Sunday, October 19, 2008

Making Waves

On Friday, I was up at 4am after going to bed at midnight. In the quiet darkness, I was reminded of my freight flying days, but there was no early show-time today. The goal was to stay awake until 10am for an Electro Encephalogram or EEG. I could eat breakfast, but no coffee was allowed.

My wife drove me to the hospital, we found the neurology department and we waited. Looking around the waiting room, I got the feeling that there were some seriously ill people there. Was I one of them? I was hopeful that this test would, if not give me a clean bill of health, at least rule out the things dreaded and dreadful.

The EEG technician's job was made easier by my choice of hair style, or should I say scalp style? She carefully measured my skull with a small tape measure, marking spots with a red pen that she assured me contained water-soluble ink. The character of the ink was the least of my worries. After several minutes of measuring, she began applying the electrodes - somewhere around 25 total.

Seated in a comfortable reclining chair in the darkened room, I began to drift off into a light sleep, vaguely aware of the light dab of gel and the press of each electrode as it was attached. One electrode was placed just below the orbit of each of my eyes to measure eye movement. Another was placed on chest to measure heart rate. Lastly, everything was held is place by a wrapping of a light, elastic gauze and the test began.

I opened and closed my eyes on command. With my eyes closed, I began the three minutes of deep breathing I was told to expect. The technician explained to me that the goal was to get me hyperventilated and what sorts of sensations I should expect - tingling around the mouth and in my fingers, lightheadedness. I wanted to tell her that as a flight instructor I was familiar with the effects of hyperventilation and other aeromedical factors, but just kept breathing.

With my eyes closed, an array of LEDs was placed near my face and at regular intervals it began flashing. The frequency of the flashing was slow at first, it would pause for several seconds, and begin again. Each time the flashing resumed, it was at a higher frequency, gradually increasing to a rapid, strobing pace. The flashing reminded me of sitting in an aircraft with the engine idling, facing west, awaiting takeoff into the setting sun. I thought about how it was discovered that some World War I pilots were susceptible to flicker-induced seizures and how leaving aircraft anti-collision lights on while flying in the clouds at night can induce vertigo.

The flashing stopped and it was time to take a nap. I wanted to sleep, but I heard the click-clack of shoes on linoleum tile in the hallway, the light tapping of the technician occasionally entering something into the computer, the sound of the the air moving into the room through the vents in the ceiling ... And then there was a tap on my shoulder. I had dozed off and the test was done.

As the electrodes were removed, one by one, I just wanted a good cup of coffee at Cafe Trieste. The technician told me to expect the results early next week. I couldn't mask my disappointment. I explained that I couldn't drive or work, even on a limited basis, until I had the results. She shrugged and then, as if telling me the latest gossip, she leaned forward, winked and whispered "It looks fine."

To my surprise, I received an email early Friday evening saying I could view new test results on line. I logged on and found a message for the neurologist. She had worked a bit late on a Friday to review the test and send me the words I wanted to read: "EEG normal, it's okay to drive ..."


Fran├žois said...

Very good news ! Nice to read this post.

Tangozulu said...

Whoo-hoo! That's great news, I'm happy for you. I'm assuming it also means "safe to drive airplanes". Is the FAA medical group involved at this point?

Dave Starr said...

Good News, John. A very important step to making sure you are going to keep living for along time, and ay least one brick in the yello brick wolrd to restoration of your medical.

Hey, vis-a-vis your pondering in an earlier post about what career you'd have if you weren't flying, you caould do a great job selling medical equipment and/or training operators ... made me feel as if I were ther, thanks.

John said...

Safe to drive cars, yes. Can I be PIC in an aircraft? No. The FAA is very clear that a TGA episode is disqualifying.

If I don't have another episode (the likelihood of which is very low) then I stand a good chance of getting a special issuance medical in a year. That seems fair ... albeit inconvenient for some of my students and for me as a self-employed instructor.

Time will tell.

Tony Harrison said...

I can only imagine what you are going through - and how cruel one episode can be. I was reflecting on what I would have done in your situation, and not sure if I would have been as honest as you! Geez, can't believe that I actually wrote or could think like that.

It's hard when your whole life is aviation and that is suddenly yanked from you. And you surely wouldn't want to go back to my area - IT!

I know a guy who lost his medical due diabetes, and is now working as the sim instructor on SAAB340s for a regional airline here in Australia.

There is all sorts of ground based instructors that may suit you until you get your medical back, and you have to believe that it's just a waiting game now.

All the best to you John, and I'm sure I speak for everyone who reads your blogs when I say that we are all behind you and offer our support in whatever way we can.

All the best

asianbadger said...

One small step as it were. Best of luck. Lots of people you don't know are pulling for you.

Greybeard said...


Anonymous said...

Can you (or are you) continuing to instruct where a student is rated and current to act as PIC? Example: commercial training, IFR training under VFR, etc.?

John said...

Yes, I continue to provide instruction to certificated pilots. I can't provide simulated instrument instruction since being a safety pilot requires a medical. Looks like I will be specializing in commercial, flight instructor, and simulator training for the foreseeable future.