Why you should always wear deodorant (or how my spinal tap landed me in the hospital)

I’ve successfully worn deodorant for some 30 years.

However, when I woke Saturday morning, May 29th, with a blinding headache and relentless neck spasms, I couldn’t muster the courage to lift my arms and swipe even a feeble line of Mountain Fresh deodorant. The thought of such a deed spun my head even more.  So, I shuffled downstairs, turned on the coffeemaker, shuffled to the couch, collapsed on the couch, and drifted off to sleep listening to the sweet gurgles of the coffeemaker.

And of course, later that day, with my coffee mug full but cold on the counter, with two EMTs wheeling me on a gurney out the front door of our home, with Cindy and the kids crying on the front lawn, I deeply regretted not putting on deodorant that morning.

Thursday, May 27th, two days before I didn’t wear deodorant:

I’m led down a white-tiled hallway to an examination room with a large window that spied on Philadelphia bronzing in the afternoon sun.

In the time it took me to click a picture, a young resident walks in, introduces herself, and tells me she will conduct my spinal tap today.  After a question-and-answer session she instructs me to climb onto the examination table, take off my shirt, and bend at the waist until I can no longer bend. Staring at the floor, with my hands hanging by my feet, the resident walks her fingers up and down my spine a few times, and says,

“We have a problem.”

“What?”

“Your spine is not straight. Maybe a slight case of scoliosis. This might make things difficult. You can sit up. I will be right back.”

I unfold myself, and like a shy 14-year-old, slide my phone from my pocket and take a pre-spinal tap selfie before the resident returns.

The resident returns with another doctor, who tells me to fold over again, introduces himself, and says he’s here to supervise my spinal tap. They inspect my back. They run their hands over my back. They chatter about the imperfections of my spine like talent show judges.

The first needle enters above my tailbone, and I flinch.

“This is just to get you numb,” the resident says.

Another needle enters the same area and my right leg jumps like it stepped on a live wire.

“Is that normal?,” I ask.

“Yes. That’s normal. It means we’re in the right spot.”

The resident tells me to “hang” for a few minutes for the numbing to take effect. A few minutes later, the resident inserts another needle while the doctor stands by the door, coaching her on.

“The needle is in.”

“I don’t feel it.”

“That’s good.”

The doctor says something about getting an MRI of my spine and the resident announces, “All done.”

“That’s it?”

“You rocked it.”

“Wow. That wasn’t as bad as I thought.”

“Spinal taps often leave patients with a headache. The best thing would be to take some Tylenol and drink some coffee.”

“Why coffee?”

“Caffeine helps ease headaches.”

And with that, Clark Able and I leave the office, buy a medium coffee, go home, take Maggie for a walk, eat two slices of pizza, talk to Cindy about celebrating her birthday on Saturday, and then, before she could finish her chicken tenders, and before we could finalize birthday plans, I felt a strange pain shoot up my spine, into my shoulders, and into my brain. A pain that, a few hours later, would leave me balled up and moaning on the living room floor, regretting I didn’t order a large coffee.

Friday, May 28th, one day before I didn’t wear deodorant:

The kids were off from school, and I was supposed to watch them while Cindy was at work. However, the headache and body ache only intensified at the thought of being a parent. So I put on deodorant and slept all day. And to their credit they took Maggie for walks, fed themselves, didn’t burn the house down, and kept all of their limbs attached to their bodies.

Saturday, May 29th,Cindy’s birthday and the day I did not wear deodorant:

What I should have done when I awoke was put on deodorant.

But instead, I shuffled downstairs, turned on the coffeemaker, shuffled to the couch, collapsed on the couch, and fell asleep listening to the gurgles of the coffee maker.

Cindy woke me and told me she was calling 911.

When the EMT arrived, I was lying on the couch. They asked me some questions, strapped me to the gurney, and wheeled me out the front door. As they wheeled me down the driveway, I could see Cindy, the kids, and Maggie standing on the front lawn. Someone was crying.

I had seen football players do it and it seemed heroic. And when they did it, the crowd cheered, and the TV commentators said something like, “That is one brave man.” So, before I’m hoisted into the ambulance, I raise my right hand in the air like an injured football player, and give my family a thumbs up. They do not clap.

And it was then I realize I forgot to put on deodorant.

On Cindy’s birthday, Cindy sits in a chair and I lay in an ER bed and we listen to the woman in the next room moan and beg for Jesus for eight hours. A CT scan of my brain and a cup of ice chips highlighted Cindy’s birthday.

At one point I look at her and say, “I’m sorry.”

To which she softly smiles and says, “I just want you to be okay.”

Sunday, May 30th, day two without deodorant:

At 2 am I’m transported in an ambulance down I-95 to a hospital nestled in the sleeping heart of Philadelphia. It was in the back of the ambulance, strapped to a gurney, staring out the big back window as fast cars furiously race to the ambulance’s back bumper only to switch lanes at the last second, that it became noticeably clear I wasn’t wearing deodorant.

At 3:30 am, after my IVs were connected to my veins, the kindly nurses says,

“I know it’s 3:30 am but are you hungry.”

“Yes. I had some ice chips about 8 hours ago.”

“Well, the only thing we have is a microwavable chicken pot pie.”

“I’ll take it.”

And then, as I lay in a hospital bed at 3:42 am on Sunday, May 30th, listening to the beeps of the dark room and a ravaged chicken pot pie tipped sideways on the hospital tray in front of me, I concluded I smell.

I spent the next few hours with the blankets pulled over my shoulders, hiding my smell for the nurses and doctors caring for me. I was more concerned with a superficial, odoriferous problem than the hole in my brain and the hole in my spine.

After reading the post, “Maybe John Mayer was right”, John from Manitoba, Canada, emailed me and said, “I really think you put too much weight in the opinions and reactions of people…”.

Like American John, Canadian John was right too. I care too much about the opinions and reactions of others. But writers, and maybe all people, are sensitive to their own pugnacity. To some degree, we all hide our funk. We fear others will catch a whiff of our raw selves, recoil, and run.

The truth is, I want what you want. I want others to lean in and linger. To empathize with my sentences. To hear the urgency of my voice.

And, for better or worse, I want others to stay and share my sweet and sour human skin.*

Be well,

Jay

*If “sweet and sour human skin” is ever on the menu, please leave the restaurant immediately.*

PS: My condition improved and I was discharged from the hospital at 5:23 PM on Sunday, May 30th. I was diagnosed with a spinal fluid leak which, despite how it sounds, is not terrible. With time and rest, spinal leaks clot on their own with minor complications. When I returned home, I hugged my family and then took a shower, dried off, and stroked a thick layer of Mountain Fresh deodorant under my arms–smelling fine and happy to be home.

And here’s Maggie sleeping next to me as I wrote this post:

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Need some encouragement? Some perspective? This hardworking, almost-handsome, suburban soccer dad can help. Subscribe and, like a pizza, get my posts delivered to your door (your email inbox). No spam. Just posts.


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Jay Armstrong is a writer, blogger, speaker, and a former award-winning high school English teacher. Despite being diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, that impairs his movement, balance, eyesight, and speech–Jay presses on. He hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:

1. Reading
2. Writing 
3. Exercising
4. Hearing his three children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents and a beer with his friends)

Jay hasn’t had a bad day in quite a long time. 

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