Days 183-189: Christmas and a Spinal Tap

I was so happy to see my cat, Cali, who was staying at my parent’s house. I was able to snuggle with her and enjoy being “home.” It was Christmas Eve and I had Christmas shopping I needed to do. My mom and I went to a few stores and I picked out the last few presents that I needed for the following day.

As we were shopping, I noticed I had an email from Josh. I had given him a letter before I left Whistler and included my email address. His email was sweet and he told me that he appreciated the letter and it gives him hope that romance is still alive in the world. He told me that if I’m in Whistler again to let him know and we’ll catch up over a drink.

I was happy to hear from him and happy to know that he didn’t think I was a stalker. He thought it was romantic. It reminded me that my instincts are usually pretty good. Even though my friends thought I was crazy, he appreciated it.

After shopping, I went to a Christmas Eve church service with my parents and three of my nephews. After service, we wanted to go out for dinner. After driving to several locations that were closed, we settled on IMO’s pizza. I love their St. Louis style pizza (think crust), but we thought it was funny that we were eating at a pizza shop on Christmas Eve. My nephews are a blast to hang out with, so we had a good time.

On Christmas Day, we opened presents with my sister, her husband, and three boys. It was a great day filled with lots of food, presents, and family. Relatives were coming and going all day, so there was always someone to talk to and celebrate with.

I spent the next few days joining Planet Fitness, working on my blog, and hanging out with family. It was nice having my car with me so I could come and go as I pleased. Normally, I fly to Missouri and am at the mercy of getting rides from people or borrowing my mom’s minivan.

It was the end of the year, which meant my medical insurance would be starting over on January 1st. In June, my eye doctor found a hole in my retina after I complained of having some blurry vision. An ophthalmologist lasered around the hole and said he also saw signs of pressure coming from behind my eyes in the scans. My optical nerves in both eyes were fuzzy when they should be defined circles.

I was told back in June to follow up with a neurologist because the pressure didn’t seem to be coming from my eyes and could be coming from my brain. I tried to get an appointment with a neurologist in Portland, Los Angeles, and again in Missouri while traveling. However, it was a nightmare trying to get my scans faxed to the correct place and they wouldn’t make an appointment without the scans.

One doctor said I should go to the emergency room if my vision is blurry so they can do a spinal tap to check the pressure in my brain. I knew this would be expensive and the year was almost over. I had already paid my maximum out of pocket cost for the year, so I decided to go to the hospital and get the spinal tap.

It was around 3:30 pm when they took me back to the room. After an exam, the doctor said the person who does the spinal tap with a guiding X-ray machine was about to leave and would be gone for the weekend. Instead, they’d try and do the spinal tap manually.

If you’re not familiar with a spinal tap, it entails a very long needle going into your spine. They use this technique when giving an epidural during childbirth. For my purposes, they were putting the long, large needle into my spine and removing fluid to measure the pressure. The best way to get the pressure is for me to lay on my side.

I went into another room, put on the gown and laid on my side. Another doctor came in and the huge needle was alarming. She asked me to get into a fetal position as much as I could. She first poked me with a needle to numb the area, which was painful as the medicine worked its way around.

Then the doctor put the huge needle into my spine. She told me to let her know if I felt pain down my leg. I felt pressure, and then as she continued to push the needle in, I felt pain down my leg and told her. She quickly pulled the needle out. She kept pressing her fingers on my spine, trying to gauge the best opening in my lower back.

The doctor ended up sticking me with the large needle four times and couldn’t seem to get the correct spot. Each time, she would give me another shot of numbing medicine, which also hurt. The pain from the needle was becoming too much and I was starting to shake and sweat. Laying in a tight fetal position and trying not to move was very difficult. On the doctor’s fourth try, she asked another doctor to come in and gauge the spot to see if he had any better ideas. He pressed around and agreed with where she was trying to put the needle.

The nurse was super sweet and was holding my hand and kept telling me I could squeeze her hand harder. I tried to close my eyes because when I would look at her face, I could see the terror on her face as she watched the needle go into my spine.

Unfortunately, the doctor could not get the needle in the correct spot to get the spinal fluid. The original doctor that I had seen came back in and said, “You’re going to have to stay the night so we can try again in the morning with the X-ray guiding machine.” I was upset and almost started to cry. I didn’t want to stay the night in the hospital and I had no idea how much this would end up costing – hopefully nothing.

I begged her to try again. She said they already tried four times and she knows it’s extremely painful and didn’t want to keep putting me through that. The machine would guide them to a spot that would work. I asked if I could just come back the next morning. She said they had to call someone in to use the machine because nobody is there on weekends who knows how to operate it. They couldn’t call someone in without a patient there waiting. I told her I needed to think about it, so she left the room. I laid in the bed crying at the thought of staying in the hospital. I wasn’t prepared for that and for some reason it really bothered me.

I texted my parents and sister and told them what was happening. Then the nurse came in and told me, “I’m going to try one more thing. Hold on.” About five minutes later, she came in the room and said she convinced an anesthesiologist to come downstairs to try. He does epidurals all day, so surely he could get it right away.

My parents and sister showed up and it was so nice to have them there. Normally, I’m in Los Angeles, where I don’t have family. I’ve had to deal with most of my health issues alone. Sometimes my ex-husband was there, or friends were there, but this was the first time since I was 23 that my family was able to be there, and I needed them.

The anesthesiologist came into the room and was very confident he could get the spinal tap completed. I thanked the nurse for getting him to try. The doctor was talking to the nurse about how he was going to try above my tattoo. She asked him if it’s because the ink could get inside. He confirmed that the needle can indeed push the ink from a tattoo inside the bloodstream. He said he never does a spinal tap over a tattoo. The nurse asked what he’d do if a patient was covered in tattoos. He responded, “That would be a conversation with the patient.” Then they got quiet because he could see that the previous doctor had indeed put the needles through the tattoo on my lower back.

My family left the room and I curled into a fetal position again. The doctor numbed me with a needle, which hurt almost as bad as the large spinal tap needle. He pressed his fingers around and then stuck the needle in. I kept feeling a strange pressure sensation. He said pressure was ok, but I needed to let him know if it was painful. Once the needle was inside and he was attempting to get it in the right spot to get the fluid, I started to feel pain.

The doctor took the needle out and seemed frustrated that he didn’t get it. He told the nurse he usually has patients on their stomach so they can open up their back, but he agreed the best way to measure pressure is to be on your side.

The doctor tried again and failed. At this point, he said he would only try one more time because I had been stabbed too many times. He said, “I don’t know how you’re handling this. I would not be able to sit through this many attempts.” I REALLY didn’t want to spend the night there. I also didn’t want this to all be for nothing.

The doctor was called on the radio because they had a pregnant patient who needed an epidural. He told them he was in the emergency room and would be there shortly. The doctor numbed me again and tried really hard to get the needle this time, but to no avail.

He said he was done and I’d have to wait until the morning when they can use the guiding machine. He said, “You don’t look like you’d be a difficult patient.” I explained that I have extremely bad arthritis and I’ve already been told that the discs in my lower back have deteriorated from it.

He agreed to try one more time, only if I was ok with it. The sweet nurse held my hand as I sweat and slightly shook through the pain. Frustrated, he was unable to get it on a fourth try. He cleaned up and said I would have to stay the night. I appreciated his efforts and was thankful that he tried. The nurse told me he can normally get them just fine.

I was transferred to an upstairs room and my back was extremely sore. They told me to lay flat and rest. My parents showed up with some dinner, clothes, my toothbrush, and glasses. They kept me company for a little bit. It was already late so they left and I turned on the tv. I couldn’t sleep because I wasn’t in my bed, the door was slightly open and letting the light from the hallway inside, and the nurse would come in from time to time.

img_0437

The soreness of my back made it difficult for me to move side to side. I regretted not taking the nurse up on some pain medicine. Early in the morning, the nurses came in and out a few times and I felt very groggy. Finally, around 8:00 am, they wheeled in another bed and told me to slide on to it. They wheeled me down to the floor with the X-ray machine.

There was a large machine hanging over a table. The doctor asked me to lay on my side under the machine. She said, “I heard you were prodded over and over yesterday.” I replied, “Yes, I think eight times.” She said, “Well, we have the machine so we’ll get it right away.”

I curled up again, the doctor stuck a needle with numbing medicine into my back, and said she could see the holes where they kept sticking me the day prior. She used the machine to help guide her and found the spot. She stuck the needle in my spine. It didn’t work. Shocked and frustrated, the doctor said, “I’m putting you on your stomach. I know gauging pressure is best done on the side, but you have been stabbed way too many times.”

I turned onto my stomach and arched my back a little. The doctor used the machine and was able to get the needle into the spinal fluid. It took several minutes for her to collect all the fluid. The whole time, the needle was painfully inside my spine. Finally she got what she needed and sent me back to my room.

They told me to keep my head and back absolutely flat for at least one hour, preferably two hours. If not, there is a common headache that develops once fluid is removed from the spine. Sometimes the hole that was created by the needle continues to slowly leak spinal fluid. Without the right amount of spinal fluid, once you sit up, it will cause excruciating pain instantly in your head. The only way to fix it is to have a blood patch put over the hole. This involves sticking another needle with your blood back inside so the blood will clot over the hole.

I laid flat on my back for two hours. The neurologist showed up and told me my spinal pressure was normal. So good news, bad news. Good news that there wasn’t evidence of pressure in my brain. Bad news, I was back to square one and was told to follow up with a neurologist outside of the hospital.

I went home and rested on the couch because my back was extremely sore. I also would get a slight headache if I stood up. I was taking Excedrin and figured it wasn’t “the” headache that is known to accompany the spinal tap because it wasn’t excruciating. I thought I was in the clear. I had New Years Eve plans in Nashville in two days and wasn’t going to miss it. Unfortunately, I was wrong about that headache.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a comment!

Days 178-182: Family and Friends Across the USA

I left Idaho Falls, Idaho just after 1:00 pm and headed towards Denver, Colorado. I knew I wouldn’t make it there that day because it was too far. I decided to drive until I was tired and then find a place to stay.

I drove through Idaho and southwest Wyoming. Idaho was beautiful and full of ranches and mountains. It was December 19th, so the snow was on the top of the mountains, but the lower elevations were clear.

img_0260

The first parts were dry desert mountains, but then it progressively became more mountainous and green. I imagined the drive must be incredible in the summer.

img_0273img_0271

I had been nervous about driving to Missouri in December, knowing I’d have to go over the mountains. I drove around lakes, stopping to take pictures. I was enjoying the drive immensely because the roads were clear.

img_0246img_0248img_0257img_0253img_0263img_0264

Suddenly, it began snowing lightly and the roads were no longer clear and dry. As I continued to climb the mountains, I tightly gripped my steering wheel, fearing I’d slide off the road. I lowered my speed because I’m not used to driving in snow. I was happy that I had my Subaru Outback and my new tires handled the road well.

img_0275img_0289img_0281img_0277

I planned on checking out Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming at some point during my travels and I was bummed I had to quickly pass through to make it to Missouri by Christmas. I knew I’d be back again one day though, hopefully when the weather is a little better.

img_0293img_0290img_0295img_0303

After driving for almost five hours, I decided to stop in Rocks Springs, Wyoming. I pulled into a parking lot and booked a place on Orbitz. However, when I pulled in, the place looked creepy, old, dark, and vacant. I found the lobby across the street and went inside. I asked the guy at the front desk why it was so dark across the street at the motel. He said someone must have forgotten to turn on the lights.

I was getting the creeps from the place and he said I needed to pay because Orbitz didn’t collect my money yet. Relieved since Orbitz usually charges me a non-refundable charge right away, I asked if I could cancel since I hadn’t paid yet. The guy told me I could cancel, so I left. I booked an okay room at a Best Western for more money, but it was better than the seemingly abandoned motel I had just escaped.

The next morning, I grabbed some breakfast down the street and hit the road. The wind gusts through Wyoming were crazy strong. There were digital displays on the highway with warnings about the gusts, 60 MPH+, so I went a little slower through some parts. I was worried about my rooftop storage unit.

img_0332

The drive was flat until I hit Colorado. It was strange because western Wyoming was beautiful and full of mountains, but the middle and driving south was flat and windy.

img_0315img_0321

Once I entered Colorado, the skies turned blue and the sun was shining. I was staying the night at my second cousin John’s house, but I wanted to meet up with my Aunt Lori and Uncle Jim who live about 20 minutes from John. I met them for a beer and it was great catching them up on my recent travels. I had stayed with them four months prior when I flew out for their son’s wedding.

img_0326img_0312

We had a great time laughing and hanging out, but I needed to get to John’s house. I arrived and we headed to dinner. John, his wife Lori, and I went to Roadhouse Grill and ate way too much for dinner. It was so delicious and I had a lot of fun with them, but my stomach started to hurt. We went back to their house and I immediately put on my PJ’s.

In the morning, I left to drive to Colorado Springs (about an hour away) to see my friend, Mandy. She wasn’t available until the afternoon, but my second cousin Susie works in Colorado Springs, so we agreed to meet for breakfast.

We had a great breakfast at a cafe and then shopped at the mall for a bit. Since it was just before Christmas, she had some time off work, but had errands to run at the mall. I had zero gifts and Christmas only a few days away.

After the mall, I stopped at Mandy’s house. Mandy and I met in the 5th grade when we both lived in Canon City, Colorado. She was my best friend for the three years that I lived there and we had some unforgettable adventures. I moved back to Missouri right before 8th grade, but we stayed in touch. Sometimes we’ve gone a few years without seeing each other, but when we see each other, it’s like no time has passed.

We stayed in touch by phone and text, but sometimes we’ve gone a year without talking. It’s so funny though, because it’s never awkward when we see or talk to each other again.

When I arrived around 2:00 pm, Mandy was getting the house ready for a Christmas party she and her husband Chris were throwing for their friends. She asked me to stay, but I told her I needed to make more progress that day and would probably stay the night somewhere in Kansas.

Mandy was painting her nails and offered to paint mine too while we drank some wine. She had started to edit my blog for me the past couple of months and I was catching her up on more recent things since my blog has been behind.

Mandy knew what she was doing with the nails and wine. She convinced me to stay for the party and stay the night at her house. I didn’t have a hotel booked and thought I could still make it to Missouri by Christmas. I was really enjoying the nomad life.  

Mandy’s friends started to arrive and it was so great to meet them. I hadn’t met any of Mandy’s friends over the years because when we’d see each other, it’s mostly been for a brief period of time. This time I was able to spend a few hours catching up with her and then the party began.

img_0343

Mandy used to be a Grant Writer for several non-profit organizations and after a decade of doing that, she’s taking a brave step by joining the police department in the hopes of eventually becoming a detective. Her husband, Chris, is a prosecutor for the District Attorney’s office. There were a lot of lawyers and some very smart people at the party. They were a blast to get to know and were all very welcoming.

People asked how I knew Mandy and I couldn’t resist telling them about our adventures growing up. We used to sneak out of her mom’s house in the middle of the night to ride our bicycles down the old Main Street and pretend we were cars. We were also entrepreneurs and created our own restaurant called “Le Fancy Feast” and turned my mom’s kitchen into a full-on restaurant in the middle of the night.

Mandy was always the daredevil and I was the worry-wart. I would caution her and another friend about the crazy shenanigans they seemed to always get themselves into – like tubing down a drainage ditch and almost getting sucked under the road. It turns out my worrying was often justified.

After everyone left the party, Mandy, Chris, and I stayed up talking about politics. We often don’t agree, but I respect their views and we were able to have good discussions. Sometimes it was a little heated because we can be honest with each other. But in the end, we had a productive conversation until 3:30 am, when we realized we needed to get to bed.

I left Mandy’s house at 11:30 am and as I loaded my car, it started to snow. I hurried so I wouldn’t get stuck in it. After a couple of hours, the snow stopped.

img_0346img_0351

I drove through eastern Colorado and into Kansas. Growing up in both Missouri and Colorado, I’ve done that drive many times. The drive through Kansas is one of the worst drives in America. It’s eight hours of a flat highway with nothing around.

I was exhausted and it was dark, so I stopped in Salina, Kansas. I booked a room at Days Inn and walked across the street to IHOP for dinner. I was exhausted from driving about six hours and still had another full day of driving ahead of me.

The next morning, I continued through Kansas. It would be another six hours of drive-time to Lake Saint Louis, where my family lives. The drive was painfully boring. I amused myself by listening to Kansas on my satellite radio while driving through Kansas.

Once I hit Kansas City, the drive was familiar. I went to college at the University of Central Missouri, which is near Kansas City. I hadn’t driven that route in more than  a decade. I was tempted to drive the extra 30 minutes to my old stomping grounds to see what’s changed, but nothing would be open.

img_0395

After making a couple of food and bathroom stops, I arrived in Lake Saint Louis at 5:00 pm on December 23rd. I made it in time for Christmas! It was a surreal feeling being back. I hadn’t driven my own car there since I moved away in 2003. I had only been back to visit on holidays or vacation. This time, I didn’t have an end date.

I went to dinner with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and nephews. I was exhausted, but I was happy to see them. I was also happy to have a break. It had been six months of travel and I had driven more than 15,000 miles. I needed some time to figure out where I was going next. The possibilities were endless…

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
Thanks for reading! Hit the Like button or leave a comment!

Days 52-53: Unexpected Feelings at the North Pole

After spending ten days driving from Vancouver, British Columbia to Fairbanks, Alaska I was ready to rest. I spent day 52 doing laundry, cleaning out my email, and booking the ferry from Alaska to Canada for my return. There was Netflix in the Airbnb and I caught up on Orange is the New Black. It was cold and raining outside: a perfect day for binge watching!

The next day I needed to get out and about. I drove 25 minutes to North Pole, Alaska. It’s a small town of about 2,000 and sits just outside of Fairbanks. The main thing to do is to check out the reindeer and Christmas shop that is home to Santa all year long.

img_5873

I walked inside the large gift shop that was bursting with Christmas decorations,  Christmas music, and delicious sweets to eat. Although it was August, dreary, and about 50℉, I instantly felt transported to the holiday season. I was trying really hard not to purchase souvenirs and so far I had only purchased a shot glass at Hard Rock Café since I collect them. The ornaments were so cute and the place did a such a nice job of creating the Christmastime feeling that I decided to buy a moose ornament. He was just too cute to pass up!

img_5875

As I continued to browse the store, a middle-aged woman started talking to me about an item, thinking I was her husband. Shocked, she apologized for the confusion. I laughed and said, “It’s ok. Someone the other day also thought I was their husband.” She explained, “It’s your height. In my peripheral vision, your height matched his.”

Walking through the store, I passed Santa. I noticed small children with their family taking pictures and suddenly I felt sad that I didn’t have children. It was a strange and unexpected feeling.

img_5872

My ex-husband and I always said we’d have children two-three years into our marriage. The time came and went and it never seemed like the right time. The time went by too fast. Year after year, there was some reason we decided not to have kids (jobs, travel, health, etc.).  There were also many times I told Aaron I didn’t want to have kids unless our marriage was very strong – everyone says kids make marriage harder.

One day after eight-nine years of marriage, Aaron and I got into a fight. He told me he was upset that we didn’t have kids, and said I always come up with excuses as to why we can’t have them. He said, “I think the truth is that you just don’t want kids with me.”

The comment surprised me and I didn’t know how to respond because it was probably true. I couldn’t trust him, didn’t want to end up having to take care of him and a child, and I didn’t want to end up with split custody if we ever got divorced.

There was a stretch of several months that we tried to get pregnant and didn’t so I’m not even sure that I can. But year after year, I would tell Aaron that it wasn’t the right time. Looking back, I think he was right, and it was that I just didn’t want kids with him. When I filed for divorce at 36 years old, I knew it likely meant I wouldn’t have kids.

A lot of people assume I don’t want kids. It’s weird. I’ve always seen myself being a mom at some point in my life, it just hasn’t felt like the right time. I don’t know if having kids is in the cards for me and I’m ok with that. I try to focus on living my life to the fullest each day, following God’s path, and being content with where I’m at.

Standing there watching this cute young family made me sad that I might not ever experience that. It was such a surprising feeling because honestly, it doesn’t usually cross my mind. If it does, it’s usually more of a “Ugh, those kids are screaming. Glad I don’t have kids.”

img_5883

I left the shop and drove by the little statue of the actual North Pole and then headed to a farmer’s market in Fairbanks. The market was small and it was cold and wet outside, but everyone seemed so happy despite how expensive the produce was – a miniature cucumber was $1 and a regular sized one was $3.

img_5886

After the market, I went to the botanical garden at the college. There were only a couple of people walking around the spread out gardens. A woman started talking to me, thinking I was her adult daughter. We laughed as I said this happens to me all the time. Apparently, I sneak up on people.

img_5890

Raindrops were adorning the flower pedals and the colors were beautifully vivid. Once I finished there, I headed to the museum on the college campus. I watched a national Geographic movie about extreme weather, walked through the exhibits, and learned more about Alaska.

Yelp failed me with a recommendation on a Philly cheese steak that was terrible. I headed to Walmart to pick up some supplies and the military presence was very noticeable – there is an Army base in Fairbanks.

I went back to my Airbnb to rest and thought about the day. It was nice to get out a little and see some of Fairbanks. I thought about having children and wondered how much my view towards having them (or not having them) would change over the next decade. Time will tell.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider