I have a small dog skull to show you all, and a whale vertebrae!


Will Baird said...



Come back to us, Zach! The paleoblogosphere misses you!

Little crunchy walrodonts dont though! ;) :P

Trish said...

Oh, that sounds like The Worst Thing. I hope you get well soon and, in the meantime, enjoy the drugs. Make sure you eat lots of yogurt after the antibiotic adventures.