Medical Anomaly: Drifting into Darkness This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

August 28, 2012
Life is a web of moments, experiences that connect each other by fibrous threads in the mind and the memory, stretching out towards others with every thought. There is a moment in every person’s life when they realize that their childhood is coming to a close. I experienced that moment when I was eleven years old. I was in fifth grade, nearly finished with grade school, preparing to graduate with five years of straight A’s, a presidential award, and an honors speech. I was happy, studious but social at school and careful and compliant at home. I was ready to move on to middle school, to meet new people, and become involved in a more “adult” environment; but I still maintained a childish mentality, full to the brim with idealistic dreams, overflowing with positivity and hope. Everything changed one day at home after playing outside in the backyard. A piece of dust flew into my eye and I ran in crying, begging my mother to flush it before it scratched the cornea; science was one of my best subjects at school and lately I had begun playing a veterinarian game on the computer so I considered myself an expert on such things. Rushing me into the bathroom, my mother turned the faucet to the sink on. She shoved my face under the water and splashed my eyes; I felt a pain in the back of my head. Everything went black.

Later, I was told that my mother had been yelling at me as I fell to the floor, unconscious and unresponsive. Catching me just in time, she laid me carefully on the tiles of the bathroom and shook me, hoping for a revival. My eyes were open but there were no indications of reaction or understanding. Moments passed, minutes of impassiveness ensued. My mother crouched, bent over me in fear and bewilderment. “Elizabeth!” Finally, I heard her screams and hazily came to, as confused as my mother had been seconds previously. I remember little of the moments that followed my return to consciousness. I remember blacking out, and I know now that I had woken on the bathroom floor, but the first memory I have after my black out places me sitting upright on my sister’s bed, facing the door, in the room we then shared. My mom bowed over me, eyebrows inching nervously towards each other as I blinked up at her. I remember being dizzied, lightheaded, and faint; my vision was hazy and unreliable. I had no idea what had happened. The weeks that followed showed that no one knew much more than I did.

Shortly after I regained awareness of the world around me, my mother called my pediatrician, Dr. Familian, whom she hoped might shed some light on the matter. My mom was scared, terrified of what my black out might mean. She suggested we meet with a cardiologist. Words were whispered behind my parents’ bedroom door: Brain tumor? Heart defect? Disease? They thought I couldn’t hear them, but I heard every repercussive remark; they were painful and petrifying. I didn’t know what to think. The next month proved challenging and exhausting, a blur now, I remember every night feeling the effects of that day’s questions, probes, pokes, and prods posed by doctors that violated my body and mind. I saw a cardiologist first; she worked in the cardiology research area of UCLA. I remember driving in the car on the way to the doctor, heart pounding, palms sweating, watching my sister in the seat next to me read unconcerned by the world I felt crashing down around me. She was oblivious, and I’m glad she was. The doctor was kind but straightforward in a way that made me uncomfortable. She brashly slapped a cold jell over my chest after asking me to undress and don a paper hospital gown. I hated those gowns; I still do. As if having someone you don’t know rub an alien substance over your bare chest after watching you undress wasn’t violating enough already, the gowns left the back of the wearer exposed and shivering from awkwardness and cold. The EKG proved inconclusive: no palpitations, no murmurs, no defects, as far as the doctors could see.

Next came the MRI, the second in a fear-inducing series of medical examinations. I took the elevator to the third floor with my mother by my side, carrying a Kelly Pickler CD. The woman with whom she had spoken in order to arrange the test had told her to bring a CD for me to listen to while being analyzed. The CD was a present, a reward for my silent submission to the many nerve-wracking situations I had been recently subjected to. My mother is claustrophobic so she was anxious to see my response to being enclosed in such a confining space. She squeezed my hand and promised to hold onto my foot while I underwent the test. I slowed my breathing calmingly as I was mechanically drawn into the tiny capsule; it was white and looked like a giant pod. A drumming sound ensued, almost eclipsed by Kelly’s voice over the radio frequencies that were allowed to penetrate the clamor of the experiment. The MRI proved inconclusive: no tumors, no aneurisms, though a slight swelling at the front of the brain which was believed to be the cause of the unbearable migraines I would experience later on, in middle school and high school, was detected. All was deemed well.

Blood panels and supplementary samples followed the EKG and MRI before I experienced the final and most fascinating test of that month: an EEG. EEG’s test for chronic, epileptic, random, and stress-induced seizures. The day before the EEG, I was forbidden to sleep as I was supposed to be in a non anesthetized state of unconsciousness during the examination. To keep me awake, my mother proposed that she, my best friend Kimberly, her mother Dawn, and I see a movie together. She chose March of the Penguins, playing at the Northridge Fashion Center Pacific Movie Theater at 11:55 pm. Both Kimberly and I experienced difficulty stabilizing and maintaining consciousness during the film, as it was mind-numbingly boring. The cookies and cream “Oreo” sundae from Denny’s that followed was the only thing that allowed us to last through the night without a split second of slumber. The morning after my restless night, I sleepily walked with my mother to yet another doctor’s office where I was to have the EEG. The same goo that was thrown haphazardly onto my chest during the EKG was plastered once again to my body, this time on my head where it tangled my hair and desensitized my scalp. The doctors expected me to sleep through the test, but I couldn’t; I was terrified of falling asleep with tubes and wires attached to my head. “We just need to check the innate unconscious function of your brain,” they promised earnestly. I wasn’t stupid. I had done my online research! They wanted me to fall asleep before attempting to induce what they expected to be another seizure for analysis. In the end, I never fell asleep and the test was completed while I remained awake. I appeared to have standard brain function. The EEG proved inconclusive: no epilepsy.

After several more weeks of questioning, testing, and overheard whispering, it was decided that I had experienced an isolated seizure triggered by a nervous response to the foreign object in my eye. The water that flushed the object out of my eye was thought to have lodged the object further before annihilating it. I have fainted multiple times since then, due to many different triggers: stress, anxiety, fear, heat, and low blood sugar. I am still terrified of flushing my eyes out and refuse to do so, forcing myself to tear rather than introduce water to the unfamiliar entity visiting my eye. I do not know why I blacked out; of course I have the medical explanation, but I still wonder if maybe there was a lesson intended to accompany it. The entire experience terrified me, but it also taught me to be grateful for the many diseases, illnesses, disorders, and ailments that do not plague me. It was a daunting period in my life, to be followed by other medical anomalies, but it taught me to take care of myself and to never take the life I have, the time I have been given, for granted. I was forced to grow up a little faster during that month than I would have liked, but I am grateful for those weeks in which I matured in my perception of spirituality, mentality, and sentiment.

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