Not Claustrophobic After All


Today’s section in The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, Sixth Edition by Edmund J. Bourne, PhD dealt with claustrophobia. This was a section that I was looking forward to, since I’ve been dealing with what I thought was claustrophobia, but after reading the section, I have doubts about that.

My so-called claustrophobia started sometime last year, when I had to have an MRI done of my head. They put me on the table and started to put me in the machine, and I got stuck. (I’ve got a generous belly.) I panicked and yelled out to the technician that I didn’t fit. He was quick to pull me back out, so I wasn’t stuck in the machine but for a few seconds, but for months after that I would have dreams of getting stuck in claustrophobic places and wake up in a cold sweat, gasping for breath.

I’ve noted, however, that I’m not claustrophobic in enclosed places like the car or an airplane. The only real instance that I dealt with it was in the MRI.

I mentioned this to my therapist yesterday and she told me something I suppose I already knew, but needed it pointed out: everyone’s claustrophobic in an MRI. That’s why they invented the open MRI, to be able to service patients that couldn’t otherwise use a regular MRI machine. So she doesn’t think that I’m claustrophobic.

Today I read that section in the book and it made a point of noting that it is very common for people to experience claustrophobia in an MRI. So I’m really starting to believe that I don’t actually have claustrophobia.

Now, I do have a phobia of suffocation. I can only hold my breath for a few seconds before I get panicky about not breathing, and that’s folded into my fear of death. That could run alongside claustrophobia, but in my case, I wasn’t worried that I couldn’t breathe in the MRI, and my subsequent dreams of being in an extremely tight enclosed space dealt more with being trapped than not being able to breathe. The whole thing seems complicated, but at the root I think I just intensely dislike head-first regular MRIs. (I got an open MRI on my head last year and my recent MRI on my knee was feet-first, so I didn’t feel trapped or stuck with my head outside the machine.) Fortunately those are easy enough to avoid – just make sure any head-first MRIs are done in an open machine.

Yet Another Family Emergency


I’ll be waking up at 4:00 am tomorrow to get my wife on a plane to Arizona to see her dad. If you could keep her and her family in your thoughts we would both appreciate it. I can’t be very forthcoming with details at this point, but things are not good.

On a related note, I will be on my own this weekend and would appreciate company from my local friends, especially on Sunday, as that’s my birthday. Let me know through the usual channels.

I’m getting tired of family emergencies. They take a lot out of people, regardless of their mental state, but they especially affect me, when I can finally unwind from the travel and stress of the event. They affect my wife the same way, so I’m especially concerned about her essentially traveling over the weekend and coming back home just in time to go to bed for work the next day. She’s not going to have long to be able to process the trip at all and I worry about her, especially since I won’t be by her side for this trip.

Just keep us all in your thoughts if you would. Thanks.

Quick and Dirty Mom Update 4/19/2017


My wife got a call from my mother earlier tonight, something that’s highly unusual for Mom to do. Mom asked my wife if she could be outside the front door to her facility in 20 minutes to pick her up. Mom says they’re recruiting an army from the residents in her skilled nursing facility and Mom doesn’t want to be recruited into their army. We had to let her down easy by telling her that we live in Austin, Texas, which is over a thousand miles from her in Raleigh, North Carolina, and that there was no way we could be there in twenty minutes. She said she’ll “have to figure out other arrangements.”

Apparently this is pretty par for the course when Mom has a UTI, but I’ve never seen things this bad with her.

I’m not sure how much of this is the UTI and how much is the stroke.

That’s about all I have energy for tonight. For some reason I am bone tired and really want to go lie down.

Mom Update 4/7/2017


Today Mom had an MRI done to determine the cause of the speech aphasia and loss of motor skills. It was as I had suspected from early on.

Mom has had a minor stroke.

That explains all of the weird symptoms that she’s been exhibiting – the loss of communication, the loss of motor skills, the loss of connection to reality at times (today she told me that a fish on the ceiling helped her sleep last night and that there was a hat on the fence outside her 5th floor window, not to mention the black widow spider that was on my glasses at one point). At least now we have a direction to move in and to see what we can recover of what she’s lost.

I’m terrified for her at this point, because she’s unable to communicate even the most basic wishes when she’s tired or hurting, and she’s usually tired or hurting. I don’t know how her care is going to change at her nursing home, and I really don’t have an easy way of checking on her, unless it’s to check with Kenneth and get reports from him.

I’m more scared of what I’ve just inherited. As her financial power of attorney, it’s now fallen to me to make sure that her bills are taken care of and that things run smoothly for her with regard to her money. Fortunately I’m a signatory on her bank account, so that helps immensely. But her budget and all of her finances are locked away on her laptop at her facility, something that I’m likely going to have to get my hands on to be able to efficiently execute her finances. That will likely be something that Kenneth is going to have to retrieve for me and ship to Austin so we can get things done.

Right now, though, I have another priority that I need to look at – that being the trip to Arizona to be with my wife’s family over Easter weekend. With my knee in an immobilizer, this might be a long trip for us. I’m dreading the flight back to Austin, even though United was kind enough to not only put me on the right bulkhead aisle but to move my wife’s seat from somewhere else on the plane – our reservations were made at different times – to right beside me on the bulkhead.

I’m kind of numb given the news of Mom’s stroke, so bear with me if I seem out of it for the next little while. Life is too busy to be able to process this effectively and it’ll be over a week before I can really start to do that.

Mom Update 4/6/2017


Mom has shown signs of improvement today. They’ve put her in the recliner for most of the afternoon, she was clearer with her speech in the afternoon, they’ve switched her from a wide-gauge nasal cannula to a narrow-gauge, and to top it all off, they’ve moved her out of cardiovascular ICU into a regular room.

That having been said, she’s having a very rough night. She’s barely able to communicate at all, she’s apparently hallucinating still, and she’s absolutely panicked that she’s dying and that she’s going to do it alone. As I write this, she’s been inconsolably crying and coughing hard. We don’t know why she’s so upset, and she can’t tell us, which is just upsetting her more.

I feel utterly helpless to do anything. I hate this feeling.

Mom Update 4/5/2017


Today was a busy day for Mom.

Physical therapy came in and had her sitting in a chair for a couple of hours. That kind of wore her out. She also had a CT scan done of her head to see if they can determine a reason for the speech and motor skills difficulties she’s been having. (She can, with great effort, lift her left arm high enough to scratch her nose, but that’s about the limit of what she’s been able to demonstrate.) After the CT scan they took advantage of the fact that I wasn’t in the room (more on that in a minute) and changed her linens and bathed her. She was pretty exhausted by the time I got back and was, as I understand, pretty upset with her nurse at the time, apparently for something involving the transfer process during bathing.

The reason I was out of the room was that my wife flew into town today, and I went down to pick her up and get us checked into the hotel on the premises and then back down to the cafeteria to eat before heading back up to see Mom. They were busy bathing her when we arrived but there was a waiting room in the CVICU where they’re keeping Mom and we sat there for a few minutes while they finished up.

Mom seems to be ever-so-slightly improving with her speech. There were several instances where I would get a sentence out and she’s come back with a smart-alecky comment and a face to match – so I know she’s still intact in there. (At one time she told me, very clearly, to “kiss her ass,” after which we both dissolved into giggles. I deserved it. I was sassing my mother.) She’s intensely frustrated that what she thinks she’s saying isn’t making it out as English, but we’re able to get a little further each day by asking leading questions. A couple of people recommended that we get an alphabet board and have her point to the letters that she wants to say. Our obstacle there is the loss of motor skills. She’s not been able to show that she can point, much less at anything specific.

The day was further complicated when I fell down a few steps and wrenched my knee during the day. It’s very sore to walk on, it’s causing me to limp, and my wife is thinking I might have pulled a tendon in it. I’m glad she got here when she did – I can’t imagine trying to take care of Mom on my own with a bum knee.

I’m taking care of myself the best I can – I’m trying to rest when Mom’s resting, I’m trying to minimize the time that I’m on my feet, I’m trying to elevate my leg whenever possible, and we’re trying (but failing) to ice it down for any appreciable length of time. Mom keeps asking me to come over to her when I’m in the recliner in her room icing my knee and the icing has to go by the wayside to take care of her. Not mad at her for it by any means, it’s just difficult to try and take care of myself when she’s wanting me close.

Oh, earlier I mentioned there’s a hotel on the premises. On the third floor of the hospital, there’s a small, 33-room hotel for family members of Heart Center and CVICU patients. It’s very nice, there’s a fitness center in the hotel area, there’s a continental breakfast every morning, and the rooms are spacious and comfortable. There’s a TV, a mini-fridge, a 4-cup coffee maker, a table and chairs, and two double beds in the room we’re in. It’s kind of like a Ronald McDonald House for heart patients. (In fact, we share a wall with a room that’s considered to be part of the on-premises Ronald McDonald House.) The beds seem comfy, and we haven’t decided if we’re going to try and cram ourselves into one of the beds together, or use both of them and spread out. We’ll make that decision when we get to it, I suppose.

The doctor is supposed to read the results of the CT scan and explain what they found tomorrow, so we’re heading back relatively early to make sure we don’t miss the doctor. As scared as I am to hear the results of that test, I hope that it reveals something that we can concretely begin to address so Mom can improve.

Mom Update 4/4/2017


Today was a day of ups and downs with Mom.

They are slowly weaning her off the oxygen and are hoping that she can come off of it entirely sometime tomorrow. She’s fighting the nasal cannula hard though, and if she had better motor skills she’d have been able to pull it off more frequently than she already did. I must have had to wrap it back around her ears a half-dozen times and the nursing staff at least that many.

However, having said that about the oxygen, they also had her on her BIPAP machine the majority of the day. Thanks to that she missed lunch altogether after eating very little breakfast, and went on to refuse dinner. I’m concerned about her not eating.

Her speech therapist met with her this morning fairly early and from what I could gather while I was there (I needed to go eat breakfast to take medication) she was putting together more words at the beginning of a sentence than she had prior to that meeting, and was doing it more frequently. That dropped back off to mostly babbling chatter after the meeting, though, so I was a little discouraged that the improvement was not more permanent.

She’s getting very frustrated that I don’t understand what she’s trying to say. At one point it took us five minutes for me to suss out that she wanted some more tea and as I was walking out of the room to fetch it for her she yelled out very clearly “you’re such a dumbass!” That makes me think that she thinks she’s actually communicating and is getting frustrated when others don’t understand her, another sign that I think she might have had a minor stroke.

Another sign that I think she might have suffered a stroke is that toward the end of our visit today I asked her to write her name, in an attempt to see if we could cross the communication gap somehow. I got one clear letter out of several attempts, and the rest of it trailed off into unintelligible scribble. So no dice on the communication.

I’m very concerned that this is going to be permanent, and if so, how am I going to find out how she’s doing once she returns to her facility? I’m not the medical power of attorney so I can’t call and get information on her readily. It’s like I’ve already lost her in a way.

Fortunately my wife is flying out to be with Mom and me tomorrow morning, and we can hopefully figure out a plan during the rest of our trip.

I foresee a long, bumpy road ahead.