olso4095: October 2011 Archives

'Oh god, here it comes...no, please not tonight.' I thought. It would start with a loud buzzing, similar to that of someone screaming over radio static. A deep sinking weight into the bed from my fingers to my toes followed this sound. I was paralyzed...trapped in my own body! I would struggled to breath as everything seemed to last an eternity. The more I would try to move, the stronger the horrifying sound would become. The sound and weight could drive anyone mad. It was a sound deep in my ears. It was a sound hard to describe. And the worst part was it all sounded crazy.

At first I told my mom about these strange occurrences when I was falling asleep. I also added that it only occurred when I slept on my back. She responded by asking me a question that made me feel even crazier:
"Honey, do you hear voices with these screaming sounds?"
"Gez Mom, of course not!"

She left it at that, but the serious tone in her voice when she asked this seemingly ridiculous question made her concern evident. It made me wonder... am I going crazy?

I realized I was losing and unhealthy amount of sleep because I feared the frightening ascent into sleep and decided it was time to see a doctor. I prepared a list of the strange sensations I frequently had right as I fell asleep and made sure to throw in a disclaimer to assure the doctor I did not hear any voices.

I was relieved to hear that my sanity had not flown the coop, but really confused when the doctor told me I was experiencing something relatively common called "Sleep Paralysis". I was filled with questions. What is sleep paralysis? Why had I not heard of it before if it is 'relatively common'? Why me? Was there something wrong me? Is there a cure to this terrifying nightly experience?

I was sent away with only half of these questions answered. The 'cure' was healthier sleeping habits and she promised there was nothing wrong with me. The only problem was that the transition between my sleep stages was some times not smooth. The doctor broke it down by saying that my body was going to sleep faster than my mind. Elements of the REM stage were present while I was still conscious. As for the 'Why me?' sleep paralysis can be either hereditary, due to certain stressors, or because I sleep on my back.

My other concern was about the fact that this is 'relatively common'. Although roughly half of all people have experienced sleep paralysis in their lifetime, I have yet to meet one. Some cultures have folklore tales and interpretations of the experiences, often describing it as some sort of evil. Why is this strange and horrifying experience not talked about? Could it be because it sounds too crazy?

The brain is a paradoxical organ; we know so much about it yet still understand very little. We can identify the general functions associated with a region but still the brain remains a mystery. Trying to understand the complexity of brain functions and its amazing abilities can be a humbling experience.

In 2009 an unfortunate bicycle accident led me to experience another paradox; how the brain can be both fragile and resilient at the same time. I suffered from an Epidural Hematoma, essentially a blood clot on the outside of the outermost membrane of the brain, resulting in what is called a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The epidural hematoma was caused by a skull fracture and removed by performing an Emergency Craniotomy. This involved removing a section of skull just above the left frontal lobe, 'evacuating the hematoma', and replacing the bone with six titanium reinforcements.

The regions of my brain directly affected by the blunt impact and surgery were the left frontal and temporal lobe. The frontal lobe is associated with motor function, language, and executive functional and houses Broca's Area, a region vital for speech formation. The temporal lobe is related to hearing and overlaps with the frontal lobe on responsibilities of memory functions and language. Before I woke up from the procedure the outcome was a mystery. Brain injuries can manifest in a variety of ways and my parents were told to prepare for anything. When I did wake up, the outcome was a miracle.

After rehabilitative therapy, the residual effects range from balance problems to recollection of nonexistent memories. At times it is difficult to really know what to attribute to the brain injury (i.e. forgetting my keys daily), but overall the effects are minimal. According to the neurosurgeon, in his twenty years of work my cognitive bounce back was most surprising considering the damage and bleeding he saw. He said that my quick and strong recover most likely due to my age and good state of health. Could this have been neural plasticity working miracles?

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This page is an archive of recent entries written by olso4095 in October 2011.

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