I’ve always imagined my own brain as a playful, curious entity riding around on an electric scooter in my skull, causing trouble when it gets bored and setting off the panic dominoes when it’s scared, but never more chaotic than freaking out over nothing or firing off weird dreams to keep me on my toes even in my sleep.
But clearly my brain isn’t getting enough attention in these crazy times and has resorted to drastic lengths. The rascal has never actually broken on me—with no warning either!
My glitchy laptop has the decency to give me a 60 second countdown before it restarts for no reason. My own brain was like, “We’ve been through a lot together, but you know what? Fuck you, I’m on lunch.”
I was having a perfectly normal quarantine day, walking through the woods with my dog, listening to the Tenet soundtrack (those pulsing industrial rhythms!) and all of a sudden, I was out cold.
I have a good 30 minutes of unaccounted time that I can’t remember no matter what, even though I still have perfect recall of grabbing my dog’s leash and putting on my shoes and my earbuds before going outside, saying “Watch out for snakes” to my dog as we entered the woods, chuckling to myself at my accidental MST3K reference, and the song that was playing when I started feeling weird.
I don’t remember falling down. I don’t remember getting up. I don’t remember how I got a bruise on my eyelid, or where I lost my glasses.
I don’t even remember how I got out of the woods.
When my brain came back online, I was already on my way home, only a few hundred feet from my door. My dog was leading the way, walking right in front of me like always, only her leash was dragging on the ground.
“That’s weird,” I thought.
I may have grabbed it, I’m not sure. I’ve taken a lot of radiation in a short amount of time.
When I got inside, I wandered around for a few minutes, started the dishwasher—“classic Elizabeth move,” my sister said later—and then realized I wasn’t wearing my glasses.
It’s a testament to my disorientation that I did not freak out. I have worn glasses since second grade. Everyone I’ve ever known who wore glasses as a kid lost them at least once, usually multiple times. I have never lost a pair of glasses. I know where my glasses and my sunglasses and my spare glasses are at all times. When I take them off, I put them in the exact same spot every time, in a case in the top drawer of my nightstand. So when I realized I wasn’t wearing my glasses, I assumed they were safe in their spot, because they always are, because they always have been.
My glasses were not in their spot.
I did not freak out. I thought at this point that I’d just awoken from a heavy nap, a “what year is it?!” nap, even though I was wearing shoes and a hoodie and my dog was still wearing her leash. I looked around the nightstand for my glasses, texted A to ask if she’d seen them, but did not freak out, because I was not fully back online and the vast swaths of my brain dedicated to panic were not yet fully awake.
“Maybe I fell asleep with my glasses on,” I thought. “That’s happened before.”
I’m a little scatterbrained! See, it’s funny now!
I felt around my face. No glasses. But I did feel a delicate crunch.
There were leaves in my hair. Hmm. I just emerged from a coma-like nap, but I was outside at the same time? How could that be? Did I sleep on the ground?
I texted my mom that I thought I might have fainted, and that I felt very dizzy and couldn’t find my glasses. She is a nurse and has always said reassuring things like, “You’re fine, just drink some water, I’m on the phone, child Elizabeth.”
She replied, “I will be right over.”
Uh-oh. I said, “Are you sure?”
Later, she said that as soon as I said I lost my glasses, she knew something was very wrong.
I spent the next several hours in the ER, getting my blood drawn for only the third time in my entire life, having an IV port installed, getting my first EKG and CT scan, and then being told that everything looked fine, except for the fact that the ventricles in my brain are a little bigger than normal.
“That’s probably nothing,” said my mom, always a reassuring thing to hear about your goddamn brain. “You just have a big head.”
Oh yes. Both my sister and I have big heads, and are regaled with graphic details of just how big and how difficult that made our births every year, usually in the middle of opening gifts in front of all of our friends at a crowded Mexican restaurant.
Well, not this year!
After my Covid test came back negative (man, they sure shoved that swab up my nose with gusto), I was admitted and taken up to my room in a wheelchair. Having spent a huge chunk of the last two years pushing people in wheelchairs but never riding in one myself, I immediately noticed that my transport chair was too big and one of the brakes was a little squeaky, but I didn’t say anything.
It was past midnight, but before I could get some sleep, a very kind nurse put grippy socks on my feet and told me that someone would come to get me around 3:30 for my MRI.
“This afternoon?” I said.
“Oh no, this morning!” she said. “Are you claustrophobic?”
I was wheeled on a stretcher at 3 in the morning to get an MRI. It still seems like a very vivid anxiety dream. I was given earplugs and headphones and then a weird honeycomb mask was put over my face.
“Don’t move,” I was told. I’m a nervous toe-tapper in the best of times. I like to fidget! I need to fidget, more often than not. Especially when there’s no other stimulation about. How hard would it be to project a movie or some fanfic on the ceiling of the little coffin tube?
“Don’t move,” I was told again.
“Not even my feet?” I said.
“It’s all connected!”
“Fuck,” I groaned, as I was pulled into the machine.
I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to be an astronaut. Hopefully it’s a lot like being trapped in a tube with an ominous thumping sound pounding into your head for about an hour.
About halfway through, I was pulled out so I could be injected with the contrast dye—nope, not going to Google that shit—and then put back in, which was actually worse than being slid in the first time.
I tried to meditate, go to a happy place, make a list of all the Disney rides I’d rather be on, which turned into a list of all the Disney rides with strobe lights, which I might have to avoid now.
After I was wheeled back to my room, I got a few minutes of sleep before a phlebotomist came in to take my blood for only the fourth time in my entire life. She apologized for waking me and I said not to worry about it, being extra cheerful because I remembered my anatomy professor saying, “Phlebotomists don’t have any friends at the hospital. Their hands are cold and they’re always poking people. You don’t want to become a phlebotomist.”
How come I can remember that, but not where I lost my glasses?
After another few minutes of sleep, two vaguely people-shaped shadows entered my room for my EEG, which turned me into either a character from the old Spectromagic parade at Disney World or the Timekeeper from the old Timekeeper attraction at Disney World.
(I really, really miss Disney World).
After the shadows glued leads to my head and flashed a strobe light at my face to see if I had another seizure (and I didn’t! I can go on Toy Story Mania after all! Whew!), they said I was allowed to fall asleep, and when I woke up, there was still some glue in my hair but it was light outside, and my mom was in my room. “Is this how Dorothy felt at the end of The Wizard of Oz?” I thought.
All of my tests came back normal. Despite my chunky ventricles, the MRI and EEG both found my brain to be “medically unremarkable.”
“Dumbass brain,” I said. “Trying to look normal when I know you’re not.”
Not one, but TWO neurologists came in to talk to us—they were confident I’d had a seizure, but without any witnesses, they couldn’t tell me for sure.
“If only we could talk to your dog!” they said.
“Why did this happen?” I asked.
“The brain is just weird!” was the best explanation they could give me.
It’s just meat with electricity inside, I don’t know what I expected.
I asked if it would happen again, and they said, “Probably not, but . . . you can’t drive for six months. But you should be fine!”
When I got home, after a nice long nap and a good shower to get all the EEG glue out of my hair, it brought me a tremendous amount of joy to read my hospitalization write-up and see that the head neurologist documented that my dog is a lab/beagle mix in his official report.
My sister and Stella have been giving me shit all month for not wanting to watch the holiday classic that’s only a classic because it’s been forced upon us, Hocus Pocus. I hate Hocus Pocus for many reasons: the fabulousness of Bette Midler aside, it’s poorly written, terribly paced, an eight-year-old girl fixated on a teenage girl’s rack makes me uncomfortable for a far different reason than it did when I actually was eight (and boy do we not have time to unpack all of that!) and also?
A CAT DIES. WHY DOES ANYONE LIKE THIS MOVIE.
So naturally, the first thing my sister said when I got home from the hospital was, “So do you like Hocus Pocus now that your brain’s been scrambled? It’s been reset, right?”
She’s otherwise been very supportive—she’s already been in the woods twice to look for my glasses, and taken it somewhat personally that they’ve evaded her. “I’ve found earrings in the woods, and your glasses are so large,” she said. My dog did her best to help, too.
So now that the shock is wearing off, and the reality of not being able to drive for six months settles in, I’m actually much more freaked out than I ever was in the hospital. This could have been so much worse. I was very, very lucky.
Thanks for glitching out in a place where I landed on something soft, brain. The super karate monkey death car almost parked in my space.
But whichever neuronal cluster has decided to play the song “Shout!” on a continuous loop for the past few nights right when I’m trying to fall asleep, I hate you and you specifically.
I still feel a shaky a week later, although the constant anxiety of, you know, everything isn’t helping. About midway through Election Day—and my follow-up call with the neurologist—I started wondering how hard it would be to knock myself out again. My mom could relate:
But we were so euphoric when the result was finally called that she said, “Not that your little episode was a good thing, but maybe it balanced out the universe!”