28 May 2008

It's 2:00 in the Morning, & I Can't Sleep

Actually, I think I'm afraid to sleep. I had a really scary experience the day before Mother's Day. I was talking to Phil on the webcam, and suddenly I was choking. I wasn't choking on anything. I wasn't eating or drinking anything. Yet, suddenly, I felt like there was something lodged in my throat and blocking my airway. I tried to clear it by taking a drink, and the water just stopped in my throat right where I felt like there was something lodged. Try as I might, I could not swallow that water past the blockage. I ended up spitting it back out into the sink. Of course, then I started to kind of panic, because I didn't know what to do, and I felt like I was teetering on the edge of consciousness. I mean, what would happen to the kids if I was seriously incapacitated? And how would I get myself to the hospital if it came to that? It's not like I could pack up the kids and drive myself into town when I feel like I will lose consciousness at any moment, right? So I'm sure that my panicked state of mind didn't help much.

I finally found that, if I tipped my head way back and stretched out my neck, I could get just a little bit of air. The breathing was tight and raspy - kind of like the sound you get when you slowly let air out of a balloon - but at least I was finally breathing, and that helped my state of mind considerably. The loud breathing was a good thing in another way too. Emily heard me from downstairs, where she was playing with Ben, Becky and Katie, and she came up to check on me. (They were playing so loudly that I'm sure it was only with the help of the Spirit that she was able to hear me at all.) She asked me what was wrong, but of course, I couldn't answer her. I steered her over to the computer, where I had been on the webcam with Phil until my choking episode began, and I pointed out the instant message that I had sent to Phil for her to read. He was able to fill her in on the details, and between the two of them, they were able to come up with a plan of action. Emily called one of our friends to come over and give me a Priesthood blessing while I lay down on the couch and tried not to panic.

About half an hour after Brother Harris came over to give me a blessing, the lump in my throat went away and I was able to breathe easier. I was even, finally, able to sip a little bit of water slowly. Still, my throat hurt for about the next 24 hours - it felt like it had been scratched inside, as if there truly had been something lodged in my throat.... as if I was really choking on something that was actually there.

As you can imagine, this really shook me up quite a bit. I was pretty terrified for a few days, afraid that it would happen again when no one was around to help me or something. I even tried to get an appointment at the base clinic to see if they could find a cause for it. Of course, they didn't have any openings, and they told me that if I wanted to get an appointment, I had to call earlier in the morning because they fill up right away. (The appointment line opens at 7:00am. I started trying to call at 6:55 and finally got through at 7:15.) The gal I talked to was oh so helpful. She told me that, if it happened again, I could call and get authorization to go to Urgent Care in Yuba City to be seen right away. How I would be able to make the phone call when I couldn't breathe, let alone talk, I'm not sure.... Anyway, I finally decided that it was probably some weird fluke caused by a misfire of my silly brain, in which case the doctors at the clinic here would be completely clueless anyway, so it wasn't worth the effort of trying to get an impossibly elusive appointment. Besides, any new problem that I mention to the doctors is just one more strike against me in my quest to get medical clearance to go to Korea, and is it really worth that price? I don't think so!

So anyway, after several days without a relapse, I quit worrying about it. This wasn't the first time, and I figured that it wouldn't be the last time that I had some weird symptom pop up just long enough to confuse everyone and freak out the doctors and then go away entirely, never to be seen again, let alone explained and cured! I decided that I had made the right choice in ignoring the little episode.

Then, a day or 2 later, I woke up at 3 in the morning with the same choking feeling. Of course, this time around, no one was awake to hear me struggling to breathe, and I was pretty terrified by the whole thing. Not knowing what else to do, I just lay down and said a silent prayer and waited for the feeling to pass. It eventually did, although I have no idea how long it took. I didn't want to sit there staring at the clock, because I knew each minute that passed would bring a greater panic.

Since that day, I have had a few nights when I've woken from a deep sleep with a feeling of breathlessness, like I was trying to catch my breath after holding it for far too long, but I haven't felt the same choking sensation again. Still, it makes me a little bit nervous, you know? I've noticed this week that I've been staying up later and later each night again, finding one excuse after the other to not go to bed quite yet. The words of Dr. Boggan, my neurosurgeon, keep ringing through my head. He told me months ago (back in January, actually - right after Phil left) not to worry too much about my breathing issues: "As long as you're awake, you will breathe." I know that is mostly true, because generally (with the exception of the times when I felt like I was choking), when I realize that I'm not breathing, all I have to do is focus my entire concentration on nothing but breathing in and out, and sooner or later, I start up breathing normally again. Still, what if I'm not awake when it happens? Or what if I start "choking" again? I've noticed lately that I always now sit with my neck stretched out in that position where I was able to breathe through the choking. I don't know if I'm doing it because I feel like I can breathe easier that way or if I'm just afraid that if I don't, I will start choking again, but that's what I've been doing...

I really wish that I had someone I could talk to about this without sounding like I was whining or being pessimistic or something. I don't want to freak anyone out or make people worry about me or anything. And I don't want to have to go through another battery of medical tests for which I have to find babysitters and rearrange my schedule and where they aren't going to find anything anyway. Still, I feel like I'm going to explode if I keep this fear and worry bottled up inside for one more minute. I want to talk about it with someone - to feel like I'm not completely alone here after all, you know?

Of course, I know that I'm not really completely alone. We're never truly alone, because the Savior is always there, ready to steady us and lift us up, and even to carry us when we're not strong enough to do it on our own. I know that He is there for me, and I can testify that I wouldn't be here without His watchful care. I mean, how else would Emily have known to come check on me? And it wasn't through the wonders of medical science that I was finally able to breathe again! Still, I want to feel like I'm telling someone - not bottling the concerns up inside or keeping it a secret. That's why I'm writing it all here. I'm relatively certain that no one reads this blog, so I'm not really risking anything. I'm not going to be making anyone worry or fret by spilling my guts about my terrified state of mind. Still, since this is being posted on the internet, it is by no means a private discourse, and it is possible that someone is reading it and empathizing (or at least sympathizing) with my terror.

I don't want to write in my journal about this, because that makes it incredibly personal and private - and more real, somehow, you know? Here, I can fool myself into the thought that I have "talked" to someone about it and found a very compassionate and empathetic listening ear. So if anyone is, by chance, reading this... Thank you so much for being such a good listener. It really helps to feel like I can let it out once in a while. It's tiring, being the rock - the foundation and the strength for my family. Of course, I can't let the kids know how scared I am, because then they too would be scared - scared of losing their mother. I don't think that's going to happen, but even if it did, what good would it do to let the kids fret and stew about it beforehand, you know? Sometimes, I feel like I just have to give in to the cracks in my foundation and fall apart completely. Then, I can mix some fresh mortar and build myself up again, as strong as ever. It helps to have someone to "talk" to while I deconstruct periodically. That's not something you get when you're writing in a private journal that only you have access to, you know? Somehow, even though I know that I don't have a great big audience here, it helps to know that you, dear reader, are listening to me (even if it does turn out that you are only a figment of my imagination after all)!

So now it is 3:00 in the morning, and I still don't know if I can sleep. But I am tired, and I only have a couple of hours before I have to wake up, so I will go to bed and try. I know that I could take a sleeping pill and it would probably work, but then that raises the whole issue of what would happen if I stopped breathing and didn't wake myself up.... Still, 2 or 3 hours of sleep is better than none, right? And I do feel better after pouring my heart out like this....

So I guess my "I'm so grateful" for today is friends. I am so grateful to have friends who love and care for me, who are willing to sit quietly and let me ramble on and on about my fears, listening and trying to understand what I'm going through. I guess it really doesn't matter if you, dear reader, are real or just a figment of my imagination, because I know that there is One who is very real and who will always listen and love me, who loves me so much that He gave His life for me and suffered unimaginable pains and sorrows so that He could experience every pain, every sorrow, every illness that I or anyone else on this earth ever has or will suffer. He truly understands. He has felt it. He knows exactly what I'm going through right now. Thank you for being His hands and ears here on earth, for letting me lean on you for a while and draw strength from your love and compassion. Like the cliche says, "That's what friends are for!"

09 May 2008

Who am I, really?

My friend, Sunny, had this really fun little thing on her blog recently - a link to find out what your name really means, based on the theory that who you really are is determined by what your name is. Of course, I had to try it out for myself. What do you think? Is this really me? I'm still trying to decide....

What Veronica Means
You are very hyper. You never slow down, even when it's killing you.
You're the type of person who can be a workaholic during the day... and still have the energy to party all night.
Your energy is definitely a magnet for those around you. People are addicted to your vibe.

You are friendly, charming, and warm. You get along with almost everyone.
You work hard not to rock the boat. Your easy going attitude brings people together.
At times, you can be a little flaky and irresponsible. But for the important things, you pull it together.

You are wild, crazy, and a huge rebel. You're always up to something.
You have a ton of energy, and most people can't handle you. You're very intense.
You definitely are a handful, and you're likely to get in trouble. But your kind of trouble is a lot of fun.

You are well rounded, with a complete perspective on life.
You are solid and dependable. You are loyal, and people can count on you.
At times, you can be a bit too serious. You tend to put too much pressure on yourself.

You are very intuitive and wise. You understand the world better than most people.
You also have a very active imagination. You often get carried away with your thoughts.
You are prone to a little paranoia and jealousy. You sometimes go overboard in interpreting signals.

You tend to be pretty tightly wound. It's easy to get you excited... which can be a good or bad thing.
You have a lot of enthusiasm, but it fades rather quickly. You don't stick with any one thing for very long.
You have the drive to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. Your biggest problem is making sure you finish the projects you start.

You are very open. You communicate well, and you connect with other people easily.
You are a naturally creative person. Ideas just flow from your mind.
A true chameleon, you are many things at different points in your life. You are very adaptable.

You are usually the best at everything ... you strive for perfection.
You are confident, authoritative, and aggressive.
You have the classic "Type A" personality.

01 May 2008

Being Beautiful

After my surgery in 2006, the steroids I had to take made me swell up and gain a considerable amount of weight - overnight (literally)! This was particularly discouraging, as I had just months earlier lost all of the weight that I had gained while pregnant with Katie (which was quite a bit, since I had just finished the course of steroid treatment following my radiation when I got pregnant). I was finally back to a normal weight and size, and suddenly, I was bigger and heavier than I have ever been! (And this time, I didn't even have anything wonderful - like a new baby - to show for it!!) The weight appeared so quickly that stretch marks popped out all over my body. Every time I moved, I could see new stretch marks appear, and it really hurt! Anyway, I spent months listening to everyone around me comment on how much I didn't look like myself. ("You look like you're wearing one of those movie fat suits!") I know that it was all said to reassure me. Somehow, everyone seemed to think that their comments on how drastically I had changed would make me feel better - maybe make me less discouraged knowing that they didn't think that I really looked like that. I don't know... But I can tell you that it really didn't help to hear all of the time!

Well, my first order of business after learning to walk again (for those who don't know, I woke up from my surgery with no feeling on the right side of my body from the waist down and no feeling in my left arm, so I couldn't walk or do anything without help for a while, until I learned to adapt) was to try to lose the weight. Of course, the fact that I was still taking the steroids really didn't help matters at all. By the time I finally convinced my doctors to allow me to wean myself off of the steroids, I had such a build-up in my system that it took about a year before I stopped feeling the side effects. I hadn't been expecting that at all. In the past, I had taken low doses of steroids for short periods of time to help control the symptoms of my brain tumor. But always before, it had been such a small amount that it didn't do too much damage. Sure, I gained weight and I couldn't sleep at all while on the steroids, but it wasn't to the extent that it was with the high doses I had to take following the surgery. And it had always flushed out of my system fairly quickly after I stopped taking it before.

Anyway, I have to admit that it has been pretty discouraging to try to lose all of that excess weight. You would think that, since it appeared so quickly, it would disappear fairly quickly as well. Not so. (Steroids are such a bad idea - I don't understand why anyone would take them on purpose!! I would truly rather die than have to go through that torture again - it really isn't any way to live!) I've been exercising and dieting and trying to get back to looking like me again for so long that it almost seems like forever! And it really is disheartening sometimes to think about how far I still have to go.

Lately, I've had people comment on how much weight I've lost. Sometimes, that's just as hard to hear as when they were telling me that I looked like I was wearing a fat suit. It reminds me of how huge I was not so long ago. I've come to realize that a simple "You look great!" is so much better than "You look like you've lost so much weight!" Sometimes, we just don't need to be reminded of how big we used to be. The scale still shows me at 30 or 40 pounds heavier than I was when this all started. When you consider that I gained over 100 pounds in less than a month's time, that's not too bad. But when you consider that I've never weighed this much in my life except while pregnant, it is discouraging. I am almost back to the size jeans I was wearing Christmas Eve 2005 (the pair that didn't fit me when I woke up in the morning). I'm wearing only one size larger right now, and they are getting loose - just not quite enough to go down a size yet. (Don't you hate it when you're between jeans sizes? The jeans you're wearing look baggy and make you look kinda schlumpy, but the next size down is so tight that they look painted on - how is that possible?) Anyway, I am trying not to look at the scale anymore, because when I see that huge number staring up at me, it is so depressing!

Some mornings (and afternoons, and evenings, for that matter), I still look in the mirror, and I'm pretty disgusted by what I see. I'm still a lot plumper than I want to be, I have a long way to go before I'm back to looking like "me" again. However, I was pleased to notice yesterday that when I walked past the mirror in my bedroom (in a sick and cruel cosmic joke, the Air Force moved us from one house to another just after all of the surgery and steroids - and the house we are in now has a large closet across one full wall with a mirrored door!)... Anyway, yesterday, I caught a glimpse of myself in that huge mirror, and I had to stop and stare for a moment. I was surprised to see someone truly beautiful staring back at me. Okay, so maybe I still have 40 pounds to lose. I know that I'll never be rid of the ugly stretch marks that now cover 75% of my body. Still, I'm beginning to look like "me" again - I'm beginning to see that strong, beautiful and confident woman peeking out through my eyes, and I know that, in time, maybe even soon, I will be okay.