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The girl with the red ball

March 31, 2011

Yesterday was supposed to be just a quick visit to my family doctor for at least a blood test, at most a referral to a neurologist. It ended up being a trip to the emergency room.

After about 8 years of having episodes of tremors that kept getting more intense each time, I finally found the guts to see my doctor about it. I had seen my old general pracitioner when the tremors started and got a referral to the only neurologist in town and absolutely nothing came of it at that point (no tests ordered, no diagnosis, not even an exam) so I just tried to forget about it and kept hoping it would go away. But of course that didn’t happen, and on Sunday March 28th 2011 I ended up starting the worst episode I’ve ever had. At the moment it’s starting to go away, but at the worst points I could not stand for more than 5 minutes without my legs cramping and shaking to the point where I had to sit down because of the pain and I completely lost the use of my left arm for several hours. It was like the message to move from my brain was getting lost on the way to my arm. This was really unfortunate since I had a death grip on my stress ball, Mr. Squishy, when the seizing started in my arm. Every muscle in my arm was tensed so it was extremely painful.

I started using a stress ball for comfort early when my tremors first started and never thought it was odd until yesterday. It’s become a bit of a joke lately (thus giving it the name Mr. Squishy). They come in packs of two and come with happy faces printed on them. When my arm was seized and I couldn’t let go of it, the face just happened to be exposed and for some reason I started drawing on it. I gave him a goatee and wrote my name on him, just incase I had to take it with me into a store or whatever (I figure, if it’s scribbled all over I’m less likely to be accused of shoplifting). When my GP saw the face I drew on it, she chuckled and asked me if it had been given to me by friends. The ER doctor thought it was kind of funny too and asked me if someone had told me to get a stress ball or if it was just something I decided to do on my own. When I told her I was the one that got it, she seemed a little bit amazed (mainly because of how long I’ve had symptoms and the odd little things I’ve done to adapt to them).

Anyway, back to the doctor. I called the doctor the day after my arm seized. I had use of my arm back but the tremors were not gone at all. I was a little worried when I called, thinking it would be a month or so before I could get an appointment, and by that point my symptoms would likely be gone. I figured the doctor may not believe me without a ctually being able to see any of my symptoms. I got lucky and ended up getting an appointment on Wednesday the 30th, and was still symptomatic when I went in.

Sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office was really really strange for me. My GP is in a walkin clinic, so it’s usually pretty busy in there. Lots of little kids usually. My left hand was stuffed into my jacket pocket the entire time because of my stress ball (I didn’t want to get stared at for being a grown woman holding a red ball), but my left leg was shaking like an epileptic bowl of jello. I know to the other people in the room it must have looked like I was either just being really impatient (since it looked like I was tapping my foot on the floor) or I might have looked like I was a druggie going through withdrawl. People kept starring at me then looking away quickly when I looked in their direction. I started to feel a little irrate over this, then it seemed like everyone in the waiting room started talking at once. It was deafening, I couldn’t hear the receptionist calling patients names over the drone and wanted to yell at everyone to be quiet. Thankfully everyone stopped talking shortly before I was called into the exam room. The receptionist gave me a funny look when I was walking in since I was dragging my left leg a little (again, messages getting lost between my brain and limbs. I stumble a lot sometimes because I think I’m lifting my leg higher than I actually am, if I am at all).

Sitting in the exam room waiting for the doctor to come in was terrifying. As soon as I sat down my leg started shaking again. I was boiling hot so I took off my jacket, and just seeing the ball in my hand set me off. I nearly started crying a few times because I was so scared of what might happen once the doctor came in and because I was so frustrated that no matter what I did, I couldn’t make the shaking stop.

Would the doctor think I was acting, trying to get attention or drugs? Would she take it seriously, leading me to a diagnosis of some degenerative, uncurable disease? Would the shaking go away again or would I be stuck like this forever? Would I never end up with a diagnosis? If it is something degenerative, how would my family and friends react? Would my mother be able to handle having a parent with alzheimer’s disease, a child with autism, and a grown child that would eventually need to be cared for like an infant? Will I end up like the people I’ve cared for, needing to hire a stranger to help me do basic things like wash, dress, and eat? All these things started whirling through my head as I sat there across from the doctor’s desk holding my little Mr. Squishy. It was overwhelming but somehow I managed to keep the tears just welled up a little in my eyes instead of spilling down my face.

Once the doctor came in, she gave her usual greeting of hi how are you. Normally I respond with I’m ok, how are you? (it irks me a little how no one ever asks the doctor how they are, after all they are people too and it’s just polite and considerate). This time I responded with could be better, could be worse. She looked up from my file like she was about to say something, saw the ball and my leg and just got this look on her face. I’m not even sure how to describe it. Maybe something like confusion.

Everything changed that second. There was no usual smiles or joking, everything got extremely serious all of a sudden. We talked about my symptoms over the years and specifically the past few days. She asked if I had ever seen a doctor about this before and I explained what had happened when I saw the neurologist years ago. She had me put the ball down on her desk and get up on the exam table. As I was walking to the table she picked up the ball and chuckled and asked me who or where I got it from. She tried to stiffle a laugh when I told her it was just something I picked up at the dollar store.

I got up on the table and she helped me take my sweater off so she could get a blood pressure cuff around my arm. She had me hold out my arm as straight as I could at my side and inflated the cuff much more than usual. She explained she was trying to see if she could make the shaking stop by cutting off circulation. When that didn’t work, she started to look worried. My blood pressure must have been through the roof at this point (it’s normally very healthy) and she checked my breathing. She left the room and came back in a few minutes later with a form and told me she was sending me to the emergency room. She didn’t want to wait for a referral since the tests would not be done as quickly. She wanted a CT scan done, and she wanted it done now. She filled out the form and told me to tell the ER doctor every single symptom I have, “don’t be shy, tell them everything” were her words.

She left again to give the form to the receptionist to fill in all the contact information. She came back in for a little bit, and as I was leaving she told me to call her office as soon as the scan was done, and to make sure she gets a copy of the results. I went back out into the waiting room, got the form from the receptionist, then hobbled back to the parking lot where my mom and brother were waiting for me.

I had convinced my mom that at most I could need to go to the lab nearby after the doctor appointment to get some bloodwork done. When I told her that I was being sent to the ER for a CT scan, she looked floored and stunned. So off I went to the ER with the scariest piece of paper I’ve ever held and even more respect for my doctor.


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