This was first published on Facebook as a Public article.
I am going to break form and offer some learnings from the beginning, before I tell my story. First, people with Hereditary Alpha Tryptasemia Syndrome (#HATS) should always have a phone on their person.
Secondy, on difficult days, they might be smart to keep a low profile versus feeling compelled to do more just because other people do (or just because they were able to do more last week). And finally, being in the moment, and enjoying the seasons, can provide a brief respite in an otherwise chaotic life.
On Monday, November 19th, I awoke—startled, relieved and in pain.
Just before, in my dream, my husband had been driving down a road, when he realized that we needed to pick my car up across town, and there wasn’t enough time to accomplish everything that needed to be done before picking up two of our kids. Using a Burnout Paradise technique, he started driving down the tracks of an indoor railroad station, coming out into a large building like the Pentagon, with wide corridors. We sped along, going what seems like a quarter of a mile down the hallway, until we came to the end wall. I was thinking, “What has possessed you to do this? Why do you think we’re going to get by with this, without getting in trouble?” With no further hallway to drive on, we had to take a right out the doors or a left into the stairwell. We could hear voices of people running down the stairway, presumably to stop us.
I was so relieved to awake, and to realize that my husband was not going to have to go to jail, that I wasn’t as frustrated by the migraine as I might have been.
That dream has very little to do with my story, except to say that I started the morning with my heart racing over 100 beats per minute…and a migraine. I mentioned something about this phenomenon to my sister. We both agreed that our bodies tend to get sick right before holidays, as if they have pushed through all of the other times on adrenaline and finally broke about the time we had a break to enjoy.
I was up for about an hour when I decided that there was no way that I could shake the migraine without going to sleep. 2 hours later, I awoke naturally, yet the migraine was unabated. The barometric pressure was at 30.07 and holding, so I didn't have weather to blame.
As I sometimes do, I talked myself into pushing through, with the thought that I might be able to get better if I just got up. I grabbed my largest coffee cup, and ran the Keurig twice to fill it with Starbucks French Roast. Fall has always been my favorite season, not surprisingly since my birthday is this month as is our anniversary…and seeing the falling leaves, feeling the crisp temperature, hearing the acorns fall, and smelling my coffee just might trick my brain into stopping the pounding.
Over the past weekend, Barry had replaced our pagoda, which was damaged in Hurricane Michael last month, so I went out to sit in it, eat my very belated breakfast, and drink my coffee. The tulip poplars' golden leaves were beautiful against our colored glass bottles tree. The squirrels played loudly in the crackling leaves, almost making me think that a human or cat were walking through them. Our groundhog, Grundy, failed to make an appearance, which leads me to think he might have already gone into hibernation. I sat in the swing, drinking the last dregs, and decided to walk #YeOleBrickRoad, which is simply a series of brick paths that run from the front to the back of our property. I wanted to look at all the plants that I blog about in #FrugalBlackThumbGardening. And, 30 minutes into being outside, I realized the migraine was gone!
After eating, I felt a familiar abdominal pain, and ran inside to have a diarrhea attack. This is a common occurrence, though I had had a three-day reprieve, so it was a little disappointing to have it return. (Today, I realized that the CDC has pulled all romaine due to e.coli…since I had a salad yesterday for lunch and lettuce on my burger on Saturday night, that may be the cause.)
When I returned outside, I went on the walk I had promised myself, snapping copious photos along the way. The berries were out on the spider grass, the holly trees and some other bush I don't recognize. I walked back toward the front yard and realized that I had a strawberry plant that needed to be planted. Feeling decently well, I grabbed a shovel and tested the ground, and it seemed to give. I shoveled 1 scoopful out, another scoop full, then I realized it just needed me to remove the loose soil from the middle and I would be ready to insert the strawberry plant.
When I stuck the shovel in the soil, something happened. I truly don't know what that something was…perhaps I hit a stone, or perhaps I simply lost my balance. I do know that I had not slipped on leaves, because our whole family had gotten outside and cleared all the leaves, this past weekend.
I felt my body tumbling down stair after stair on the hill of my front yard. (I looked after I returned home…based on the damage to the ground, I fell down 7 deep, wide brick steps, a total of about 13 or 14 ft.) I knew for certain that I had hit both of my knees, but after that, everything was a jumble. I landed with my head toward the hilltop, my feet toward the road and my face toward my neighbor's yard.
When you have HATS, one of the common components is syncope, or fainting. I have a form called neurocardiogenic vasovagal syncope. Once the attack starts, my body tends to have my heart rate drop down to nothing, though my pacemaker prevents that from actually happening anymore.
Syncope symptoms that hit me immediately were nausea and blurred vision. The syncope reaction occurred, in this case, from pain. From what I could tell, the worst pain was in my right knee, left wrist, and left elbow. My left knee and right wrist were scraped up, but less impacted, with the exception of my ring finger and pinky.
As I lay in my front yard, grass that had been cut on Saturday was stuck in my hair and on my clothes. (I found clippings in my bed when I returned home.) I lay there praying, over and over, “Help me God, help me God, help me God, help me God.” Apparently, I took in a lot of air during that experience, which needed to come out sometime later.
Several retired neighbors had been in their yards all morning, and I tried yelling for one, to no avail. One neighbor was outside and I could see him when my vision wasn’t too blurred, but he was blowing leaves and there was no way he could have heard me.
I'm not sure how long I was in the front yard laying there, but I would estimate it being about 20 minutes. One by one, I moved parts of my body, trying to get a good sense of the damage. Oddly, my right knee was entirely white. I didn't know what that meant.
But my biggest relief was that my favorite pair of black dress pants was not damaged. You might wonder why I was wearing a pair of dress plants to plant strawberries. Actually, if you were a gardener, you probably wouldn’t even question that component of the story. But the truth be told, like a lot of my gardening, it happens at times when I have not originally planned to do it (like picking 15 weeds before going into the house, right when I get home from work, or grabbing a few handfuls of rosemary for dinner that night).
Then, I had the impetus that I needed to get up and get moving: another wave of diarrhea was heading (this is part of my pain reaction, known as abdominal migraine). I had to go up 1 ½ flights of stairs, but I wasn't sure how to accomplish it. I figured out that the least painful way was to go up backwards, walking. If I set my bad leg in place, I could bend my good leg and maneuver up the stairs.
Once I made it to the bathroom, I texted my husband and my sisters just a little of the story—very grateful for voice text. I sent them lovely pictures of my bruised knees, which by then were blue instead of white.
I started grabbing ice packs, but I quickly realized that they would not conform to my leg very well. So I grabbed a bag of frozen corn and a bag of frozen peas and alternated them among all the injuries.
I took my midday medicines, including acetaminophen for the pain and a full glass of water, then crawled into bed, set a timer and lay down to sleep. I missed some of my medications, simply because I couldn’t get the bottles open without help.
After an hour, I woke up, in more pain, and realized that I should probably go to the doctor. Trying to get an appointment, I held for 10 minutes, before scrolling to the website and realizing that it was currently open office hours.
Thankfully, our doctor's office has wide seats that will hold three people. I was able to prop my leg up on one of those during the lengthy wait: the golden corn was on one leg and the spring peas were between the other knee and my wrist. It had been more than a year since I had visited this doctor, so I had to redo all the paperwork with a sprained ring finger and pinky finger.
Once I got to a room, I rested for a few moments. My sister suggested that I put on sea bands for the nausea. Unfortunately, my left wrist was too swollen to put one on, but it seemed like a good idea, and I slipped one on my right wrist, right over the scratches I had made in the fall.
The doctor was a new one, and I needed to explain everything about my history in a very small way. To her credit, she responded very succinctly. She laughed at my frozen veggies and commented, “And they're even organic!” as if that would make a difference in my healing, before putting them in the office freezer for me while I waited. She sent me back to get X-rays, though there was some sort of a snafu with the back-end system, and my x-ray order failed to get delivered. Finally, the x-ray technician came in and asked why I was waiting for her. She went and asked the doctor to resend the orders. Kindly, the doctor also walked to the other end of the office where the x-rays were taken, so that when my films were ready, she could respond immediately and avoid my having to walk back to her room. I was grateful for her volunteering that kind of care.
My patella has dislocated, which apparently is common for those like me who have hypermobility spectrum disorders. The doctor thinks that I have not broken my wrist, just badly sprained it (it is swollen, and the extra fluid is causing some of the lack of mobility). The cuts were all minor and will heal quickly.
With nausea medicine, acetaminophen and Tylenol, rest and exercise, I should be good as new pretty soon. I'll wait and see what the radiologist says, but otherwise it is business as usual. I missed one appointment during the evening, but they kindly rescheduled for tonight.
I drove to Target and filled my nausea medications. Because I finished in time, I went ahead and had my last appointment. I had about 30 minutes to sit and ice up my injuries while I waited. The clients no doubt would have been fine with me canceling, but I was sort of relieved to sit for a while, alternating my veggies, before climbing the stairs to my house. The student's mother, a nurse, was also amused by my choice of cooling agents. And no, we will not eat those vegetables; I threw them out as soon as I got home.
The family was suitably interested. However, it was a busy night, because I had a parent brag sheet that was required by today, for a scholarship. I got it started, but found that the pain from typing and the incapacity experienced by my brain fog made it impossible to work.
My first overnight was not too bad. I was able to get into a couple decent positions that didn't hurt too badly. The nausea medicine really took the edge off of things and made it a lot easier to manage the pain. I started the exercises to strengthen my patella and get it back into place. I sure hope that I am doing the right thing on that. Thankfully, I already had stretchable bands that I could use. If they are slipped under my feet, I can put one end in each hand and gently pull that foot toward me. Apparently, that will ease my patella back into alignment.
I woke up and did my parent essays, giving them to my son just before it was time for him to go to school.
The hardest things, for which I needed help, were unhooking my bra and helping me get my underwear pulled up. Trust me, it is not easy to ask for help with stuff like that. But I will get used to the drill. I actually figured out that I could use the big round curve at the end of my wide-tooth comb, to pull my clothes into place. Barry came back after dropping the kids off, to be here while I took a shower, because that is a tricky business when you are injured, and I didn't want to be alone for that.
I can't help but think of all of the support that my late grandmother needed when she had experienced a full fall, in her 90s. Hers was much worse, because she hit her head as well. Her birthday is in 5 days, a November girl, like myself…I miss her. Who knows, from her perch in Heaven, maybe she knew I fell right when it was happening.
At the moment, I feel very blessed to not have a cast or brace, because those would seriously hamper our Thanksgiving and even Christmas experience. I was planning to swim on Wednesday and Saturday of this week, and the doctor has indicated that that should be just fine. I could certainly use a soak in the whirlpool about right now!
All in all, in our family, anyone can probably tell that our highs are high...we are so blessed that way. And it's probably fair to share that our lows are low.
Once again, I have experienced a fall…in the Fall.
Karen Smith-Will 2018