My family history suggests that I should eat like a rabbit and not procreate like one. There’s diabetes, high cholesterol, heart attacks, and strokes, oh my. For breakfast I have a blueberry and banana smoothie and for lunch I have a salad. In the evening, all bets are off, and there’s ALWAYS Ben & Jerry’s in my freezer—Chocolate Therapy and Peanut Butter Cup, to be exact—but there’s a voice in my head to keep me in check because I know the pain that poor health and its consequences can cause a person and her family. I wear a Fitbit to make sure I’m getting in my steps. I take care of myself. Sheesh, this sounds like I climbed the ladder to a very high horse, but trust me, most of what I do for my health is motivated by fear. I don’t want to have a heart attack or a stroke, so I eat the good stuff (buttery sweet treats, chocolatey confections, and all things fried) in moderation and force myself to move. All of this is to say, I usually don’t ignore my health, but over the course of a few years, I’ve brushed off something that could have been pretty major. Thankfully it wasn’t.
Nearly a year ago, Henning took Margaret and Niels downstairs one weekend morning after they woke up so I could sleep in. He does this almost every weekend morning. It’s glorious. I get to catch up on sleep and Henning gets to wake up early and play with the kids. It’s a win-win. When I woke up that morning and heard Niels fussing, I realized it was time for him to nurse. I hopped out of bed, walked toward the bedroom door, and started to feel dizzy. I could feel the blood draining from my head and saw white spots in front of my eyes. I tried to steady myself against the bedroom door, but it was too late. I went down like a ton of bricks, hitting my head on the door jamb and slamming my face down onto the carpet. When I came to, I was laying on the carpet in the bedroom doorway with Henning standing over me looking like he’d just found me dead. He asked what happened and if we needed to go to the ER. I told him I couldn’t remember what happened after I got to the doorway, but that I was fine. I just hit my head. No big deal. I got out of bed too fast and got dizzy. I reached up to feel the bump on my head and mumbled something about feeling like I was going to puke. As much as I brushed it off, I spent the rest of the day worrying that I had a concussion or that there was something else wrong with my brain.
It wasn’t the first time this had happened. Before I found out I was pregnant with Niels, I was sleeping in one weekend and woke up realizing that it was pretty late, like 8:30 am (or a completely normal time, whatever). I hopped out of bed and made it almost to the stairs before passing out. If I had taken maybe three more steps, I probably would’ve passed out AND fallen down the stairs, and I’ve seen enough TV to know that wouldn’t be good. I hit my head on the door jamb to Margaret’s room and couldn’t remember anything once I went down, just like the most recent episode. Henning saw me pass out and said it was one of the scariest things he’s seen. One second I was walking; the next, I was falling forward without bracing for impact. I wasn’t out for very long; once I hit the ground I almost immediately regained consciousness. It was super scary, but it didn’t even occur to me that we should go to the ER or that this is something I should mention to my doctor. You know, I just pass out occasionally. No biggie. This has happened at least two other times.
Anyway, my annual lady-bits exam was shortly after my most recent episode (I’m just going to keep calling these things “episodes”), and I casually mentioned to my OB/GYN that I had passed out. No biggie. Hit my head. No biggie. Don’t have any memory of what happened after the blood drained from my head. No biggie. “Has it happened before?” “Did you go to the ER?” “Have you ever mentioned this to any other doctor besides me?” I believe those were his questions. The answers were: yes, no, and no. These were all unacceptable. He referred me to a neurologist, and THEY CALLED ME to make an appointment. I had to wait 4 months for this appointment, however, so while I waited I was instructed to not just hop out of bed in the morning like my 4 year old. I need to get out of bed slowly, like an 80 year old. And I continued to sleep in on the weekends, but got up really slowly no matter who was fussing or what time it was.
When my appointment finally rolled around, Henning came with me to fill in the gaps for what I couldn’t remember. We gave the backstory on my episodes. The nurse took my blood pressure: 96/59 (which is low). The doctor asked me a lot of questions. She ruled out seizures and didn’t think it was necessary to do a CT scan (I agreed). I had already had a baseline EKG because of family history and age; it was normal. So far, so good.
During the physical exam, the doctor had me say three words: apple, daisy, breakfast. About a minute after I said them, she asked me to remember those three words so I could repeat them again later in the exam. Of course this made me anxious because I’m terrible at remembering stuff like that. I can remember all the jingles to all 80s commercials, but I will forget the name of everyone I meet, no matter how many times I repeat the name in my head. She ran through the physical battery: I touched my finger to my nose while my eyes were closed, stood on one foot while my eyes were closed, stared at a spot on the wall while she shined a light into my eyes, etc. I got confused by her instructions at one point and did something stupid, like grabbing her finger instead of looking at her finger, but overall things were looking good. The whole time I repeated “apple, daisy, breakfast” in my head and second guessed myself that I was remembering correctly.
At the end of my appointment, the doctor said she wanted to get an orthostatic blood pressure test done before I left, which sounded ominous, but just meant taking my blood pressure while laying down and then sitting and then standing. But before that, though, “Do you remember the three words?” my doctor asked. I was 99% sure I remembered correctly and said, “Apple, daisy, breakfast.” She smiled and said, “Good! I think you just have slightly low blood pressure. Don’t stand up too quickly and call me if you pass out again.” The orthostatic blood pressure test confirmed her diagnosis.
I think “apple, daisy, breakfast” every morning now when I sit on the side of the bed waiting for my blood to get to where it needs to go so I don’t come crashing down again. I think of these words when yoga kicks my butt and I have to slow down so I don’t face plant during my downward facing dog. These words help me remember that even though I push myself to stay healthy, sometimes I need to slow down to take care of myself.