Dan Loses His Mind While his World is Shaken, Rattled, and Rolled (part 6 of 6)

Prelude:  Many people have approached me in the three weeks since my temporary amnesia/aphasia event saying something like “It must have been scary.”  It was scary in 2002.  At that time, with similar symptoms, I had no idea what the future held.  It scared the sh%$ out of me.

Since it happened before, this time wasn’t so scary.   For the first hour in 2017, I had no idea what was happening.  Why would I be scared if I had no idea what was going on!

During the second hour I could sense I was remembering more and speaking a little more clearly.  I was not scared; I was encouraged, especially since I remembered that previously in 2002 I came out the other end just fine.

If it happened again in the coming year, now that would be scary!

So, what do we know with any certainty?   Not much.

Fact #1: On June 27, 2017, I had a temporary episode of amnesia (I didn’t remember squat) and aphasia (gibberish flowed from my mouth).

TIA or TEA are acronyms being thrown around as possible diagnoses.

TIA stands for a transient ischemic attack (ischemic relating to the heart).

Hitch D and H with paddles

Re: TIA.  My echocardiogram and carotid artery tests suggest that my ticker is doing just fine.  No surprise, my parents lived healthy lives into their 90s.  To cover all bases, the neurologist wants me to start taking baby aspirin daily, just in caseAspirin prevents blood clots from forming in the arteries. It can help certain people lower their risk of a heart attack or stroke.

I have no limit on my physical activity; pickleball, ping pong, and working out at the gym top my agenda.

Next week, the neurologist wants me to wear a Holter monitor for 48 hours, which will continuously record my heart’s activity as I go about my daily activities.  I’ll keep you updated.

But a TIA is not the neurologist’s first choice.

It’s the TEA.   TEA stands for transient epileptiform amnesia (which in my case might apply since the neurologist couldn’t rule out some form of epilepsy after reading my EEG (electroencephalogram).  So, there’s no certainty, but it’s the leading choice in the clubhouse.

YH bases

To cover all bases again, I have been put on a low dose (500 mg twice a day) of Keppra to prevent seizures, if some form of epilepsy is what I have.

The bottom line is that the neurologist doesn’t know what caused my temporary amnesia/aphasia.

YH safety net

So, a reasonably wide net has been thrown to cover a host of possibilities.  I get that and am thankful for the caution.

After such an event, by law I am not allowed to drive for three months.   I get that caution, too.  Not driving will be inconvenient but hardly a sacrifice.  I am retired.  Hannah and I regularly play pickleball and go to the gym together.   I have a modest social life (read: limited).

So, for three months, we err on the side of caution despite an uncertain diagnosis and no explanation for a cause.

YH dehydration

I wonder whether dehydration due to caffeine consumption and not drinking enough water (2002) and not drinking enough water (2017) might have triggered the temporary amnesia/aphasia.  The medical professionals never suggest such a connection.  And why this time, when I have been dehydrated many times before?

Without any explanation for the cause of my two events (2002 and 2017), I still wonder.

Takeaways:

YH water

Whether dehydration had anything to do with my temporary amnesia/aphasia, I have become a zealot for drinking water daily.  Each morning when I awake, I drink two eight-ounce glasses of water.  Three more follow: mid-morning, before lunch, and with lunch.  Dehydration will not be the cause of any future such event.

I live in a town on the coast of Maine with a great community hospital and in a country with excellent Medicare health coverage for seniors.  I’d recommend York Hospital for its effective loving kindness health care.

YH David and Dan

David Stoloff, my department chair at Eastern, stopped by to check on me.

Since posting of these blogs, I have appreciated many people contacting me and wishing me well.

I heard from a childhood friend who referred to me as Brother Dan in his email of support.

Thank you, Brother Tom.

Dan and Hannah Pickle and Pick-up a Hitchhiker one June Friday in Utah

Hitch D and H with paddles

In addition to hiking the trails of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks near Moab, Utah during this first week of June, Hannah and I also make it a priority to play pickleball when we travel.  Thanks to the United States of America Pickleball Association website, we can find pickleball venues all over the country.  Today we join Moab pickleballers for a morning of play.

Hitch pickleballers

Moab pickleballers

With pickleball paddles always packed in our suitcases, we are ready to play on the taped pickleball courts superimposed on the indoor basketball courts at the Center Street Gym here in downtown Moab.  Throughout the morning we whack the hard plastic pickleball with a school bus driver, a saddle and rope tree trimmer, an Iraqi expatriate, and the pro at the local golf course.

Hitch 80 mph sign

Pickleball satisfied, we leave by noon from Moab for Torrey, the Gateway to Capitol Reef National Park, 160 miles away.  Over our stretch of Interstate 70 in Utah, there is an 80-mph speed limit; I channel my inner Dale Earnhardt, junior for an afternoon!

Arriving at Capitol (with an O) Reef National Park Visitor Center, we pull in this mid-afternoon Friday to learn of two fine trails for our hiking Saturday (i.e. Hickman Natural Bridge Trail and the Cassidy Arch Trail – you guessed it; it was named for Butch).  Returning to our vehicle, an athletic woman, who we later learn is the mother of two college age young men, asks if I can give her a ride to her car.

Hitch thumb 2

Hitchhiking?   That’s a blast from the past.  As a college student who was a part of a generation that didn’t have cars in high school or college as many do now, I had a rich history in hitchhiking.   In the late 1960s, my brother Richard and I would hitchhike from our colleges (he Kenyon and me Wooster) in central Ohio to our Uncle Bill’s and Aunt Carolyn’s in Toledo on the Michigan/Ohio border.   We’d use a large sign that said, It’s Mom’s birthday.  It never failed – though it never was.

Hitch ASU

Transferring from Wooster to Arizona State University in 1969 to start my senior year, I wanted to check out the Tempe campus before my September enrollment as an elementary education major.  Getting a ride with my college roommate Mule (born Jim Francis) to his home in Idaho Falls, I then planned to hitchhike the 870+ miles south to Tempe.

My most memorable ride was very early Sunday morning when two cowboys, who had been drinking all night, picked me up.  Only once in the backseat did I realize their inebriation and my predicament.  I tried to tell them I was only going to the next town, but they were good ole boys and would hear nothing of it; in their happy state, they couldn’t do enough for me and took me an additional 80 miles.  As you can tell, I lived to tell this story.

Hitch Tucson

While a student at Arizona State, with my dormmate, Rich Meyer, I hitchhiked the 120 miles from Tempe south to Tucson for Thanksgiving; as two Jersey boys, it was too expensive to fly home across the country for that November holiday weekend.   Picked up by two dudes and a young woman, we were summarily dumped off on an empty country road when they wanted money and realized we had none.  Hitchhiking from there took some time; while we waited, we were pelted with eggs from a passing car.  None of the rich Arizona hospitality we were hoping for.

Hitch knoxville

At the age of 23 in 1971, I hitchhiked for the last time, from Atlanta, Georgia to Knoxville, TN where I ended up in jail; that saga is chronicled in a six-part series on my blog.   Click here for this link.  https://over60hiker.wordpress.com/2015/09/26/dan-has-some-explaining-to-do-about-being-jailed-in-knoxville-part-1-of-6/

Hitch Hickman Bridge

Capitol Reef National Park

My instincts with the young mom this afternoon at Capitol Reef are to say yes and I do.

With Hannah in full agreement, we learn that Rebecka and her family have parked their car at the Chimney Tree trailhead, then hiked the five-mile Spruce Creek trail through a foot of water in places to the visitor center.  Custom is is that hikers than hitchhike back to their car.

HItch Rebecka and Hannah

Arizona Women, Rebecka and Hannah

During our ten-minute drive to her car, Rebecka tells us that her 19-year-old son picked me out as one who would likely give her a ride.  I guess being mild-mannered and unassuming opens doors.  It turns out she is from Tempe, Arizona, the same Tempe where Hannah and I spent the first ten years of our married life.  And get this, she taught at both Holdemann School in Tempe and Nevitt Elementary in Phoenix where I taught.

In ten minutes, Rebecka seems like the cool mom we’d all like to have.  Full of life, setter of boundaries while still making life fun and adventurous for her two sons and husband.  Here is the email she sent the evening after we met.

Dan and Hannah,

Thanks again for taking me back to my car.  It was nice meeting you both.   I’m pretty sure you will be taking highway 12 to Bryce Canyon.  This road is very scenic!  There is a crazy spot in the road after Boulder heading towards Escalante, beautiful scenery but steep on both sides of the highway.  After that part heading down there is a 6-mile hike to a 126-foot waterfall.  The hike is easy and well worth it (lower calf creek falls).  We hiked in and out in approx. 2-2 1/2 hours.    https://utah.com/hiking/calf-creek-falls-lower

Continuing on this road towards Escalante, there is a hike called Zebra Canyon.  You can access this off of the road Hole in the Rock.  5.2 miles round trip. After second cattle guard (approx. 7.4 miles from main road) park on the right and take trail to the left.  Can be tricky to find this slot canyon, and when entering the slot canyon, you get wet up to your waist.  https://www.roadtripryan.com/go/t/utah/escalante/zebratunnel

Hitch Bryce panarama

Bryce Canyon is one of my favorites!  Drive safe and have a fabulous trip! 

Rebecka 

 

Though we took another road to Bryce Canyon, we now have a 126’ waterfall on our Utah bucket list.

Dixie and Scot, are you in?

Dan and Hannah Hike in Canyonlands National Park in Utah

With one full day of hiking under my belt without any left knee pain, I am giddy and ready to go for the gold in eastern Utah!  Prior to our hike, I’ll do my hammy stretches, take my Tylenol, and slip on my compression sleeve – a dream threesome of preparation.

Can map of five parks

Hannah and I have history with Canyonlands National Park.  In 1993, with our kids, Will (9), Robyn (11), and Molly (13), we drove cross country from Maine throughout the American West: putting up two tents each night (a tent for Hannah and me and one for the kids), we learned the inexpensive joy of hiking and Coleman stove cuisine.

Camping at Devils Garden Campground in the Arches National Park, we five took a side trip to Canyonlands National Park, hiked some forgettable mountainside of stone, and left without the Canyonlands making much of an impression on us.

Can 1 D and H at sign for Can

Let’s be real, we didn’t give Canyonlands a fair shake.  Today we are back to right that wrong; to make up for that dismissive disregard of this treasure of trails.

Can Currys

Think of the Canyonlands as the little brother Seth Curry, a successful pro in his own right for the Dallas Mavericks, but dwarfed by his two-time MVP, NBA champion rock star brother, Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors.   Though Canyonlands plays second fiddle, let me tell you, it’s a helluva stringed instrument on its own.  It is a national park on a modest scale, without the delays, long lines, and circus feel that comes with the Arches; its distinctive trails across stony landscapes rock the senses.  (You saw what I did there, right?)

Can 2D H tucked in rock

Hannah tucked away just off the trail

Arriving at the visitor center at Canyonlands, at 930A we meet a less than enthused ranger.  (Come on honey, fake it till you make it.  I get that you are probably recommending the same %#&*# hiking trails hour after hour, day after day; but choosing to be Debbie Downer? – how is that working for you?).   Despite her sullen demeanor, she does steer us to three of the park’s signature hikes.

Can 1A trail to Mesa Arch

Trail to Mesa Arch

By the way, Hannah buys post cards afterward and they ask her if she would like to round up her purchase to the next dollar as a donation to the park.  How cool is that!  So, a sweet $0.83 goes to support what Ken Burns calls our National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

Can 1B Mesa Arch

Morning at Mesa Arch

Five miles down the park road, we find a spot at the modest Mesa Arch parking area for 18 cars.  At 945A, we have a short and sweet 0.5-mile loop hike out to the arch, bustling with families of preschoolers and foreign guests, often from Europe. At the start of the trail, we see a tube with Mesa Arch brochures for 50 cents each.  Come on, who has coins in this day and age!  Ah, but the park service is wise beyond its years.

First, no one has coins!   Second, the park is encouraging patrons to reach out to fellow hikers and treat one another by buying two brochures for a dollar, then giving one away!  Brilliant!  So, with my shiny greenback, I look for someone to approach the tube.  Within 60 seconds, three folks from North Carolina approach.  At this point, I swoop in and say, I have a dollar to pay for your brochure and ours.

Can 1C D by cairns at Mesa Arch

Cairn on the trail to Mesa Arch

And then they do the unexpected.  They don’t say, No, no; they don’t say, We couldn’t let you; they say, Thank you.  A simple thank you.  I love me some Tarheels.

The loop trail to Mesa Arch is well-marked with red stone edges bracketing the trail.  Since it is such a short trail, it draws hikers of all shapes and sizes.  It begins a trend of great, family-friendly hikes in Canyonlands National Park.

Check out the video.  

 

Can 2 H on trail to Upheavel

On the way to Upheaval #1

Jumping back into the car (we can be quite the enthusiastic couple, hence the jumping), we head to the second ranger recommendation; Upheaval Dome Trails #1 and #2, two miles of hiking over red rock trails and massive stone formations.  Guided by cairns (i.e., piled rocks directing hikers over stony landscapes), we look out over the Green River here in eastern Utah.

Can 2 H on trail to Upheavel 2

On the way to Upheaval #2

Twenty minutes later on the trail, a woman says, Are you from New York?  Seeing my ever-present Ithaca College white shirt, I say, I married a New York girl and our son works at Ithaca College; to which she replies, I work for legal services in Binghamton (NY) and we have an office in Ithaca.

Can 2B D and H with Suzanne

Hannah, Dan, and Suzanne in front of the Upheaval Dome

Brighter than many assume, I put two and two together and make the connection that our niece Lauren (married to my brother Richard’s kid, Jon) works for legal services in Binghamton!  It turns out Suzanne has worked with Lauren for years.

Cue the Disney music of It’s a Small World After All…  The mini-moral of this story is pick your hiking gear appropriately to make the most of chance connections.  By the way, I make that sartorial choice of white when hiking because white stands out in pictures in the wilderness.

Can 3A H at Whale

Hannah in front of Whale Rock

Hike #3 is not a cranky ranger recommendation, but it’s a winner.  A mile down the road from Upheavals 1 and 2, we are taken by the massive Moby Dick stone monolith – the appropriately named Whale Rock.  Hiking a short mile round-trip up the spine of the massive stone behemoth, we have another family hike in a family-friendly park.

Can 4A D at Grandview point

Grandview Point before a storm

Weary in the early afternoon, we push on to hike #4, the Grand Dame of Canyonlands, the classic Grandview Point Overlook Trail.  With the gray/black storm clouds building across the canyon, Hannah and I have another red sandstone trail over stony outcroppings, guided by cairns.

Can 4B H on Grandview Trail

Overlooking the canyon on the Grandview Point Trail

With the storms moving our way, we wonder if we’ll make the mile out and the mile back before the deluge.  Check out this video from Grandview Point showing the enormity and isolation of this area.

Hiking along with Lady Luck today, we make it back to our rented Nissan Altima ten minutes before the rain has her way, this eastern Utah summer afternoon.

Dan and Hannah Hike to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park (Utah)

Can map of five parks

Utah’s National Parks

How hard is it to google the name of a national park before you visit to find out the latest conditions?  This is an easy one – it’s not hard at all.  If you are now guessing that I didn’t google “Arches National Park” before our hiking trip to Utah, you pass go and get $200!  We got quite the surprise when we arrived thanks to my little omission!

Arches 3A Tapestry Arch 2

Tapestry Arch in the Arches National Park

Having five days ago gone to my physical therapist Stephane wondering if I would even go on this hiking trip, I continue to follow his advice to stretch my hammies, take Tylenol, sport a compression sleeve for my left knee, and always use a whopping big bag of motel ice on my knee after hiking.

Arches 6A DA 2

Delicate Arch mid-day

Pulling through the entrance to Arches National Park, just minutes from Moab, a little before 8A, we see no one is there collecting fees from the steady stream of vehicles entering the park.  WTF!
Even though we don’t pay because of our $10 lifetime Senior Pass (soon going to $80 – still a helluva deal), lots of greenbacks are whistling by as we are among 40 cars and RVs winding our way through the entrance and up the switchbacks above the visitor center this late May morning.

Arches 1A ANP sign

Unfortunately for us, since the visitor center doesn’t open till 9A, we have no map for the hiking trails; we do have memories of being here 11 years ago.  As such, we have no idea what awaits at the end of the park!   Winding our way up the mountainside, we reach 5000’ on our way to Delicate Arch, the iconic arch that has been on Utah license plates as long as I can remember.

Arches license plate

Being a part of a caravan of now 50 vehicles, we decide to skip following the horde turning right onto the road to Delicate Arch and head directly for the Devils Gardens with its eight-mile trail passing seven distinctive arches.  Can’t wait!

Arches 1 closed road signs

Much to our surprise, we find that the Sand Dune Arch parking area is literally the end of the road.  No Devils Garden!  Who knew?   Well, all those people that googled “Current conditions in Arches National Park” knew.  Later we learn from the signage that anyone going into the forbidden area will be prosecuted.  Whoa, the feds are thinking we might be some sort of latter day Butch Cassidy and Sundance Woman in hiking shorts.

Arches 2A Broken Arch 2

Broken Arch

Life is how you deal with Plan B, and deal with it we will.  Not hard to pull out your Zen, when you have few choices.  (Of course, there is the choice of whining, bitching, and reminding oneself how unfair life is. – And tell me, How is that working out for you?)

Taking the sandy trail through the shadeless high desert, I hardly notice my left knee in a compression sleeve on its maiden voyage.  The hope is building that I might just make it hiking through four national parks and playing pickleball in the coming week.

Arches 2 Broken Arch

Broken Arch

As you can imagine with the unexpected road closure, it’s busy on the trail.  Not Disneyland busy, but lots of people have been funneled into hiking to Broken Arch on a day going to 90F.

Arches 3 Tapestry Arch

Tapestry Arch

Fortunately, the Tapestry Arch lies beyond Broken Arch making our 2+ hours under the relentless sun a good morning of arch hiking.

Arches 6 DA

Delicate Arch

With the aforementioned monster bag of motel ice at the ready, I ice my left knee while Hannah drives us back to Delicate Arch.  Expecting a mob scene of cars, what with the road closure, we are committed to trolling the parking lot for a spot for as long as it takes!  We’ll even park down a side road not made for parking so we can hike the trail to Delicate Arch today.

Surprisingly, the ranger waves us into the Delicate Arch trailhead parking, saying there are plenty of spaces.  It’s just about 1130A and 92 degrees.  Let me tell you, that here in May and June (as it was in the Phoenix area when we lived there for ten years in the 1970s), there is such low humidity that 90F is the new 70F, well, okay 75F.

Arches 5 Bathrooms before DA

Welcome relief in 90F

Waiting in line behind ten others to do our duty in the three available port-a-potties, we know this is a very doable three-mile round-trip hike to Delicate Arch with just 500’+ elevation gain.  Summery, there are many people on the trail, a joyous mix of senior couples, younger, spunkier dating couples, and families (school ends in late May in much of the West and South).

Arches 5A trail to DA with H

On the trail to Delicate Arch with the sloping stone mountainside in the distance

The trail begins with red rock paving, which eventually leads to switchbacks; we then ascend onto a sloping stone mountainside climbing to Delicate Arch.  It’s not a walk in the park, dry heat or not, but a workout for a left knee with already five miles on its tread.

Arches 5B trail to DA w Da

Closing in on the Delicate Arch

Never perilous, the trail is without cliff edges until the final 300 yards; carved into the sandstone, the trail is safe for families and seniors, as long as you apply even the smallest amount of common sense.   As we hike, we ask parents how old their young kids are and how the hiking has been.  Looking forward to the day when Molly and Tip and our grandsons, Owen and Max, can come to the Arches with us, we find a family with a six-year-old who has rocked this heart-of-the-high-desert climb without complaint.

There is nothing like the visual of first coming around the bend and seeing the Delicate Arch.  With 50-60 people in the area, it’s happy people, pleased with their accomplishment.  It’s easy enough to get within 100 feet of the Arch and get a picture that is not cluttered with other people.

Arches 6B D and H preview

The rockin’ Delicate Arch

High desert hiking with a balky left knee in 90 degrees for eight miles is something I wouldn’t have thought possible five days ago.  Here’s one vote for stretching, Tylenol, and a compression sleeve; all of which give me a shot at hiking in Canyonlands National Park manana.  Merci beaucoup, Stephane.

Dan Loses His Mind While his World is Shaken, Rattled, and Rolled  (Part 5 of 6)

As I am wheeled up to room 220 at York Hospital for the night, much is on my plate.

First, I love the ER staff, nurses and docs of York Hospital; even though I don’t remember their names, I thank them for their kindnesses.  Being more “with-it” later in the evening, I do remember Jo, Tracey, and Nicki, up on the second floor.  I felt their loving kindness and professionalism.   Pretty sweet combo for my nurses.

As I nestle into bed this Tuesday night, some five plus hours after coming into the ER, I am pretty much coherent, speaking intelligibly, and remembering how good life is.  One helluva far cry from a few hours ago.

Tomorrow morning, I have three bad boys lined up to see if there are answers for my temporary amnesia/aphasia; 15 years ago there were no answers.

The echocardiogram will look at how blood flows through the chambers of my heart, heart valves, and blood vessels.   Might some blockage be the reason for my short-term amnesia/aphasia?

The carotid artery ultrasound builds on the info from the “echocardio.”  It creates pictures to show how blood is flowing through my arteries.  When arteries become clogged with cholesterol (i.e. the technical term is “excess crap”), they can become dangerously narrow.  Could clogged arteries be a cause of my brief whacked-out-ed-ness?

The EEG (electroencephalogram) detects electrical activity in my brain.  The test diagnoses seizures and epilepsy, which could be the cause of my temporary-out-of-mindness.

As the Red Sox game ends this evening, I am with-it enough to appreciate the health care I have.   My mind takes a simple leap to the question – How many millions will lose such health care if Republican Washington has their way?  I’m begging you, Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), don’t be bullied.  I have my fingers crossed.

From 11P to 1230A, I flip between the Red Sox game highlights and ESPN Sports Center, but little is of interest and still I don’t fall asleep.

At 1230A, still wide awake, I buzz for some Tylenol for a slight headache and for a sleeping pill.  I never take sleeping pills, but I’d like to get a little sleep before dawn, less than five hours away.  The doc approvals Tramadol, but it does little and I muddle through the night, occasionally sleeping.

Sometime around 2A, I buzz the nurses for another pit stop as I am hooked up to a saline solution which keeps me well-hydrated.   And then, all of sudden, I am looking up at the faces of four beautiful nurses.  It seems my blood pressure was 65 over 35!   I got up a little too quickly from my bed.  Fortunately, one nurse caught me as I tumbled.  Unfortunately, I have to use a bottle to pee in from now on!

At 540A, I give up and turn on Sports Center; amazing how boring baseball highlights for 15 separate games can be.  I mute the TV, then text on my iPhone to pass the time.  Thoughout the morning, three angels visit: thank you, Corky and Scott and Tree.

My morning line-up of heavyweights:   electrocardiogram at 8A;  carotid artery test at 11A; and the EEG immediately thereafter.  Dr. Mark Graziano, my PCP (primary care physician of 35 years), will fill me in on the details tomorrow.   Does everyone get such prompt care?   I am guessing it’s the norm at York Hospital, here on the Gold Coast of Maine.   Rural and inner city America?   I’m not betting on that.

YH Owen and Max

Watching Dinosaur Train in style

After the 90-minute EEG test at 1230P, I am wheeled passed a waiting area where Hannah, Owen, and Max talk to Corky.   Delighted as I am to see them, I am chomping at the bit to transition home (discharge seems like such a disgusting verb filled with sewage and waste).

While I wait, Owen and Max lounge on my hospital bed and watch their favorite show, Dinosaur Train on PBS.

Released after 2P, I have instructions to take a baby aspirin once a day and don’t drive until the neurologist checks me out.

On Saturday, part 6 is a wrap (to use a Hollywood term); my temporary amnesia/aphasia saga concludes with the test results, what could be an explanation of what has happened to me, and the changes that are coming to me for the short and long term.

Dan Loses His Mind While his World is Shaken, Rattled, and Rolled  (Part 4 of 6) 

In a side room off the ER at York Hospital, dressed in my hospital johnnie, I am aware something is changing.   And that’s a good thing.  Having entered the ER in a haze an hour ago, now, just after 7P, I can tell the fog is lifting because I am starting to sense what is happening around me.  Though I don’t know the answers to the medical staff’s basic questions, previously I didn’t know they were even asking questions.  That’s progress.

YH YH logo

Earlier in the evening at home when all hell was breaking loose, Hannah had called Mandy with the apt summation that Dan is acting weird.  Mandy said she would come when Hannah needed her.  At this point, Mandy’s daughter Sammie said, Mom you can’t wait, you have to go now.  Is that a great kid, or what!

When Mandy arrives at our house on Chases Pond Road, Hannah has already taken me to the ER.  Mandy then drives on to the hospital where she watches Owen and Max while Hannah tends to her whacked-out husband of 45 years.

Once it seems that I will be staying for the night, Hannah asks Mandy to follow her home and then return to the hospital with my overnight bag.  While Hannah puts our grandsons Owen and Max to bed, Mandy returns with a change of clothes, my journal, my iPhone, my Scrabble dictionary, shaving kit, and latest Sports Illustrated.   But something much more.

YH Mandy and Han

Mandy and Hannah

Her presence.   You see, Mandy stays when I need someone.  As Woody Allen says, 90% of life is showing up.  And show up Mandy does.

What I need is someone just to listen.  After being totally unaware of what the hell is going on, things are now less fuzzy in my brain.  Slowly, pieces of information are starting to come into focus.

Something else is starting to happen – I begin drinking glass after glass of water.  Fifteen years ago when a similar temporary amnesia/aphasia occurred, I felt that dehydration might have been contributed to my problem.   After pounding my third 20 ounce plastic cup of water, I am feeling alert and aware.  Could dehydration be a connection the medical professionals are missing?  Or is my condition just running its course?

I spend the next hour sipping water and talking nearly non-stop to Mandy about things in my life that I am starting to remember.  My constant chatter is proving to myself that I am coming out of this rabbit hole of amnesia, aphasia, and confusion.  I know I am talking a lot, but Mandy gets it.  She understands that my words are going a long way in convincing me that I am going to be okay.

As I come out of the fog this evening, Mandy’s presence is a gift beyond anything material she could ever give me.

After 9P, Mandy steps out when Dr. Braden fills me in on what’s what.  I am staying the night and tomorrow there will be some big-time tests of my heart and brain.  Shortly thereafter, the nurse wheels me up to room 220.

Next Wednesday, part 5 highlights my overnight in the hospital and my road to recovery.

Dan Loses His Mind While his World is Shaken, Rattled, and Rolled  (Part 3 of 6)

In the fall of 2002, I was beginning my fourth year of commuting 150 miles from York, Maine to my position as an assistant professor of Education at Eastern Connecticut State University.

YH Zip's

Zip’s in Dayville, CT

On this mid-October Thursday, I left home as usual at 4A; after driving for two hours, I treated myself to pancakes and coffee at Zip’s Diner on I-390 south of Worcester, MA, 30 miles from campus.  On campus in Willimantic by 8A, I prepared for my day of office hours, a seminar in teaching Secondary English, a faculty meeting, and my 4P class of graduate students in the Teaching Reading course.

All the while my mind was pre-occupied with the keynote address I would be giving the following morning to 900 public school teachers in northern New Hampshire, 4 hours away.  To summarize, I’d finish teaching on campus by 7P that Thursday, drive to Littleton, NH by 11P, and give my keynote the next morning at 9A.  No stress there!

Well, it turns out there was a lot of stress there.  But, was that what caused what happened that afternoon?   Let me explain.

As my 4P class was approaching, I found my eyes couldn’t focus on the class roster; I couldn’t read my students’ names.   I didn’t feel well (later students said I looked pale); I decided to take a walk while my 25 students were organizing in groups preparing for their presentations.  Upon returning ten minutes later, I got everyone’s attention and told them that something was wrong and I was going to drive myself to the Windham Hospital (not a half mile away).

YH David and Dan

My department chair at Eastern, David Stoloff, checking in on me after my temporary amnesia/aphasia (circa 2017)

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YH Windham Hospital

Fortunately, the students didn’t let that happen; a student got my department chair, David Stoloff, and he drove me to the hospital.  I was a mess.  I couldn’t focus, was losing my memory, was forgetting my own kids’ names and was barely holding on to Hannah’s image that seemed to be disappearing down a long tube.   I couldn’t speak.

The medical people ran me through the CAT scan and the MRI.  Nothing abnormal, but no answers either.  I remember being swallowed up by the CAT scan and thinking, am I going to have to learn to use a fork again?

YH Hartford Hospital

Since the medical staff was stumped, they shipped me by ambulance to the Hartford Hospital 30 miles away for their big-time neurologists to give me the once over.  And then a surprising thing happened in the ambulance, I started making sense talking to the EMT, just chit chat.   I was getting better, remembering more and more.  Not four hours later from the initial event, I was doing well enough to be considered for discharge.

YH Moll and Han

Molly and Hannah circa 2017

My department chair had called Hannah, and she drove the 150 miles from York to Hartford with our daughter Molly, a teacher in Rye, NH at the time.  By the time they arrived in the late evening, I was sitting up and ready to go home.  I had to pass one final test.

A nurse came in and mentioned three unrelated items (e.g. apple, water skis, Mount Rushmore).   If I could remember those three when she returned in five minutes, I could go home.  I nailed them.  You would have been so proud!

YH honda civic

Honda Civic Hatchback similar to the one I drove when I averaged 30K miles per year commuting to Eastern

Hannah drove us back to Eastern and then after midnight, I followed her home in my Honda Civic Hatchback.  Clearly, I was fine.  Perhaps, driving home was not the best choice.  I was young, well 55.

Home by 3A, I took the weekend off, received a weekend gift of a three-foot potted plant from the president of Eastern, and drove back the 150 miles on Monday for my full load of classes.

Dr. Brown, a neurologist in York, checked me out and said that of 10,000 patients, he had never seen a case like mine.  He didn’t think it was a TIA (transient ischemic attack (i.e. temporary amnesia related to the heart).  A GTA (global transient amnesia) never came up.  And that was pretty much that.  No limitations, just let him know if any of my symptoms return.  And for 15 years none had!  Until this afternoon.

Given that previous experience, I didn’t feel these symptoms were any big deal, but Doc Braden here at York Hospital, the attending ER doctor, did, and wanted me to spend the night in the hospital.

On Saturday, part 4 picks up on finding an angel in the hospital.

Dan Loses His Mind While his World is Shaken, Rattled, and Rolled  (Part 2 of 6)

While waiting for all the tests, I have the medical people asking me all sorts of questions.  Who is the president?  I have no idea, but in this day and age that is no question to ask a seriously confused person.  It seems some hospitals no longer ask the “president question” to determine understanding because it upsets so many people.

They want to know the big dates.  When is your birthday?  No clue.  I’d like to help you out but I am coming up empty.   Today’s date?   Where are you?  I have nothing for them.

They ask me to repeat No ifs, ands, or buts.   Tongue twisters that I garble.  Even saying 50-50 throws me.  For the first hour, I don’t remember any of the questions.  After an hour, I still don’t know the answers, but trending positive, I now understand that these are questions that I should know the answers to.  That’s a significant step out of the fog.

As for tests that evening in the ER:

The CAT scan (an X-ray image made using Computerized Axial Tomography) of my brain rules out bleeding in my brain; clearly, I am not having a stroke.

YH MRI

The MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), which gives the medical staff a more detailed image of my brain and its blood flow, shows no lack of blood flow and again no evidence of stroke.

The heart monitor determines if there is atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, and heart failure.   My heart is just fine.

The chest x-ray determines whether there are any blood clots in my lungs.  This test can help diagnose and monitor conditions such as pneumonia and heart failure.  I have a clean x-ray.

A urinary test would indicate whether I have a Urinary Tract Infection.  UTIs cause similar confusion and again the medical professionals are trying to rule out as much as possible.  I have no urinary infection.

Finally, I am screened for drugs.   It turns out it is routine anytime someone comes into the ER in an “altered mental status,”  which is me!   There are no drugs in my system.

I was passing all the medical tests and failing all the questions.   Though the medical professionals didn’t know what was going on, I was not surprised at all what was happening to me.  You see 15 years ago something similar happened 150 miles from home.   Stay tuned for part 3 on Thursday.

Dan Loses His Mind While his World is Shaken, Rattled, and Rolled  (Part 1 of 6)

I literally mean, I lost my mind.  I lost the Big Three – I couldn’t speak; I couldn’t remember; I couldn’t think.  Let’s make it four – I couldn’t read.   There is a diagnosis, but it certainly sounds like something that happened to me 15 years ago in Connecticut.   More on that later.

CR 1 H by river

Hannah three weeks before in Utah

It’s Tuesday afternoon this late June at home with Hannah and our grandsons Owen and Max when all hell breaks loose.  I don’t remember a thing.  I am speaking gibberish such that Hannah doesn’t recognize me.  She calls friends for help and says, Dan is acting weird.  Our preschool grandsons look quizzically at me when I can’t remember their names.  I am speaking but the words are not making any sense.

Calling our local friend Corky, Hannah explains my incoherence, babbling, and confusion.  To which, Corky replies that there is no time to waste.  You have a small window in which to get something done if it turns out it’s a vascular event (i.e. involving a blood clot).

If I am having a stroke, time is of the essence.  Medical professionals will have a three-hour window to determine if I need the necessary medication to dissolve a blood clot.  Corky follows up with, Don’t call 911; take him directly to the hospital, which for us is York Hospital three miles in town.

YH ER entrance

Entrance to the ER at York Hospital

Hannah has seen enough and so packs the boys and me in the car.  On the drive in, she remembers me wondering why I need to go to the hospital.  I am Clueless with a capital C.   Fortunately, she just smiles and keeps driving down York Street.  Nothing registers in my mind and I have no memory of the trip to the ER.

YH CAT

CAT scan

So, let’s recap what Hannah is dealing with as I enter the emergency room of York Hospital: I don’t know what is happening to me; I am very confused, I have lost my memory (amnesia), I can’t speak sensibly (aphasia), and I didn’t know where I am.  I am a scary package of incoherence and technically-speaking – I am out of my mind.

 

 

Once in the ER, they aren’t messing around.  They schedule:

  1. a CAT scan of my brain
  2. an MRI for a more detailed picture of the blood flow in my brain
  3. a chest x-ray
  4. a urine test – urinary tract infection?
  5. a urine drug screen

and they also slap on a heart monitor to determine if there is atrial fibrillation

Hmmm, drug screening for Danny Boy?     Part 2 follows Tuesday

Dan and Hannah Come to Utah to hike its National Parks (4 of 5)

It’s May and in a month our plan is to hike the trails at Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in Wyoming, then head south to Arches National Park in Utah.  Knowing it’s been a snowy winter in the West after years of drought, I call the ranger station at Yellowstone, just north of Grand Teton, to find out the conditions of the trails.

Intro Yellowstone

It seems all the rain we had in southern California in February has been part of the same weather pattern that dumped 600” of snow on the Yellowstone/Grand Teton area. (Normal snowfall for the area is 450” per year.  A very snowy winter in Portland, Maine is 100”.)   I learn that the trails have 3 to 4 feet of snow and may not be hike-able during our visit during the last week in May.   On to Plan B.

One of the great things about flying into Salt Lake City to hike in Wyoming is that it’s an easy pivot to the southeast to hike first in the Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, by the Colorado border.  From there we can head to the southwest for a trifecta of National Parks in Utah (Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyon).

But!  Days before our departure in late May, our travel and hiking plans are in jeopardy.   It all comes under the heading of “It’s a Bitch to Get Old;” who knew after nearly 70 years of daily (read: compulsive) physical activity that I would have tendinitis in my joints!   My wild tennis swinging ways when playing pickleball has led to a nasty case of tendinitis of the elbow.

Intro patellar tendinitis

But that’s not why our trip is in doubt.   The pain of patellar tendinitis (just below my knee cap) in my left leg has me walking haltingly.   The week before we leave, simple walks in the neighborhood have been painful; and what is the point of hiking in the West if I can’t, well, hike in the West?

With our departure for Utah just five days away, I wake by first light wanting to test out my left knee.  Walking our neighborhood, I find within a third of a mile that my left knee is pissed off, aching, and whines to turn back.  Meekly, I obey.

Intro YH physical therapy

Able to score a late morning appointment with my long time physical therapist Stephane, I learn my knee is structurally sound, but what is causing the inflammation and pain is perplexing.  Could it have something to do with his observation that my right leg is stronger, slightly bigger, and more solid than the left?

When he asks me to touch my toes, it is apparent that my hamstrings are very tight; when reaching for the floor I am still 10” away.   I have the flexibility of a log cabin chair.   He explains that the more the hamstrings are flexible, the better the quads have a chance to strengthen, helping the patella track along the femur more efficiently.

After 40 minutes, Stephane says if you were my brother, father, or son, I’d encourage you to go on your trip.  I’m all in now, for I have a plan to deal with my cranky knee.

One, to keep stretching for 25 minutes before any activity (hardly a sacrifice if it gets me back in the game).  Two, take Tylenol an hour before exercise to reduce the pain.  Stephane says, a slight amount of pain sometimes creates a reflex inhibition, thus preventing efficient contraction of the quads … this puts you at risk of injury.

intro compression sleeve

My compression sleeve from Rite-Aid

Three, and this is new and exciting, use a compression sleeve from the local Rite-Aid Drugstore for my left knee during walking and hiking; the sleeve gives bio-feedback to engage the quadriceps muscle more efficiently and gives you a joint position sense that helps you be aware of protecting the knee.

And finally, always ice after activity.  Icing will be a part of my active life forever.  And so, Hannah and I will leave for Utah and explore her national parks the Tuesday after Memorial Day.

Intro La La Land tv

My personal TV.  Thank you, Delta

Arriving at Boston’s Logan Airport for our 645A Delta non-stop flight to Salt Lake City, we have a gift from the universe.  Delta offers me two hours of uninterrupted joy in the viewing of La La Land and its message of the power of being encouraging.

Intro La La Land

The Ryan Gosling character Seb is so relentlessly positive and supportive with Emma Stone’s Mia; reassuring her that her playwriting and performing are fantastic.  He is her brass band and Hallejuah Chorus.  His encouragement and faith in her are just the push she needs to give it her all to succeed.  We can all use a Seb or two in our lives!

However encouraging, or not, that I have been with Hannah, our kids, and my students is a story for them to tell.  At this time, what I do have control over, is being Seb to our grandsons, our five kids, my friends, and especially Hannah over my next 20+ good years.

Intro Owen and Max

Owen and Max, giving them all the encouragement they need

Arriving in Salt Lake City at 10A, within the hour, we are on the road to Moab, four hours away.  As I drive southeast, I think about the presents I do and don’t give Hannah.

I give Hannah no flowers, no chocolates.  She picks out her own jewelry and clothes.  I plan the trips we take, but they are, in fact, gifts she gives me.  At home, I wash the dishes whenever I see them pile up, and wash and hang the laundry.

Intro map of moab

But today on route 6 on the backroads south of Price, Utah heading south to I-70 and Moab, I give her what I can – I let her sleep when it’s her turn to drive.   After 45 years together (July 1 is our anniversary), I have learned that the little things are not such little things.

Intro map of 5 nps in utah

 

 

 

*The four national parks we will visit are, in order, from east to west, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Bryce.  By the way, we only go to the fifth, Zion, in the off-season, say late February, early March.  71,000 people visited Zion National Park days ago, this past Memorial Day Weekend!