News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Debility strikes suddenly

From the day I sold my home in Kirkland over 16 years ago, in preparation for moving to Sisters, most areas of my life have fallen nicely into place. I was lulled into a false sense of maintaining this charmed life.

All was smooth sailing — until one morning last October when a simple dog-walking jaunt resulted in a fairly serious fall, amazingly resulting in only a broken nose. My nose quickly healed, the bruising subsided, and life went on as usual, for two months — except for a few more falls. A CT scan of my head done the day of the original fall didn’t detect any damage.

In December, I started to experience some random symptoms: headaches, dizziness, and vertigo. Post-concussion symptoms with delayed onset? The search for answers began in earnest in January of this year with a visit to my internist, who immediately referred me to physical therapy for balance training. After most PT appointments I felt worse, so I stopped going. I started to cut back on activities and commitments and had to drop out of my pickleball class.

What followed was an unending progression of speech therapy, neuropsych testing, X-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs, massage/craniosacral treatments (worked great for headaches), an unsatisfactory appointment with a neurologist that left me feeling worse, adjustment of blood pressure medications, and NUCCA chiropractic (helped my neck and lessened the headaches). I was still dealing with vertigo and dizziness and unsteady gait.

Then arrived COVID-19 with telemedicine appointments, Zoom meetings, masks, days running together, depression, more MRIs and CTs, and then on May 12, I ended up in the emergency room with a splitting headache, weak right arm, and right-hand tremor. They did more scans, ruled out a stroke, gave me some motion sickness pills for the vertigo, and sent me home after eight hours.

Whatever was going on in my head, that was the end of my headaches. Guess they burned out. Now I am left with the vertigo and dizziness, which still impacts my stability intermittently.

I never know when I will lose my balance and perhaps experience another fall. Finally, on June 8, I met the neurosurgeon who took a different approach. When he heard my tale, his first comment was, “I think everyone may have been looking in the wrong place.” He sent me to have two more MRIs, but this time of my middle and lower back. I returned to see him last week to get the results of the MRIs.

On the way up the stairs to his office, my feet betrayed me once again and I tripped and fell, hitting my nose on the same spot, on the edge of a step. Of course, it hurt and started to bleed immediately. The doctor’s office staff was wonderful, offering ice, Kleenex, a pillow to put behind my head, and real concern for my welfare. Despite another X-ray of my nose later in the afternoon, no confirmation on whether or not my nose is broken again.

The MRIs confirmed the doctor’s initial suspicion. The problem lies in my lumbar spine, between L 4-5, where vertebral deterioration and serious stenosis is impeding the impulses between my brain and lower extremities. Another MRI will determine what kind of procedure the doctor can do to improve the situation. One would be fairly simple and the other one would involve fusing L 4-5.

Finally, after nine months, I at least have a diagnosis and possible treatment. This has been a scary, frustrating sojourn that has taken its toll on my confidence, peace of mind, and general well-being. I am thankful for finally finding a doctor who can help and offers some hope for improvement.

Going from quick-moving multi-tasker to a cautious, one-thing-at-a-time tasker has been a big adjustment for me. And, for the first time in my life, I am definitely feeling my age and then some.

I celebrated my 76th birthday in June by buying myself a new mattress — adjustable even.

Good for old age. A friend gave me a “gag gift” — a walker with a big yellow reflector attached with yellow streamers. Through all of this, I have worked hard to keep my sense of humor.

Prior to the initial fall, I had been gradually growing older, with subtle changes apparent, and thought my aging process would continue in that vein. I have always enjoyed good health, independence, and my physical abilities. The sudden onset of debilitating symptoms that come and go, causing me to not trust my own stability and abilities, coupled with the isolation due to the pandemic, have had a profound effect on me. It is as if old age has arrived all at once with the speed and unexpectedness of a tornado.

I wish I could wake up, like Dorothy, and realize it’s all been a bad dream, and Auntie Em and Toto are there to reassure me. I have now purchased a nice juniper walking stick with a carved face of an old bearded man on it. Between my walking stick and the walker, I should be able to more safely move around, until my back is repaired.

Friends have been so thoughtful and concerned with offers of help in so many ways. One next door neighbor cleaned all the pine needles off my roof and gutters and another one took me to the ER and came back hours later and picked me up.

Through all of this I have certainly learned the truth of the wisdom of Scottish poet and lyricist, Robert Burns, who wrote, “The best-laid plans of mice and men / Go oft awry.” So I will live my life to the fullest, as I am able, one day at a time, not wasting time in the past or worrying about the future.


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