It was February of 2000, a month I never really liked, then or since, because it was the birthday month of my ex, who was fairly toxic in her own vein.
I was working as a cook at the Pueblo Country Buffet. The kitchen manager, who was known for calling the teenagers that worked there “Dumb motherfuckers” when they did something wrong and who would, months later, try to choke me out in the kitchen, was spraying oven cleaner in our ovens. He aptly said to me before he sprayed, “This stuff will hurt cha’!”
After letting the oven cleaner cook in the hot oven for a bit, it was my task to clean the oven with a scrubby. I asked the nicer, less-volatile manager for a mask, and he groaned, “We’re all out of masks!” Against my better judgement, I proceeded to stick my head in the oven and scrub out the gunk that had been seething.
I remember mist clouds swirling up into my face as I worked on cleaning it.
As time went on, I grew delirious, as if I was experiencing a sort of “High.” I was continuously laughing at anything and everything. I didn’t do drugs, so this was an abnormal feeling for me.
After I finished my duties, I left and drove to the college dorms I was staying at, only I made a put stop at the gas station close by first. It was about 11:45 and the has station closed at midnight. I put my car in park, and I completely passed out with my it running still.
The next thing I knew, it was 12:20 a.m. The gas station was closed, so I drove to the dorms, Once I got to the dorms, I again placed my car in park, and then I fell asleep again with the car running. This time for about two hours.
When I awakened, I was in a fog. I stumbled inside and went to my dorm room where I would fall asleep for another 14 hours.
Waking up the next day, my senses were in a flurry. My Tourette’s was much worse. My vision was awry. I got ready and quickly tried to drive up to Colorado Springs where I had a neurologist appointment. I figured maybe he could help figure out what was happening to me.
I zig-zagged through traffic on the highway to get to my appointment, but when I got there, I found out I was 17 minutes late, and the office’s policy was that patients need to reschedule if they are more than 15 minutes late. I begged and pleaded with the receptionist to let me be seen, telling her about what I had just experienced with the oven cleaner. She told me she would ask and for me to have a seat.
I sat and sobbed, my hands in my face in fear, praying that he would see me.
About ten minutes later, the nurse came out and told me I would have to reschedule.
A few days later a neuro-psychologist who was doing neuro-feedback with me said he noticed a large increase in slow brain wave activity in my readings and that my tics were much more severe.
A bit later, I had to triple my Haldol dosage to help manage my tics.
Shortly after that, I began stuttering profusely to the point where most people didn’t want to talk to me, made fun of me, or finished my sentences for me. This would persist at this level for seven years and still impacts me somewhat today.
In 2012, after lots of other tests, conjecture, and ruminating, I had a SPECT scan done. I received an answer to my deepest fears: I had sustained a toxic brain injury.
Although this diagnosis has not seemed to affect my intelligence, it impacts me neurologically and visually to this very day. My neurologist told me that my SPECT scan showed that I have chemical hypersensitivity encephalitis., which basically means paints, cleaners, some medications, and even perfumes can exacerbate my Tourette’s and my nervous system.
As devastating as this event was on my life, I have succeeded in life despite this hardship. Even though my tics are worse, even though my sleep is worse because I take more medication, even though I stammer on words sometimes, I still wake up every day to teach my students and help kids and their families, some of who don’t have answers for their hardships.
I wake up every day to teach kids this: “Always believe you can make a difference but never let your differences keep you from what you believe.”
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