Sunday, October 16, 2016

An Inventory of Brain Functions

In an earlier post, I mentioned that my body makes too many platelets.  These are the tiny particles in our blood that create clots when there is a hole in our circulatory system.  Having too many of these has some odd but not dangerous effects, like your spleen can grow larger.  Our spleens store up a bunch of platelets, presumably so that they can be released to help seal off the holes so we don't bleed out if we suffer a really bloody injury.  Another symptom is numbness or a tingling sensation in our extremities - fingertips, toes, hands, and feet.  My spleen has never been enlarged, but I think have felt the paresthesia in my fingertips, but I have proven to myself that the feeling can be psychosomatic.

There is a dangerous effect of having too many platelets, and that is the risk of ischemic stroke.  A stroke is the medical term for depriving brain cells of energy, either by creating static pools of blood ("hemorrhagic") or by preventing blood from getting there ("ischemic") by blocking an artery.  Of course, if your blood vessels are too weak, blocking them can lead to a hemorrhage "upstream" from the clot, and then you have both kinds of stroke.  Since I have too many platelets, I'm concerned about getting a clot that prevents blood from getting to where it's needed.

I decided it would be a good idea to create for myself an inventory of brain functions.  According to Wikipedia, brain tissue ceases to function after being deprived of oxygen for sixty to ninety seconds.  Of course, that doesn't mean the tissue is dying, but without oxygen, it will eventually die.  Meanwhile, if that tissue would normally help me restore oxygen to itself, I have only 60 - 90 seconds to use that help.  So I want to be able to run through some mental tests quickly.

There is already a well known acronym that everyone can use to recognize when a person is having a stroke, and that is FAST.  The letters stand for "Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties, and Time."  So, look in the mirror to see if you look funny.  Well, I always look funny because the left side of my mouth is about half a millimeter lower than the right.  Pretty slight, but the guy who made a portrait of me in art class 25 years ago noticed.  Then close your eyes and raise your arms so they're straight out, and then look to see if they're really straight out.  Then say to someone "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" or something else (maybe "I think I might be having a stroke, how do I sound to you?" might be better). You can say it to yourself first, but we have powerful ways to mask our outward failures, so getting an external opinion would be useful here, especially if you really are having a stroke.  Finally, find the second hand on a clock, or memorize the seconds from your watch, close your eyes, and count off ten seconds and check if you are about right.

That is easy enough for me, but I have more concerns.  I've noticed late at night sometimes that my ability to think is off kilter.  Maybe it would be noticing motion in my field of vision, or naming a color, or doing math, getting a joke, remembering something I just said or something I've always known, or having a reasonable emotional response to something.  I attribute these peculiarities of cognition in myself to parts of my brain going to sleep.  I think "late night humor" is a good example to which most people can relate.  I imagine the same kind of thing could happen if some of my brain tissue ceased to function because it wasn't getting enough oxygen.  So I want to do more than look in the mirror, raise my arms, talk to someone, and look at my watch.  Here's what else I'll do:
  • Find the square of some number over 12.  I have most of them up to 20 memorized, so I can also compare the explicit mental multiplication to the memory, if the memory is there.
  • Remember my mom's name.
  • Read something.
  • Stand on one foot.
  • Be curious about something.
  • Sense something with each of my five senses.
  • Fold my fingers together, right thumb on top (normal, for me) and then left thumb on top to make sure it feels weird.
  • Sense other things with each of my five senses and compare the previous thing to the new one.

That's it.  Now the question is, if I'm having a stroke, how the hell am I going to find this blog post?

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