Monday, February 27, 2012

Mardi Gras Meningitis

Being a lifelong resident of Mobile, AL, Mardi Gras is part of who I am. It's one of those little quirky bits of culture I am proud to have. We Gulf Coasters have a few great things going for us, and I'm convinced that Mardi Gras is one. We've got King Cakes (OMG, they are soooo yummy), moonpies, flashy beads, parades, cocktails, parties and balls, big fancy hats, and sparkly gowns. Anyway, I think all of those things are just wonderful.

Needless to say, I wanted to attend the annual Mardi Gras festivities with every fiber of my being. I didn't care if I had to be wheeled around atop some one's drag-along cooler... I wanted to be there. I had a crazy hat to cover my crazy head and a cute little dress just the right shade of purple. And a feather boa to wrap around my shoulders. I was going to be FABULOUS. Brain surgery be damned!

Alas, it was not to be so. My regal presence was unable to grace the revelry. I was back in the hospital. In Birmingham. Already. Again. Without a bead or a doubloon in sight. *Can't you just hear the tragic violins playing as the big brass band Mardi Gras jazz fades away?

It all started on Joe Cain Day. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this glorious holiday, it is the Sunday before Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras Day). In Mobile, Joe Cain is a great hero; he revived the tradition of celebrating Mardi Gras after it had been halted due to that Civil War thingy.

Anyway. Joe Cain Day. In Mobile, it's one of the best parade days. I was gonna be there. Only, I felt bad. Really, really bad. My head was pounding any time I sat up. I didn't get out of bed because when I did, the world became a Tilt-a-Whirl. "No matter, " I thought to myself. "I have until Fat Tuesday to get better."


On Monday, the pounding intensified. Then the nausea set in. I will spare you gruesome details, but my bathroom wall was a different color by that afternoon. I decided it would be a good idea to get some assistance, as I felt that my death was eminent.

My mother-in-law and sister rushed to my aid, and hauled me to the emergency room at Mobile Infirmary. I got bloodwork, CT scans, IV fluids, anti-vomit meds, and some glorious pain medication. It wasn't enough. I was still in terrible pain.

After reviewing my CT scan, the emergency room doctor thought that the pressure in my head/brain was very high. This often necessitates another surgery in which a small catheter is placed inside the brain to allow spinal fluid to drain out. This helps bring the pressure down. He didn't want to be messing with all of that nonsense. The doctor called my neurosurgeon in Birmingham, and it was decided that I would have to go back to UAB for them to figure me out.

I was strapped down to a gurney in the back of the ambulance for four hours for a trek up I-65 North. There was, unfortunately, a quite creepy paramedic along for the ride. Let's just say that there were a couple of "accidental brushing" incidents that I would have normally addressed. But this guy held the medication I desperately needed. And calling him out would have certainly made for an even more uncomfortable four-hour drive. So I said to myself, "Well, it's nothing that couldn't have happened at Mardi Gras anyway!" I then asked for a nice dose of my morphine. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Finally, I arrived at my destination. I was diagnosed with inflammatory meningitis (not the contagious type) as a result of having completed my round of steroids at home. Apparently, my body became quite angry at all of the abuse it had been through over the past few weeks and decided to attack my meninges as a sign of displeasure. So when it could inflame, it did so in grand fashion.

I was put out of my misery all night... wonderful medication allowed me to finally sleep and rest to decrease the pressure in my head. The steroids worked their magic. IV fluids were given to relieve the dehydration from the day. I felt wonderful the next day. But I still wasn't ready to go home.

Another lovely development over the weekend had been the inability to move the right side of my face. At all. My speech had become slurred, it was hard to eat and drink, my face looked twisted any time I smiled or laughed. Beautiful. Not.

I had irritation to the facial nerve on the right side after surgery. This caused what's called "Bell's Palsy." I had to go on additional medications for this, and learned that it would probably take about 6 months for me to get use of my face back. On the plus side, since it's pretty much paralyzed it's kind-of like free botox. Who doesn't want FREE BOTOX? So, yeah. My face is really weird for a while. More weird than usual, even.

Late Tuesday night, I was treated to the radiology technician arriving in my room to take pictures of my beauty. Ha! It was for a chest x-ray and for an abdominal x-ray. I was kind-of confused about this, but figured that maybe my doctors just wanted to be extra-thorough for some reason. I was a little groggy from all of the medications I had been given.

He told me I had to take off my bra for the chest x-ray. When I did, I accidentally flashed him. This was pretty embarrassing, cause he was kind-of cute and in my age group. He took the chest x-ray, and proceeded to tell me that the abdominal x-ray was for "the tube in my belly." Say what? I wasn't aware that any sort of tube had been placed in my abdomen. But I was aware of the fact that I had been walking around the hospital unit earlier, and noticed an elderly, ill-looking, female patient with the last name of Bennett on her door.

I let him know that I was almost sure he had the wrong girl. He checked it out, and yes. I was the wrong patient. So he got to see the boobs for nothing. And it was Mardi Gras. And I didn't even get any beads. The one time I show my boobs to a total stranger for no reason on Mardi Gras day.

Ash Wednesday was my day of liberation. I was free at last. Except that I am now slave to my medications. I have to take around 22 pills per day at different times, staggered around the clock. It's tough to keep up with. But I'm doing my best to be a model patient. I know that millions of people probably have to take many more drugs than that, but when you go from nothing to 22, it's shocking.

At any rate, I think that catches everyone up on my cancer adventure so far. I get to go meet my oncologist (cancer doctor) on Thursday, March 1st. I will discuss my prognosis and treatment plan with him at that time. I will post details when available. I also have to see my neurosurgeon and ear-nose-throat surgeon on March 13th. I get to find out if my hearing will come back and how my progress is going.

So for now, I'm resting and relaxing. Taking my medications all day. I can't drive yet, because I'm still on some heavy-duty medications that make the operation of heavy machinery off-limits. I still have good days and bad days, but I can see improvements all the time. Anyone who is around Mobile, feel free to come on by for a visit. I'm not as much fun as I used to be yet, but I'm getting there.


  1. Thanks for setting up this blog Sierra! I've been thinking about you a lot and praying for you too. Please let me know if there is anything that you need or that I can do for you. Love you! Kim

  2. Sierra.... I had no idea. How wonderfully strong you are!!!!!! I will be I'm mobile next month and would love fomeetu to meet my daughter. She is 4 now if you can believe it!

    You are an inspiration and as beautiful as ever. Stay strong and lean on God for strength. We must catch up soon!!!!!