Adventures In Neuroscience

This actually took place four years ago, and I’ve been meaning to blog about it since then, but life happens and you get distracted.  I’ve been needing a break from drawing to get my creative juices flowing again, so I figured now is a good time.  Enjoy.

A bit of backstory:

I’ve had temporal lobe epilepsy since I was about 12 years old. Now, before you imagine me flopping on the floor and biting off my tongue – those aren’t the type of seizures I have. Mine are more the absence variety, where I go mentally AWOL for several minutes then develop a sort of short-term amnesia until I’m able to sleep it off and my brain can do a hard reboot. It fortunately doesn’t keep me from holding a steady job, but it does keep me from being able to drive per state requirements as my seizures are what’s known as “intractible”. Intractible is just medical jargon for “doctors haven’t thrown a drug at me that works yet.” I’ve had quite a few thrown my way – about fourteen, to my recollection. Most of them with none too pleasant side effects. One left me unable to speak for two days, another left me with the inability to remember words like “artichoke”.

If anything has taught me that medical science has a long way to go in the area of neuroscience, it’s been dealing with neurologists for over two decades.

In an attempt to pinpoint the exact location of my seizures, my neurologist decided it would be a good idea for me to undergo a VEEG (Video Electroencephalogram) study. This involves removing me from all of my anti-seizure medications, admitting me to the hospital for no less than five days, hooking my brain up to a computer, and then wait for me to seize so they can immediately take a high-contrast MRI of my brain. So, that’s what we did. I wasn’t too excited about this enterprise, but I was determined to make the best of it.

First, I got me some stylin’ hospital booties and some kick-ass pajamas which sadly I don’t have a photographic evidence of.

My awesome friends drove me to the hospital in my my new seizure booties and pajamas. I was OWNING IT.

They checked me in, took me to my room which had an unintentionally humorous sign I stole when I left:


…and even had a lovely street view (which I’m sure my insurance paid handsomely for.)

I was informed of my new sleep schedule:
Asleep at: 2:00 am
Awake at: 6:00 am
(Sleep deprivation is a seizure trigger as well as a Niff rage trigger – I don’t think they realized this at the outset.)

I was then prepared for the electrodes – this involved copious amounts of alcohol applied to my scalp. The red cross on my forehead is a marker for an electrode, just in case you thought I was being exorcised.


Once they were done completely dehydrating my scalp, they used the equivalent of airplane glue to attach the electrodes with mesh so they would remain intact for the duration of my stay.


(A friend of mine was kind enough to turn me into a meme, which I love her for):


My head was then wrapped in gauze, over which I applied a snazzy headband because I was unwilling to look as if I’d had part of my skull removed for an entire week in case I had any cute orderlies:


My brain was now live, with a video camera on me 24/7. That’s me in the lower right, taking a picture of me taking a picture.  Infinite regression with an EEG bonus.


After a long day of going through procedures, IV insertions, introductions to my medical team, and other hospital rigamarole they finally let me go to sleep at 2am, after giving me an injection of heparin (an anti-clotting agent, as I was forbidden from leaving my bed except to use the restroom) IN MY STOMACH (holy shit OUCH!), only to wake me an hour later to relocate my IV line. This ritual would continue for the next five days. I was perpetually covered in cotton balls and medical tape.

Day one: I quickly learned that there was an alarm that shrieks “Mary Had a Little Lamb” at full volume in shrill MIDI-style whenever my fellow neurology ward neighbor got out of his bed. Judging from the frequency with this this occurred, this dude did NOT wanna be there.
I, on the other hand, was ready to tie him down with my IV line. “Doodoodoodoodoodoodoo…”

Now, this study happened to take place during the 2012 presidential election. Unfortunately, the only option I had with channels on the TV in my room was news coverage. The EEG tech took pity on me and would pretty much bring me bacon whenever I wanted, which I felt was a well-deserved consolation prize. Out of sheer boredom I began conducting science experiments. I soon learned my brain reacted more positively to bacon than to election coverage:


Don’t judge me.  It was FOR SCIENCE.

Day two: Still no seizures, though I had a few auras. An aura is like a “mini seizure”, similar to the feeling you have when you think you’re going to sneeze but never have the satisfaction of a full-blown sneeze. Yeah. Kinda like that. Unfortunately whenever these happened, neither the EEG techs nor the neurologists were around to witness them. It was around this time I came up with the The Physician Proximity Principle:
The appearance of an anomaly is inversely Proportional to the Proximity of the Physician.

Day three: It is at this point I begin subjecting my EEG tech babysitter to Eddie Izzard.

As punishment for the Eddie Izzard (though they claim its due to my increased aura activity) they hook me up with radioactive isotopes in a syringe to my IV line. The goal here is so when I finally do have a seizure, they depress the plunger, the isotopes go zooming into my temporal lobe and they can shove me into the MRI. That’s the goal, anyway. I looked like a cyborg:


Me: *pick* *pick* *pick*
Nurse: “Want me to bring some glue remover so we can get that stuff off of your forehead?”
Me: *pick* *pick* “Nah, it’s giving me something to do. *pick* *pick*…

Day four: friends visit. Karla brings her hedgehog, Durian, per my request.
EEG tech: “Did the nurse say you could do that?”
Me: “I didn’t ask.”
EEG tech: “Can I hold him??”


Day four and a half: If one more person asks me, “Will __________ make you seize?” I’m gonna go all Code Gray on them. O_o
(Code Gray: (1) A combative person with no obvious weapon. (2) Real or perceived act of terrorism from conventional, nuclear, biological or chemical agents, or other security emergency.)

Day Five: I FINALLY FUCKING SEIZED. I’ve never been so happy to have a seizure in my life. Isotopes in, off to the MRI. Don’t remember much after that.

Day six:
The recurring phrase coming from down the hall:
“No, sir, you have to keep your pants on…”
Fortunately my departure is imminent. I don’t know if I can stay in a place with such strict regulations.

Mercifully, they had the courtesy of removing the electrodes for me. (I assure you, that is glue, not dandruff…)


Here’s what my brain looks like, in case you were curious:


And for those who prefer more of a multimedia experience:

What did we learn?

Confirmation of temporal lobe epilepsy and evidence of hippocampal sclerosis (translation: decades of uncontrolled seizures has killed valuable brain cells in the memory section of my gray matter).

However, the precise location of the focus of my seizures was unable to be determined.

After six days, only 24 hours of sleep total, 35 needle pokes, nonstop election coverage, and crazy ward patients with no pants, we learned no more than we did when I went in.

A couple of months later, my neurologist suggested I come in for an intracranial EEG to get more conclusive results and set the stage for epilepsy surgery. This involves the same process as above, only they saw a window out of my skull and place the electrodes directly onto my brain. 

I declined.


2 thoughts on “Adventures In Neuroscience

  1. Lisette

    omg I feel for you! I would decline too. I have my first appointment with a neurologist tomorrow, yikes, my faith in them diminishes more every day…..maybe there’s hope for the future but right now it’s so limited I see…..


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