How did I get a concussion?

It all started when my youngest daughter put a doll’s tent stick through her mouth. I didn’t sleep for two nights. Feeling exhausted and a tad stressed, I was rushing around to get some jobs completed. I ran into Pippa’s new treehouse (when I tell this to my British friends I have to call it a Wendy house)  to show my dad where he needed to hang some new hooks we had just purchased her. I was showing where I wanted them and I stood up quickly. I did not realize there was a large beam above my head and I smacked it with great force. Seeing stars I exited the treehouse and  started using inappropriate language.   My priest asked me what I did wrong, and I just said I was a moron and hit my head. I went inside the house and noticed I had a little bit of blood on the top of my head.   I thought the story ended there.

I went about my evening and the next day with a terrible headache, but thinking that was all.   On Saturday, two days later, I could barely keep my eyes open. Words were becoming difficult to say and I felt like I was completely underwater. My priest does not deal with stress well. He was incredibly anxious that there was something very wrong with me.   He forced me to go to the hospital. Again, I was deeply impressed with the service at the hospital (read Pippa’s hospital story first).  I was given my priority wristband and I waited to be called. The doctor who saw me,  at first was unimpressed that I did not speak Portuguese, I told her I was lucky to speak English at that point. She ordered a CT scan of my brain and an x-ray of my neck. Both of those scans came back clean. Some of you may be surprised to know that I actually have a brain and it appears to be in good working order, at least my brother was surprised about that.

The doctor just said that I had a concussion. She did not tell me what to expect, what I needed to do, how long it would take to get better.    My priest asked her some questions and she said “yes, she has a concussion.”   Not really knowing what this was going to mean, we just went home. Over the next few days things got worse. I became more tired sleeping, up to 18 hours a day. I didn’t feel like eating.  Light was bothering me. I could not go on any computer screens. I couldn’t answer questions.   Everything in my daily life became too much work. I spent most of my time in my dark bedroom. I will say at this point that I am entirely grateful for our European shutters. They let in absolutely no light.   I wonder now how I ever lived without shutters before.

During this time, my priest was spiraling out of control. In our 18 years of marriage, I pretty much handle our day to day life.  I cook, do the laundry, clean the house, do the grocery shopping, you get the idea.   That is not to say that he would not like to be helpful, he just needs real direction.  Like the kind of direction that makes me rather do the job myself.    I love my priest with all of my heart,  he is just a little bit pathetic when it comes to me not feeling well. He started eating massive amounts of chocolate. In fact he began eating everything in his sight. He would come beside my bed and start crying,  begging to know when I would be better.  A question I cannot answer.  I usually just plow through every illness.  Like a lot of moms, not having the time or luxury of a long recovery.  This is different.  My priest is not used to me being sick.  Not used to me taking the time to rest.  Now, I have no choice, which is leaving us all more than a little scared.

So after no improvement, my priest insisted I go to our family doctor.  He did an exam and said that it will be a long and slow recovery.  My priest was not very happy.  He took me to a healing service at church.  He asked for prayers.  He cried…a lot.  Still no improvement.  He took me back to our family doctor.  Our doctor was not impressed that I was not getting better either and made an appointment for me to see a neurologist.  My priest wants me to wear a helmet.  Permanently.

Finally, on Friday I couldn’t feel my hands.   I woke up from a long nap with the tingly sensation in my arms and hands. The kind when your hand falls asleep, you know the feeling?     The problem was the feeling wasn’t going away and I couldn’t properly use my hands. I started thinking something major was going wrong. When I told my priest that I needed to get to a hospital immediately, all hell broke loose.   Maggie started crying instantly and Pippa wanted food…she always wants food.   I thought I might’ve been having a stroke because the loss of sensation was stronger on one side.  I know that with strokes minutes count and I wasn’t messing around.   We arrived at the hospital at 4 PM.  I was seen immediately by triage and given yet another high-priority bracelet.

The doctor we met with first, accosted me for not speaking Portuguese. This was a different doctor from the first time… she was even nastier.   Not the kind of nasty woman I like.   She said that if she went to my country she would speak my language. When she asked what was wrong and I gave her a description, I also included that I felt like most of my symptoms were typical of a concussion.   She proceeded to ask me if I was a medical doctor. At that point I wanted to punch her in the face.   My priest started talking for me.  He was flustered but he wasn’t  going to resort to the violence that I had in my heart.   She asked me what my diagnosis was, at which point I told her that I came to the hospital for her to give me a diagnosis.   I literally thought I was dying and this psycho doctor was possibly the rudest person I had ever met.   She called a neurologist and the neurologist said they wanted to see me. Thank God I was done with her.  I later told another doctor how rude she was and he said that was typical of her.  Lovely way to live.

The neurologist gave me a very thorough exam and  sent me to get a CT scan of my neck and brain with contrast.  Now I had to go to the surgical center and get a needle and an IV.  It was scary in there.  Like people dying scary.  My priest got a friend to take the girls.  Maggie was already praying and crossing herself every minute or so.  She even made me speak Portuguese to check on the welfare of some of the other patients.  She needed out of there!

Patients were moaning.  There was blood everywhere.  It was controlled chaos, but still scary.   With my CT scan complete, we had to wait even longer for the results.  Meanwhile,  I still can’t really feel or use my hands. We got called to have a consultation with an orthopedic surgeon. He looked at my CT scan and wanted to be sure that there was nothing wrong with my neck. He examined me fully, but he could give no explanation as to why my hands and arms were feeling the way they were. He said the scans came back clear, but that I would need to see a neurologist again. It seems that I am healing slowly, but have some symptoms that are outside of the normal range. After seven hours, we left the hospital and picked up our kids. To say it was horrific and brutal is a complete understatement.

So what is happening now… I continue to experience intermittent tingling in my arms. I am still exhausted. I still can’t read or look at screens for too long.   I am returning to the neurologist this week.    I realize how lucky I am, because I have had so many wonderful people reach out to me and offer help.    My concussion has allowed me to eat some of the most delicious food I have ever had thanks to a wonderful American friend here in Portugal.   She has cooked up a storm and has allowed my priest to focus his attention on the girls.   I have had lots of people pray for me and continue to pray for me.   I never really understood a concussion or the long road to recovery from a concussion.   The best way I can describe it… it feels at moments like you’re better and then you do something and you realize that you’re not capable of doing anything.  Like the other day when Pippa was writing a letter and wanted to know how to spell the word rabbit and I just couldn’t remember.   Or when my priest asks me if I took my medicine and I have absolutely no idea.   Or when I sleep for 5 hours in the middle of the day and I think I was out for 20 minutes only to discover I lost a whole day.  I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy (side note:  I never wish for bad stuff to happen to people ever, even the people I don’t like).

Accidents happen.  Healing takes a long time.  Families have to suffer.  In the end, I will get better.  I am grateful for that.  I am also grateful that my priest and my girls love me so much that they are happily willing to just hold me while I sleep.  Cuddles cure.

My priest has done some pretty hilarious stuff over the last few weeks.  I will save his outtakes for another post.  Eating expired food, burning food, butchering Portuguese…wait for it.  I promise it will be worth it.

Concussion…taken me down.

I am not allowed on any screens, so please don’t tell my doctor that you saw this.

I have a pretty severe concussion.  Embarrassing and long story, I will share when I am functional.  Currently, I sleep for about 18 hours a day and when I am awake I feel a little bit like a zombie.

I am hoping this won’t last too long.  The doctor won’t give me a time frame.  My priest is spiraling out of control.  He is eating crazy amounts of food and checking on me far too frequently.  He is not used to holding down the fort.  Keep him in your prayers.  If I don’t get better soon, my priest may be in an insane asylum.

Don’t Run with a Stick…ER in Portugal

This is a cautionary tale.  One you have heard before, but indulge me because the pay off involves a trip to a Portuguese ER and catching a liar.

Last night, Pippa was supposed to be in bed, but she asked if she could go downstairs and give her visiting grandparents one more kiss goodnight.  It seemed like a simple and sweet request, so off she went.  I remained upstairs laying out Maggie’s uniform for the next school day.  It seems I am the only member of the family that knows what school uniform is required for each day.  I digress.  Moments after descending the stairs, Pippa appears at the top of the stairs again.  She is purple.

She is desperate for air.  She can’t seem to breathe. I immediately think she is choking.  I try to assess what is happening, but it appeared extremely urgent and I didn’t know why.  I grabbed her and she started crying.  She is getting in air at least.  I asked her what happened.  She is still far too upset to speak.  After what seemed like forever, she says that something flew into her mouth.  What?  She said it felt like a knife.  For the record, knives don’t typically fly around our house.

In the process of trying to calm her and settle her labored breathing, I asked her if she could show us what flew into her mouth, since she said she spit it out.  She thought about it, all the while still crying and clutching her throat.  She took us down the stairs and reluctantly pointed to this stick.

How did a hard plastic stick that is supposed to be a tent beam for an American Girl tent end up flying into my 7 year old’s mouth?  Curious.  Pippa is clever, like freaky clever.  She has a high schoolers brain, but she is still a little girl.  She is fast on her feet and she can be a pretty deft liar. This time, she failed miserably.  She was walking with a stick on the stairs and bumped into the railing.  The stick, in her hands, got hit against the wall and thrust into her mouth with force.  This, after much prying, was the truth.

Pippa is tough.  She doesn’t cry when she cuts herself or needs to give blood at the doctors or gets stitches…she just deals.  She is extremely logical, so if you explain what is happening, she’s fine.  This time however, was different.  You could see the fear in her eyes.  She was scared.  She was in pain and she begged to go to the hospital.  I used my phone’s flashlight to look into the back of her mouth and there was a gaping hole right next to her uvula (that thing that hangs down at the back of your mouth).

There is a lot of blood and it is hard to tell what the damage is truly, plus Pippa is gagging and still clutching her throat.  Portugal has universal health care and since my priest is employed here, we are considered residents of this country and we therefore have free health care.  We had never stepped foot in a hospital or doctor’s office since our arrival here in September.  Pretty decent record.  We decided we better go.

Meanwhile, Maggie had disappeared.  She gets really anxious if anyone gets sick.  Pippa, although at times considered an annoying baby sister, is the love of Maggie’s life.  I send my priest to find Maggie.  He finds her in a ball on the bathroom floor, clutching a picture of her sister all while hysterically bawling.  She does not do well with stress.  He calms her down and we leave her with my parents as we head for the Cascais Hospital.

As we arrive at the hospital, a mere 5 minute drive from home, we see three doctors out front, stethoscopes and scrubs on, smoking cigarettes.  Not the most inspiring imagine.  You immediately have to take a number from an automated machine.  You press what your emergency is and receive your number.  We are called to the front counter.  The man can speak English, so things are good.  He makes a lame Donald Trump joke, but I laugh anyway hoping to get a priority position if I think he’s funny.

He takes our health number and sends us to the  pediatric waiting room.  Pippa is in my arms and when we get to the door to enter the guard says one parent only.  My priest sulks away to wait in the car.  As a side note, after we enter every kid has two parents but us.  He was just screwing with us because we were clearly foreign.  Not cool dude.

Next step is waiting until the triage nurse calls your number.  There are kids with puke bags everywhere and intensely crying babies.  We wait.  There is a screen overhead that gives the wait times and tells you where to go.

We get called to triage and I describe what happened.  They can clearly see that Pippa is struggling with breathing and swallowing.  They give her a yellow bracelet and the give me a pink one (this links us so no one steals my kid).  They use a system that they claim is worldwide called the Manchester Triage system.  They prioritize patients based on urgency.  You don’t even sit in the same waiting room as people who have different concerns…like all the kids puking are kept away from the kids who are not.  Pretty sweet.  I make extremely nice with the nurses.  I offer them some of my fancy scented American hand sanitizer.  They have never seen fancy hand sanitizer, it doesn’t exist here.  We are fast friends.  Pippa gets a yellow band.  High priority.  We go and sit in a special waiting room.

The most urgent band is red.  They need to be brought in by ambulance for that.  Next is orange and that seemed reserved for sick infants.  Then yellow.  Green and blue follow and they are low priority,

As we waited in the yellow waiting room, we watched the screen which told us which number was being called and what priority the number was.  I loved this system.  It made sense.  I wasn’t angry if someone was seen before us because the assessment was clear and priority was established.  In American and Canadian ER’s, I’ve been to both too many times, it seems much more random.  It might not be, but it just feels less logical.  This was clear.  People seemed calm.  Parents watched the screens  and waited.  Times were updated frequently.  When we arrived yellow bands had to wait 23 minutes, by the time we left they had to wait 29 minutes.

Pippa was called quickly.  The doctor spoke English and gave a thorough exam.  He said we may need to see an ENT and that none were there currently, but he was pretty confident in his diagnosis.  The part of her anatomy that she punctured, is very sensitive.  He said that it constricts when damaged and that accounts for the breathing difficulty.  He also then cracked a Donald Trump joke.  That seems to be a hot comedy item at Cascais Hospital.

He spent about 20 minutes with us.  He gave her prescriptions for pain and to numb the wound letting her eat easier.  I also found out that he paid only €1,000 per year for medical school ($1200).  He works 40 hours a week.  Usually one 24 hour shift.  He likes to surf and walk on the beach.  It was practically a date…remember my priest was waiting in the car.  He gave me his phone number if I had anymore questions.  I gave him some hand sanitizer.  Fast friends.  I took my patient home.

The moral of the story…never walk/run with sticks (obviously), don’t lie and say something flew into your mouth and go to a hospital in Portugal…fast efficient service with a super cool system.

In the end, I stayed up all night watching my daughter and worrying and my priest slept like a baby.  I now need coffee intravenously.

Hotline Bling…Priest style

My priest loves to sing.  He thinks he is pretty good at it too.  Once while singing along to the radio years ago, I told him he got all of the lyrics wrong.  He looked me dead in the eyes and said, “I am a paid professional singer, are you?” I admit that he does have to sing as part of his job as a priest, but it is really pushing it to claim he is a professional singer.  Really pushing it.

Last week, my daughters had the car radio on and a Drake song came on.  Drake, is from Toronto…my home town…and he even went to my same junior school, so I encourage their enjoyment of Drake.  

“Hotline Bling” starts playing and my priest starts singing along.  He starts belting out the tune with real conviction.  He sings, “I know when the heart long pong, it can only mean one thing.”  What the hell does that mean?  The kids erupt in laughter. No seriously, what is a heart long pong?  When I ask him that question, he has no answer, but he guessed it was something hip and cool and very Toronto.  This guy kills me.

Half marathon…Portuguese style

I have run many marathons and half marathons.  It was my thing for awhile.  After kids, a full marathon seemed like too much work.  Lots of training, lots of recovery.  I shifted my sites to half marathons.  Less distance equals less recovery time and much less training time.

There is a boy at church who needed some motivation.  He was told he had to slim down some because of a medical condition he has.  I told him we would do a half marathon together to help him get in shape.  We signed up for the Cascais half.  At home when I signed up for a race, I did so online.  I paid my money and I got an email confirmation.  It was fast and easy and usually costs anywhere from $50-$100, depending on the course and location.

In Portugal, you sign up on line, then you have to go to the bank and transfer money from your account to the account of the race.  Bizarre.  The ATM machines can handle the task, but since my bank card is Portuguese, it won’t operate in English, so I had to get help.  The whopping cost of the run €14 or about $17 USD.  Pretty sweet price.

Now, I would not say I properly trained for this run.  I ran, but never for that long.  I did run loads of hills, but I never got a chance to cover any serious distance.  It has been a busy few months.  I was anxious, but I knew the run wasn’t about me, it was about helping out a friend.  This made it all more manageable.

We went to the expo to pick up our race numbers.  I expected what I would expect at home.  Vendors selling everything to do with running.  What I got was nothing.  You just line up and show them your receipt and get your number, your time chip and the race shirt.  Alright then.  Easy and not at all commercial.

The run was on Sunday morning.  It started at a very civil 10 am.  My priest was at church during that time, presumably praying for his wife.

There were a few porta potties near the starting line of the race.  We lined up to use them.  When it was my turn, I entered and the entire thing started to move.  I thought I was going to fall over or worse have the toilet fall over and cover me in its lovely contents.  I exited alive, but it was touch and go.  I made a bold announcement for everyone to avoid that toilet because I nearly died….the runners started laughing.  Apparently, all the toilets are like that because of the uneven tile.  Not embarrassing…at all.  Ugh.

The race began like any other except we had a moment of silence before the gun went off in memory of a woman who died.  It was literally completely silent.  No one was chatting with their friend, no one was adjusting their shoes…they just stood there.  When it was over the race began.  So quietly.  It was impressive.

The course had some major hills.  It was tricky, but it was also stunning.  We ran beside the ocean for over 10 miles.

There were very few water stations, but when they had one they gave out full water bottles.  It was bizarre.  I didn’t want to waste, but I couldn’t drink a full bottle and I didn’t want to carry it with me while I ran.  There ended up being miles littered with water bottles (I went back the next day to show the kids where I ran and I couldn’t see evidence of even one water bottle.  Excellent clean up crew.).

There were also very few women running.  It was largely just men and unlike the other races I have done where you see all types of fitness levels and all types of people, here it was a pretty fit looking group.  The course had a 3 hour time limit.

We finished with 15 minutes to spare.  My friend had never run farther than 8 kilometers before, so he pushed himself and he triumphed. I admit he did want to stop a few times, but I held his hand and I ran with him.  It was a great feeling to forget about myself and my exhaustion and to focus on him.  I wanted him to accomplish his goal and in doing so, I got to experience a different kind of joy.  I was happy to finish, but I was much happier to finish hand in hand with a friend who needed some encouragement.

London called. We answered.

Maggie was dreaming of see her Musically crush…Jacob Sartorius. He was performing in London and she convinced my mom to go with her to the concert. Pippa and I tagged along, just for kicks.
We had four days to enjoy the sites of London. Maggie and my mom spent an entire day getting to the concert and going to the concert.  I went to the tube station closest to our hotel to inquire about how they would get to the show.  The underground staff was so nice I felt like I should have tipped them.  They gave me a map and labeled everything.  I felt confident that they were going to at least arrive at the O2…if they could get home, that was a different story.

My mom had paid extra to allow Maggie to meet Jacob…all the traveling was worth it!

This was pure joy.   She said he was sweet and lovely.  She spent hours after meeting him standing around waiting for the concert to begin.  No big deal apparently when you just met your true love.

Meanwhile, Pippa and I partied it up.  We hit the Natural History Museum which was so crowded it was insane.  We pushed through the hoards of people and enjoyed the dinosaurs and the bug cocoon.  It was not the cleanest or most modern museum, but Pippa didn’t seem to notice and it was free.  Most museums are free in London…score!  Then we hit the Victoria and Albert museum.  This was awesome.  They had interactive things for kids and this completely amazing historical clothing section.  Pippa liked the high fashion.

The highlight for Pippa had to be the Princess Diana Memorial Playground.  It is a truly inventive place for kids to play.  There is a gigantic pirate ship play structure.  Pippa climbed to the top and then decided she would assist the smaller kids who were scared to go so high.  She could grab their hands and encouraged them, all while speaking in a British accent.  Pure comedy.  The park is free but it only allows a limited number of kids in at a time.  We got there early enough to avoid having to wait in line, but I understand in the summer you might not be so lucky.  The park is very whimsical and totally not American or Canadian playground safe.  I suspect they have had complaints because they have signs warning people that kids need to take risks in order to develop and the park is designed to challenge children.   There are boulders and rocks to climb on and lots of balance beams and climbing structures.  Pippa was in heaven and she made us return two times.  Truly a playground fit for the memory of such a lovely Princess.

The kids never wanted to leave London.  I must say there is a real spirit about the city that I never noticed before I had kids.  I lived in London for a few months after college.  It was a fun time, but I always found the city a bit depressing.  The grey skies really got to me, but they didn’t phase the kids at all.  The kids saw the bright red double decker buses, the cool phone booths, the shops…they loved it all.  I think they may have liked seeing things in English after 6 months with only seeing Portuguese.  Whatever the reason, it was wonderful to experience pure happiness and to see a city through the eyes of my delighted children.