Saturday, August 25, 2007

Experience with Unconsciousness

I realize I have not been posting to the Gluten-Free Blog as often as I'd like to lately. I've had all sorts of things going on recently, many of which were just not the most fun. I've had to suffer through a few medical tests the past couple weeks, as prescribed by my doctors, presumably to help me achieve the best health possible over the coming years. I say "suffer through" only because of the most recent test which rendered me unconscious for a while.

I'm generally OK with medical tests, so long as they are not too invasive. I don't mind having blood drawn to check things like my RBC (Red Blood Count), Hemoglobin, Thyroid hormones (like TSH and T4), kidney and liver functions, and blood glucose. They can take those tests once a month if they want - such tests just don't bother me. But, when you start putting thing IN me in order to get a particular measurement, that's when things start to become less tolerable.

I did an oral glucose-tolerance-test the week before last, and that wasn't even too bad. You basically drink a super-sweet fluid that has 75 grams of pure glucose (sugar) in it, and, the medical people draw blood at various intervals to see how your body reacts. In my particular case, they drew it every half hour for two hours. It was a fair amount of needle-pokes, but with a talented blood-sucker (the guy I had is gifted, and he can take blood with hardly a "pinch" of pain) it certainly beat having a scope put down my throat a couple years ago to diagnose Celiac Disease. The only thing being put into me this time was oral sugar water essentially. Simple enough, and it is all in the best interest of seeing how well my body is handling sugar - I don't want to develop diabetes, and I'll do what is necessary to keep a good check on my system.

But, the next test I had this week brought with it a bit more excitement. This time I was to take a test that was only to be an hour in length. It was to start with me getting a shot of some hormone-stimulating solution, followed by blood draws at 30 and 60 minutes later to test my body's reaction. It all sounded harmless enough to me, so I proceeded to take the test.

Unconsciousness and Back
No sooner was I asking the nurse administering the shot about whether I'd be able to walk around while I wait for 30 minutes to elapse than I started feeling light-headed. I quickly told her to get my feet up, and that was the last thing I remember as I nearly instantly went unconscious.

I started to regain consciousness after about 30 seconds (according to observers). It was a freaky feeling to say the least. If you have never experienced it, it's hard to imagine. Your sense of place and time is obliterated. It's like there is a temporal gap in your memories that your brain has a difficult time bridging. When you are out cold, there's nothing. Plain and simple: nothing. No dreams, no memories, just time that didn't exist for you. Call it time travel - travel that you don't remember embarking upon when you arrive at your next destination: foggy consciousness.

At the reemergence of consciousness and mental thought, my brain was having a rough time piecing together what was going on. At first, it was like a dream, though an odd one to say the least. Then, as I moved further from the edge of nothingness towards reality, it became a very vivid dream, with actors and props totally unfamiliar to me. I had absolutely no idea where I was or anything, and they already had the automatic jump-start machine (i.e., defibrillator) wired to my chest, with the machine repeating (in a computerized voice) "clear the airway... give CPR... check vitals". That was the first thing that made any sense to me, albeit just barely. It was still as though I was watching some choreographed show in action, though it was quickly becoming apparent I was playing some role.

Finally the people hanging over me and standing around me were making sense when they were asking "are you with us?" and similar questions about how I felt and such. My brain finally assembled enough of the puzzle, and I thought to myself, "ah, now I remember... that damn test I was taking!". I'm now covered in sweat - a side-effect of going unconscious seems to always be dumping a quart of sweat in seconds, usually a "cold sweat" of sorts. But, otherwise, I'm calm and feeling rational.

Although it seemed like forever, this all probably took only a minute or so in total. But, it was one of the weirdest minutes in my life. I have experienced syncope before, and regardless of how many times you go through it, it is just a god-awful feeling to live through.

Off to the E-R
So, what started as an hour long and rather risk-free test became a bit more complex - passing our was not supposed to be part of the equation. Within a couple minutes of starting the test I'm being taking to an Emergency Room for an EKG and blood tests, etc., to make sure I didn't experience a heart attack (luckily, those tests all came back fine).

As they are wheeling me down to Emergency, I at least had the presence of mind to instruct them to finish the test they started, since, like I told them, I'm NEVER DOING THAT AGAIN! They had already injected me with what they needed to, so at this point, it was simply taking a couple blood draws in order to complete the test. After insisting repeatedly that they do so, the blood was drawn on time (I sure hope it helps some Doctor understand my body in a way that was worth all this). And, I soon received a saline-drip plugged into my arm to rehydrate me and get my vitals back to "normal", as my blood pressure had dropped considerably during this ordeal.

I started to feel, for the most part, back to normal within a couple hours of the saline infusion. And, not being one to want to hang around in hospitals any longer than necessary, I was definitely getting the itch to leave the place. Needless to say, the ER doctors didn't want me to leave so soon, and wanted me around "a couple more hours" for observation. I agreed, and remained.

By now it was certainly lunch time, and, you guessed it, forget Gluten-Free Foods in the hospital. The nurse that stopped by to discuss food options had no idea what gluten-free was, but luckily by this time my wife had arrived on the scene and was nice enough to go home and acquire me something that I knew was gluten-free (the last thing I needed was non-GF food!)

I stayed around yet another couple hours, and when I thought they'd be telling me to go home, the doctor on duty told me how he wanted me to stay overnight while on various monitors. Given they couldn't "explain" my reaction, and my being "out" lasted so long (I guess 30 seconds is a long time, especially if you stop breathing during that), they wanted me to remain overnight. I chose not to after careful consideration for over an hour.

To me, it seemed rather obvious what happened. Either I had a bad reaction to the substance shot into me for diagnostic purposes, or I had some exaggerated vasovagal syncope response from nerves that just hit at the same time. I will never know for certain. What I do know is I don't want to go through that again! And, I also knew that if I stayed overnight in the hospital, I wasn't going to sleep much at all with wires and tubes sticking out of me.

The only residual effect that remained by the end of the day was being a bit tired, and having a slightly sore spot on my arm from the IV of saline. It's now been a couple days, and so far nothing else has come from this experience, and I sure hope that is how it remains. The half-life of what was pumped into my veins was low enough that most all should have been flushed from my system by the time I left the hospital anyhow.

I don't want to let this experience scare me out of future medical tests, especially tests that may be critical and valuable. What I am quite sure of from now on is that I will advise anyone that plans to shoot me full of an unfamiliar diagnostic substance that I have a history of syncope under such conditions, and that they best begin by doing anything possible to minimize the chance of a repeat performance - whether that means elevating my feet ahead of time or hypnotizing me first. One way or the other, I certainly don't want any surprises like this again.

With luck I'll be back to writing more regularly on the Gluten-Free blog, and I have some Gluten-Free Desserts I want to be baking. I've just been taking it easy and de-stressing for a few days, as I try to mentally recover from my latest life experience. Hopefully the rest of you never have to experience this type of thing first hand.


Kate said...

AY! I'm so sorry to hear of this event for you and glad you are doing better!
Welcome back home!
Destress... .and kick back...we're glad you're here with us!

ByTheBay said...

Mike! That is so scary! I'm glad you are okay...

Slacker Mom (aka Mrs. GF) said...

Egads!! I am so glad you are ok. What a horrible experience. I sure hope that the test has some good info for you! :)

Sharon said...

Wow, Mike I am exhausted after reading your ordeal... I now have been diagnosed with Celiac 4 weeks now, (Happy Anniversary to Me!)........ My blood just came back seriously anemic ( yet since 4 weeks gluten free, I feel very good).... the doctor is prescribing IRON SHOTS....... this does not sound good to me, and I worry about having an experience similiar to yours...... Does any one know about the side effects of these IRON SHOTS, apparently iron pills do not absorb in Celiacs, so the pills won't do the trick to correct the anemia? Please reply
Thanks, Sharon

Mike Eberhart said...

Kate, Bay, Slacker:
Thanks for the well-wishings, I appreciate it. I'm just glad that is behind me.

Sorry to hear you have Celiac and the complications of serious anemia. I don't have any experience with iron shots, but hopefully some reader can answer with personal experience. I am aware of some side-effects with iron shots, but only from what I have read.

When doctors said you were anemic, I presume they were looking at your RBC/HGB levels. Have they also done serum Ferritin, FE% saturation, TIBC, and B12 tests? To treat your anemia with iron would only make sense if you are also abnormally low on iron. Presumably they know that iron-deficiency is the cause of the anemia; if not, make sure they check before taking iron shots.

Celiacs, especially newly diagnosed ones, may certainly have impaired iron uptake (along with all sorts of other vitamin/mineral uptake impairment). As such, perhaps iron shots would be the only way to quickly get what you need. I hope you get this all figured out and get your numbers back to normal without any complications.

Lucy said...

Good grief, Mike! How very scary. So glad to hear you are OK again. Suggest you don't do that again in a hurry ... (!)

Sheri said...

Holy cow. While nothing like what you experienced, I had a similar issue a year ago last January when I ate dinner, was doing the dishes - got lightheaded and dropped like a stone. Lots and lots of negative tests later, they couldn't figure out what happened and labeled me with "unspecified peripheral vertigo." Gotta love those doctors. Glad you are feeling better; getting the spins and passing out without doing something to provoke it (alcohol, for example) is a scary thing.

Mike Eberhart said...

Sheri: sounds like you've had some less-than-fun experiences too. Gotta love that "unspecified" thing. I sure hope you don't experience that again!

Lucy: trust me, I'm not doing that again EVER :) And, hopefully no other tests trigger such a response in the future.

Elaine said...

Wow, I'm really sorry to hear you had such a bad reaction. The doc's were probably being overly cautious wanting you to stay overnight. You had a bad reaction to a medication/substance they injected into your body. It's a good thing they were cautious, but you probably weren't hurting yourself by checking out early either.

I recently had a bad medication reaction. I was taking some new medication and had an early AM appt. My husband was helping me get a shower, and I went down fast. He said I was out cold on the shower floor for 10-15 seconds.

It was long enough for my 11 yo to be back in the bathroom with the phone in her hand after he shouted for her. I know what you mean about waking up. I woke up and all I could think about was...why is it so white? And wet??? White and wet? I was so warm and comfy in my bed and now it's all white and took a good two or three minutes before I was back up to speed.

Another one, and this one will have you laughing. I had just given birth do my daughter and I was exhausted. Every complication you can have, I had. Hours of labor, 6hrs of pushing, followed by an emergency c-section. My perfectly healthy daughter was in the nursery and they were washing me up in my room when I felt a little sick.

The nurse handed me a basin and I started getting sick. At this point one of two things happened. Either I was so tired, I just fell asleep (what I think happened) OR, I had a vaso-vagal reaction and passed out, mid-heave. My poor Dad was sitting on the bed beside me and he went down like a rock when the called the code.

I woke up a minute or two later with 12 people standing over me, full paddles, my dad unconcious on the bed next to me, wondering what the heck had just happened. This time I was not at all disoriented, which is why I think I fell asleep.

My family has asked me never to speak of my daughters birth.....(I still get a laugh out of it)


Sheltie Girl said...

Mike - I'm sorry to hear about your passing out in the hospital and I'm glad that you are on the road to recovery.

I wish you all the best with getting back to feeling great.

Sheltie Girl @ Gluten A Go Go

Mike Eberhart said...

Sheltie Girl: Thanks! I feel perfectly fine now, and as far as I know, I'm back to "full power" :)

Elaine: Thanks for sharing all those gory details. I hope you meant for me to publish that - if not, let me know and I'll delete from public view. I'm sure others, like me, will find such stories helpful. It makes me feel a bit more "normal" knowing that all sorts of people have had strange syncope episodes over the years. All I can do is hope you don't ever go through that again -- that sounded awful! The worst thing in what you said is the scary part about being in a standing position when it happened; that can lead to some nice post-incidence bruising I'd think. One thing I know for certain: if I feel any dizziness or syncope coming on, I get down flat ASAP (presumes I have enough time) to *try* to avoid other injury. Thanks for sharing your stories.

Isle Dance said...

So glad all turned out okay. It always worries me a bit when our medical personnel do not know more about...things like gluten.