Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color

Over My Head

I don’t always notice it, but it’s always there—the axe hanging over my head.

Photo Credit: Deb Brandon

During the first few years into my recovery, the feeling of it hanging above me was almost tangible. Whenever the headaches were particularly bad, when a new symptom appeared, when I was on the verge of collapse from neuro-fatigue, I feared the possibility of another brain bleed.

In the wake of my brain injury, I’ve become head shy. Whenever I stand at the top of the stairs, about to take the first step down, I pause and eye each step, first, then second and third, until I reach the bottom. There, I see an image of myself lying unconscious, my head resting in a pool of blood. Though the pause seems to last an eternity, I know it’s a mere split second before I return to my surroundings and start my way down, holding grimly to the railing.

I’ve become klutzy since the brain bleeds. I’ve fallen downstairs several times and occasionally stumble on uneven pavements. I’m terrified of experiencing another head injury, whether the result of a TBI or another brain bleed. The thought of reliving those early days of recovery is unbearable.

            As time wore on and my brain healed, the symptoms diminished and with them the frequency at which the terror resurfaced. The falls were infrequent, most of the headaches weren’t horrendous, and no new deficits appeared. But the fear, when it cropped up, did not diminish in intensity.

            A couple of days ago, I woke up to my cell phone buzzing insistently. I tried to turn over to answer it. But I couldn’t. I tried again and again, but my body refused to cooperate.

I tried to rationalize my way out of panicking. Perhaps it had all been a dream (more like a nightmare). If it had been a dream, there wouldn’t have been a phone call. I checked—I did have one missed call. Perhaps I’d been sleeping so soundly that I hadn’t fully woken up—my brain had, but not my body.

            I mentioned the experience to a friend the next day. “I must have been really exhausted.” but I couldn’t prevent the fear from bubbling up. “I guess it could have been a seizure.”

I hadn’t had a seizure in a long time, in two or three or more years. But the bloody brain has always been full of surprises. In the early days, it often took me unawares, unleashing it’s wrath at me for overdoing it. Now, though surprises were rare, they still occurred.

Also according to my neurologist, whenever I experience an unusual short-lived symptom, there is a good chance it’s a seizure. Could my inability to move have been a seizure?

            The fear bubbled over and flooded my entire being. My brain went into hyper-drive. Could one of my remaining angiomas have bled? Could I have developed a new one? If that were the case, shouldn’t I have suffered a blinding headache? I had been suffering from severe headaches over the past few days. But they weren’t that bad. Were they?

After experiencing a couple more weeks of bad headaches accompanied by a new symptom—prolonged bouts of vertigo—I made an appointment with my neurologist, who sent me for a brain MRI.

The feeling of the axe hanging over my head once again lost tangibility. For now.