I recently spent 141 unbroken hours under medical surveillance, where we did several pleasurable experiments with my blood, brain, arteries, and spinal fluid. The need for these activities was identified one Friday evening, when an MRI revealed several small-but-fresh lesions on my brain. Before the doctor addressed the age of these spots, I thought “Huh. This explains a lot: Me mistakenly calling an Aloe Vera plant a Neosporin plant, me thinking “breech” was a child’s name rather than its position during birth, me driving away from the gas station with the nozzle still lodged into the tank, etcetera.” Unfortunately, these spots have only been a resident of my hot air-holder for a few weeks, so the cause of the mentioned events remains a medical mystery, as do my brain lesions.
Although I would much rather toss around light-hearted jokes about the traumatic hospital stay I experienced, I’d like to share some stories that filled me up with wisdom. My hope is that you steal some of it without actually enduring the following.
Let’s talk about facing fears. Facing needles and facing fears.
On Night 1, I had to turn my head, close one eye, and hold my breath as a vial of blood was taken and an IV placed. My past experiences with needles usually ended with me getting dizzy or putting the phlebotomist in a choke-hold. I was thinking “Ok…the foreign object in my arm is temporary. Maybe they’ll pull it out tomorrow.” And THEN, they slipped me some meds that sent my headache on a weeklong vacation to Mykonos and made my heart and toes warm. The warm toes paired with daily blood tests ended with me watching the needle with both eyes open by the end of the week. Victory is mine.
On Day 2, I learned a new word: angiogram. My survival crew was going to cut into my groin area and use a catheter to shoot dye into my bloodstream so everyone could take a gooooood long look at the situation to find the perpetrator that sent blood clots to my brain (a felony in my opinion, btw). First of all, the pros: more toe-warming meds. The cons: possible heart attack, bleeding out, and making my mom and I disconnect hands as they drug me into the surgical arena. I had to go Full-Blown Coach Ciarra on myself, whispering “show me brave, show me tough” repeatedly, while blinking rapidly to disguise my silent sobbing.
On Day 6, I sat upright in my bed, smelling the coffee in front of me while waiting for it to cool. Honestly, the last thing I needed at that point was a scorched tongue. How would I taste my chocolate pudding with burnt tastebuds?? My mom brought me a latté to distract me from the terror scheduled for 12pm: the lumbar puncture. Something I would compare to maple tree tapping. At 9:40, a knock at the door indicated it was time for me to ditch the coffee and flee the country. The doctor arrived early. The procedure brought me physical pain I did not even know existed. I don’t want you to pass out, so I’ll leave you with this: I wish a lumbar puncture upon nobody, not even the people that choose cats over dogs. Important to note: spinal fluid is clear, like vodka.
Takeaways: Face fear with both eyes open. Feel all of the pain. It’s a sick way to level up in the game of strength.
Let’s talk about identity crisis. Maybe not quite like Bruce Jenner pre-sex transition, but close.
For the last 1.5 years, I’ve eaten, slept, and breathed fitness. Like take the stairs 18 stories although there are two functioning elevators, park two miles away from the door, eat spinach and Brussels sprouts daily for the fun of it kind of fitness. It is the king of my values, (second to faith, family, and brushing my teeth for two full minutes twice daily). Guess what the first no-no added to my list of daily activities was? MOVEMENT! I couldn’t even go for a walk around the floor in my butt-cheeks-fully-visible gown. To an average human, horizontal television absorption all day could sound thrilling. To me, it sounded nauseating. Mainly because I am used to Netflix where there are no commercials.
Living with chronic goal-setting syndrome, my daily tasks typically consisted of exercising, eating clean and getting a high dosage of sleep. Having instilled that lifestyle into my heart/brain/soul, it’s been a difficult transition into what feels like doing absolutely nothing.
On Day 2, I woke up thinking “I am broken.” I reminisced on my lifestyle leading up to this speed bump and how I tackled every day like the beast I had worked so hard to become. Then, I decided to adjust my goals. I couldn’t go to the gym, prep chicken and veggies, or sleep diagonally on my stomach in my queen bed at home, but I could drink tons of water, stand for a few minutes every hour, and think about all of my blessings when I got discouraged or sad. Those all feel like they lack complexity being three weeks removed, but in the moment, they were just enough to fill my cup and make me feel accomplished. Plus, I am not broken…I am in repair.
Takeaways: Have adjustable goals. Don’t put all of your Identity Eggs in one basket. Cut yourself some slack.
Let’s talk about humility. Like, the opposite of the way I felt when I peed my pants at Karate practice in the third grade.
On Day 2, after transitioning to a room in the Neurology unit, I went to get up and go to the bathroom, only to be asked to remain lying down as I was on bed rest until further notice. Having the world’s smallest bladder, I wondered what humiliating challenge lied ahead. Turns out, there’s really not a great way for females to use bedpans, and 11 times out of 10, you will end up lying in your own urine. There is nothing uncomfortable about it, except everything. If you’re like me and stuck in Ciarra’s World, you need to take a biiiig step back and understand that a little bit of urine exposure is better than causing a health catastrophe while on the toilet (See below).
After my Angiogram around noon, also on Day 2, I was assigned six hours of horizontal lying, after which I could stand up and use the restroom if I felt ambitious. Well, news flash, Ambitious is my middle name, also sometimes spelled A-n-n, so when 6PM hit, I buzzed in my nurse, Ian, and proudly announced to him that I would be standing up to use the restroom, meaning: no bedpan needed, thankyouverymuch. I stood – wobbled to the bathroom – sat – handled things – stood again – got very lightheaded – heard very loud rock music – my vision went black – my body got hot – I felt like I was 396lbs, and I fainted and fell into the arms of my nurses.
I came fully conscious back in my bed with sweat dripping from my entire body and the nurses fanning me. My mom stood next to the bed and pleadingly said, “This isn’t a deal breaker, Ciarra. You’re okay.” Meanwhile I thought, “This is a deal breaker. I told Ian I was going to do this and I failed. He’s never going to let me pee on my own again. Also, did I wash my hands??”
Ah, the humility of fainting, failing, and peeing on yourself. We’ve all been there.
Takeaways: Don’t let anything discourage you. Let failure and embarrassment fuel you.
For the first full 23 years of my life, I’ve felt pretty untouchable, dodging health challenges like a parkour athlete dodging the sidewalk. Nothing has brought me down off my pedestal quicker than an unexplained brain injury. I am so grateful for the support I received throughout, and I’m incredibly lucky to have a full recovery waiting for me somewhere up ahead, along with lots of blue skies and the best days ever.
Thank you for reading,