I had a grand mal seizure. Want to hear?

So. I had booked what sounded like a pretty neat job… I didn’t know much more about it than that I’d be participating in an “expert panel” for MSN in the tech/gadget arena in Palos Verdes on October 12/13th, and my birthday actually fell on that first day, so I thought, well, huh, I’ve agreed to be working that day anyway, so why not fly down to LA for the previous weekend and see all my friends?

The MSN folks had arranged a car service for me, so as I descended down into baggage claim from a pleasant, wifi-enabled 1.4 hour flight, I saw a jovial older British guy with the ponytail holding my “LANE” sign (obviously at that time I had no idea he was British or jovial, but now it’s stuck in my memory). Anyway, nice guy. Led me to a Lincoln Towncar and didn’t blink an eye when I asked to be driven into Venice instead of straight to the hotel in Palos Verdes (where I’d been put up for the weekend by MSN). See, I just wanted to have brunch in Venice first. That’s all I wanted to do! Couple hours tops, two days before actual work. Slight chance of shopping. Slight!

So Venice resident Damon Berger (the future person to save my life, though I didn’t know that last part yet) and I walked two blocks from his brand-new kickass little bachelory beach bungalow to Abbot Kinney Blvd, the hipstery granola beautiful people main drag. We took our time choosing a place (which was nothing new, because we’re both picky about our food/service/sun exposure in our own ways) and settled on an organic/German/everything brunch spot called 3 Square.

We sat outside along the edge of the East/West wall at a 2-person table, just out of direct sun. Now here’s where everything gets fuzzy, because I remember certain things I said over the next five or so minutes, some of which were actually heard and have been backed up on official record, and some refuted for total inaccuracy/whimsy/fake language not recognized by any linguistics expert, anywhere. I remember asking to add mushrooms to an otherwise mushroom-free omelette, and was later told that I commented on how good bircher muesli was (it was an item on the menu). I remember the former but not the latter. Basically this is right around the time where things were falling apart upstairs. Keep in mind it was 11:30 am.. nobody was partying.

At this point, the really truly last thing I do remember is Damon looking across the table at me in a very concerned way and asking me if I was ok. “Sarah, are you ok? Seriously, are you ok?” And I heard him, and I saw him, and I couldn’t answer him. I could NOT stop whatever was coming. And that’s when I blacked out.

I’ve been told that at this point my entire body began convulsing, my eyes rolled back into my head, my mouth bled from where I had bit into it, and my lips turned blue. I guess that means I wasn’t breathing… blue lips? It wasn’t cold outside. Damon grabbed me and had someone pull my chair out from under me, brought me to the ground, and yelled for someone to call an ambulance. Apparently it arrived within about five minutes… good thing we weren’t dining in South Central. Damon would later tell me that he was convinced I was having either a heart attack or a stroke and dying right then and there, in his arms, and that it was the scariest moment of his entire life. I’m terribly grateful not to remember this part.

What I do remember is waking up in the back of an ambulance, an EMT to my left, Damon to my right. Now, this sounds really crazy and stupid but my initial thought was that I was being kidnapped, because when I begged to be let go they tried to hold me down and soothe me and keep in mind that I had no idea what had happened at the restaurant. I was in the back of a van and a strange man wanted to put a needle in my arm. I believe I kicked him. (EMT guy, I’m sorry I acted so badly with you, I know you were just trying to help. Keep on keepin on.)

I was admitted to Marina Del Ray Hospital, a place that I never knew existed, even though I lived less than ten miles away for two years. Kind of a small-town, kitchy feel to the place, and I say that with no disrespect- the kind of hospital where you don’t feel lost in the sterile shuffle of modern medicine. I was completely doped up for my 2.5-day stay, so forgive my swiss cheese memory, but I do know that the first IV drip I got was phenobarbital, the MOST WONDERFUL DRUG IN THE UNIVERSE, and also the #1 anti-seizure medication prescribed to dogs. Yay trivia! This is a little embarrassing to admit, but after four hours of intervenous intergalactic planetary space flight, I spent the rest of my hospital stay trying to come up with reasons why the nurses should give me more phenobarbital. (They never did, because they are mean, cruel nurses and only out for themselves.)

First test I got was a cat scan, which was a piece of cake… sort of like a mini-MRI. I think the next one was my actual MRI (which I was particularly sedated for, since I had heard it was a really claustrophobic experience… totally fell asleep in there). The third test was an EEG, which was a series of wires and suction cups attached to my scalp. I’ve never looked uglier…fact. There may or may not be a few iPhone pictures to back me up, but just take my word for it. 

Anyway, so yeah. 400 tests, strong drugs, really nice nurses, and some not-that-horrible hospital food. Besides the circumstances under which I was there, I really think it could have been worse. My hospital roommate was Mrs. Jimenez, who had literally had BRAIN SURGERY several times already. A lovely woman with a great family, and I hope she gets better.

I’m now on a drug called Phenytoin (brand name Dilantin), which I take three times a day and has one of the worst list of side effects I’ve ever read. You guys, it’s almost funny it’s so bad. This is anti-epilepsy medication, which nobody really thinks I have, but is my best overall seizure suppressant until I get a clear diagnosis and better treatment options with a local neurologist here in San Francisco. I hate it and I hate the way it makes me feel. I feel slow… not funny, not smart. I am not legally allowed to drive a car. Plus, I’m not supposed to drink alcohol, which is ONLY THE ELIXIR OF LIFE, NOTHING BIG.

They think I might have cysticercosis, likely contracted during my year traveling abroad. It’s pretty gross. I’ve actually tested negative for it already, but they also think I have something called a blood-brain barrier, which might cause me to test inaccurately in tests such as these. BECAUSE I NEED AS MUCH OF A CHALLENGE AS POSSIBLE WHEN IT COMES TO MY BRAIN.

So that’s where I am now. I have my first neurology appointment here in SF on Tuesday, and we’ll go from there. Think positive! I also just wanted to thank everyone who’s called me or written me or bought me beautiful flowers (McCloskey), sent various notes of support and encouragement, etc. I hope I can get back to all of you, but just know I’m reading everything and really appreciating the love. 

A quick but heartfelt congratulatory note to my cousin Martin and his beautiful bride Rebeca, who are getting married in Boston on Saturday in a gorgeous, joyful ceremony that I’m devastated to have to miss. A match made in heaven if there ever was one!