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Archive for April, 2008

Yesterday (Wed 23rd) I was back at the hospital for two tests. One was a CT-angiogram, aka the hot-flash simulator that briefly heats up the torso, partly to, ahem, help me sympathize with the females who have qualified for certain senior discounts. Then the ultrasound Doppler test with the plastic sensors that are run along the bypass area to find and measure the blood flow in the arteries from the neck and up into the skull. Some of the pictures look kind of like ultrasounds you may have had of your expected babies … except not quite so interesting except maybe to those who just had their brains opened up.

I’ve had several of these, and they show the images of the arteries and then the impressive part: numbers relating to blood flows are posted on the screen. Don’t quite get how they can do an accurate measure of those yet. I need to take a machine home and take it apart one of these days. JoAnn and I have seen a lot of numbers that we don’t really understand, but over the several tests have learned the ballpark values that seem to make the technicians happy. In fact it was one of these tests several weeks back, a couple days after my operation, that highlighted them to the fact that my bypassing artery wasn’t delivering enough blood, leading to a quick follow-up angiogram / angioplasty to pop it open again. (And that worked well.)

So here’s the bad news — some numbers were low compared to what we thought was the good range. Like in the 50’s instead of 100’s or 200’s. I decided not to watch the screen too much so I could live in denial a little easier.

At the end, we discussed it with the technician and she had 3 main points: The numbers for blood flow in the grafted artery were low; the graft was open; and the numbers in the wounded, bypassed artery looked  somewhat improved. She wasn’t sure of the overall result, but clearly wasn’t in happy mode like they sometimes had been.

An hour or two later we had the meeting with the doctor. He looked over my scars, and then we got to discuss the day’s tests. And things moved to the good news zone. He had seen the results of the two tests, and was happy. Even though the graft numbers were down, the (internally) torn arteries on both sides were handling more blood, which is good. They appear to be healing, and the one on the bypassed side is splitting the blood flow more with the graft. I’ll take it, especially with this doctor happy.

I have one more major test, a full-up angiogram next Friday to look over the arteries closely (and another chance for straight-legged pain if they don’t remove the sheath immediately!). Also a chance for bad news / good news. But at least at this point, things are looking hopeful.

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You may want to tuck this away for future reference, for a time when you need to sound as smart as a neurologist. The early symptoms of my artery problems, in addition to the obvious big headaches and drooping left eyelid, included a distortion of my sense of taste. I’m sure there’s no good way to measure this, but let’s say my taste capability fell from 100% to maybe 70%. I could taste things, they all just tasted a little bit bad. It’s quite hard to describe, but consider popcorn. If you’ve had good microwave popcorn, and then the same popcorn cooked a bit too long, so that it’s burnt just enough to be unpleasant – well that’s close to what it was like. It didn’t actually taste burnt in my case, but it tasted “off” in a way that was similar.

It’s safe to say I wasn’t tempted to overeat during this period. I ate to get calories. (This habit may have helped me survive hospital food.)

Now here’s where you can learn something useful. I asked a couple neurologists why my sense of taste was off. Both responded the same way: “Taste is complicated.” End of story. In other words, they didn’t know. So if anyone ever asks you that, responded like a top notch brain doctor. You can’t miss.

Anyway, since immediately after my surgery, my taste recovered. I’d say it’s running in the 95% to 100% range. Just a couple of foods taste just a little bit funny (some yogurt and some soft drinks), but almost everything tastes normal. So I’m again now mentally capable of wanting to overeat – although that’s not doing me much good, since eat heartily though I have been, I’m still several pounds lighter than before the brain re-work. If this continues, I may get rich with my new diet: sit around like a good couch potato, eat all you want, and don’t gain weight. Looks like an easy winner. Maybe taste isn’t so complicated after all.

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Pain Report

Taxes are now over, and I can give the score. The taxes were more painful than the surgery. I hope the IRS will be lenient based on only having 42% of my brain working. The tax software could only do so much.

Let’s try a little math. Remember a day when you had a bad cold, the kind where you just wanted to sleep all day because you were all congested and were trying to figure out when the truck ran over you. Add up all pain of that day, and then add up all the pain I’ve had in the last 5 or 6 weeks. I think the cold day would be worse.

Come to think of it, take away those first couple bites of many meals, the occasional mild headaches around my head scar (or in my left ear), and those blood stopping torture presses on my leg after the angiograms … and I can’t think of any interesting pain.

Obviously I’m the insensitive person I always feared I was. I need to stop crying during movies.

Speaking of money and pain, if the insurance company doesn’t come through on this like I expect them to, there may be some real pain.

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Pain in the teeth

I’m quite thankful that I’ve had amazingly little pain, given what’s been done to my body. Since coming out of the hospital 3 weeks ago, I’ve taken nearly zero pain medication yet, except the one daily aspirin I take for my blood, and maybe a couple Tylenol once. That’s a trend I hope to continue, although I’m armed for more intense battle if necessary.

However, I do have two types of pain. I get occasional small headaches. A couple days ago I actually had my first somewhat lengthy headache, lasting about a day, coming and going. Even when “on” it was only a mild headache, but a bit annoying. Normally I don’t have worse than fairly short-lived episodes. At times moving my head by a few inches can be the difference between headache or not.

But I get my big pain almost every meal – from my mouth. When I take few bites after not eating for a while, I often get a pain, sometimes sharp, in the left side of my face. I’m under orders to stretch out my mouth morning and evening, because I can’t currently open my mouth like the old days. After some days of doing this, I can now (after a bit of stretching) get my mouth open almost to 1.5 inches, which is about the size of my thumb from the tip to just past the knuckle. I think I still have some ways to go, and the stretching doesn’t appear to affect the eating pain yet. So that first bite or two or three are normally done slowly – and usually painfully. Then it’s all OK and I can appreciate the food again. I’m all ready for that one to go away.

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