Tuesday, April 7, 2015


You want to talk about oppressed minorities? You're looking at candidate number one, amigo. A few years ago I was diagnosed with renal cancer, which has a lifetime risk of 1.6% of happening to anybody. I've looked up the statistics, and there's a better chance of you, right now, being a Buddhist. So consider me taking one for the team. You're welcome.

But you want to know how really lucky I am? I get to experience another rare condition, albeit on an infrequent basis. The Daily Mail reports:

A CNN recreation of me
falling asleep.
Exploding Head Syndrome! How cool is that? It evokes memories of David Croneberg's 1981 sci-fi shocker Scanners. Only my exploding head isn't the product of special effects wizards. And despite the outlandish name, there's a logical explanation for EHS:

When the brain goes to sleep, it's like a computer shutting down, with motor, sound and visual brain cells turning off in stages.
But instead of shutting down properly, the brain cells responsible for sound are thought to fire all at once, creating a blast of energy that the brain interprets as a loud noise.

But you know what's really fun? When I experience EHS, it's often accompanied by a dream where something is inevitably flying straight at my face -- a baseball, say, or somebody's fist. I love that. But wait, there's more!

An attack may cause temporary tachycardia - a faster heart rate than normal - and palpitations. In the longer term, it can also lead to panic disorder, depression and catastrophising, where patients misinterpret symptoms as signs of more serious conditions, such as a stroke. 

I'm an old hand at catastrophising, which I never even knew was a word until now. By the way, since preparing for the 40-mile, 5-Boro Bike Ride next month, I've been experiencing all the above symptoms, so I should be a real pip when I finally take part.

Oh, I dunno. What about the idea of
President Mike Huckabee?

And don't get me started about hypnagogia, or sleep paralysis, which plagued me as a child. I'd wake up in the middle of the night, filled with fear, unable to move or cry out for help, while a piercing sound -- similar to what accompanies those "This is only a test" civil defense warnings on radio and TV -- rang through my ears while my skull went numb. Many years later, women tended to experience the same thing when they woke up next to me. 

While EHS may kind of be considered a psychological condition, it's no more outlandish than Joni Mitchell claiming she has creatures crawling under her skin. And, too, it might be unusual enough to pull out the stops at an unscheduled visit to my medico.

ME: Hi, I need to see a doctor.
RECEPTIONIST: Do you have an appointment?
ME: Uh, no, not really. 
RECEPTIONIST: I'm sorry, everybody's busy with other patients.
ME: But I have Exploding Head Syndrome.
RECEPTIONIST: (gasp) Why didn't you say so? (into PA system) Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard! Exploding Head Syndrome at reception, stat! 

That should be worth the $50 co-pay.


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