Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rocks in My Head

This is my brain. Not really.

Yesterday I traveled just over two hours by car for a lunch meeting in Tupelo, Mississippi. I headed back to Birmingham at 1:00 pm. 

About twenty minutes into the drive home I began to notice the left side of my face becoming numb. Not unlike the sensation of Novocaine when getting a cavity filled. I passed it off as either an allergic reaction to the Olive Garden bread sticks1 or the addling effect of driving through the reclaimed coal fields along “Corridor X” in Northwest Alabama. A highway so lacking in any evidence of human life that you expect to see Rod Serling on the side of the road at any moment.

Arriving back at Red Mountain Church the vision in my left eye began to blur. I thought, “This can’t be good.” I texted two church members who are physicians (one a neurologist) about the symptoms. Both advised that I seek medical attention immediately. 

At the St. Vincent’s Hospital ER my symptoms shot me to front of the queue. The admitting nurse asked how long I had been experiencing them.

“Oh, I don’t know. Two, maybe three hours.”

She paused a few seconds, put her hand on mine and said, “Sweetheart, is it two or three? This is very important.”

At that moment it struck me this could turn out really bad. I went with three. Within a few minutes and before I could even call my wife I was having a CT scan. Back in my room at the ER doctors did tests for evidence of Bells Palsy (drooping face, eye control issues) but found none. A nurse told me the doctors may want an MRI but that would be a four or five hour wait. In less than 45 minutes I was being wheeled out for an MRI. 

And, of course, I never considered that what they found on the CT scan may be the reason for the suddenly shortened wait.

It was my first experience with magnetic resonance imaging. It did not disappoint. Think 40 minutes of trapped in a coffin while listening to jack hammers. An I.V. was pumping something in me so doctors could bet a better look at things. I kept panic at bay and found a happy place.

Back in ER, Dawn arrived. Her presence was calming and we engaged in that soothing chit chat that fills in the space before something-big-may-happen. After a few hours the doctor came back.  The CT scans "showed something" on the right side of my brain. The MRI results were that I have a "calcification" on the right side of my brain. This is "chronic", which means it's been there for a long time. I'm told that usually they're nothing to worry about. And it means it's unrelated to my symptoms.

By this time my face and vision are back to normal. It could have been caused by a lot of things. A migraine headache. Allergies. Maybe that infernal highway. I am relieved but still baffled about what to make of this "calcification". It seems too weird not to worry about.

They burn me a DVD of the MRI images for my neurologist friend. I am discharged and on the way home I drop them off at his house. Later that evening he texts me,

"U got a big old rock in your brain, but nothing worrisome.... I'm not gonna lie, it's pretty cool!"

I'm glad he tells me not to worry. But I'm just not ready to go with "cool" yet. I make the mistake of googling "brain calcification" and decide quickly it's a bad idea. 

So I've got a big rock in my head. Get used to it. I have to.

1. In case you were wondering I picked the restaurant. Why? First, I was in…Tupelo. Second, I like eating there. During our New York City days Dawn and I would take the 9 Train to Times Square to eat at Olive Garden. The window views were fantastic, it was cheap (in a city of wildy overpriced and overrated options) the service was good and, come on, a bowl of pasta and a glass of wine is not that hard to do.


  1. Tom, Please!!! Now I'm worried... and frankly, your little bro's a bit nervous for you himself. I will however, concede that it's hard not to feel comforted by the words of your neurologist friend. And, for the record, we thought you were cool way before we knew you had rocks in your noggin.

    XO Come see us.

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