Thursday, August 10, 2017

Clam Chowder, Delayed

As the perky African-American girl wheeled my gurney down a long, narrow, largely deserted hallway, I watched the fluorescent lights pass overhead, wondering how I had gotten here. She left me directly under one of the lights, locked the wheel with a foot brake and tapped me on the shoulder...You're up next, honey. The light above had an inlaid cover picture of palm tree leaves against a Carribean blue sky. I remember thinking how the guy who came up with the idea of putting pictures in fluorescent light fixtures was an evil genius...genius for the idea, but evil for making it pictures that made the patient wonder whether he would ever see something so beautiful again. 

This was the fifth of eight tests I was to be administered in a bizarre 24 hours. The sign on the door said, vascular lab 2. Across the hall there was an echo lab 2. I was getting both. Another cheerful nurse joked, Mr. Dunnevant here is getting a twofer today! It has been my experience that medical professionals make the world's worst comedians, but their attempts are so endearing, it doesn't matter. A third woman in a steel blue uniform and a thick accent of unknown origin yanked me into vascular lab 2 unceremoniously. I will be administering this test, Mr. Dunnevant. Have you ever had this procedure before? She was all business. No, I answered. Don't worry, it is entirely painless. Good to hear. 

Quickly, without fanfare, she slapped a cold, slimy probe against the carotid artery of my neck. For what seemed like the hundredth time I got asked the question, So, what brings you to us today, Mr. Dunnevant? I began my well rehearsed answer...Well, about 5:30 yesterday afternoon I got home from a workout at the gym, suddenly for about five minutes I was unable to speak. I knew what I was trying to say, but just couldn't say the words...not garbled words or nonsense words, rather, no words at all. After five minutes, I was fine. My wife freaked out and probably overreacted by insisting on taking me to the ER last night...and now, here I am.

My coldly efficient medical professional, clearly in the early stages of developing her bedside manner, was having none of it. You're wife did not freak out, she made very wise decision. Sounds like you had a stroke.

No, no, the ER doctor said it was probably just a TIA, not a real stroke.

Did he now? 

Then it was on to echo lab 2 with its own slimy probe. I was growing weary of listening to the static sound of my own heartbeat and was releaved to be wheeled back to my room through the labyrinth of cold hallways and clunky elevators which is Henrico Doctor's Hospital. The results of each battery of tests were negative, making me more and more annoyed that I had allowed my wife to win the argument about coming to get checked out. In my mind I was calculating how much all of this modern medical technological advancement was going to cost me. By the time these eight tests were done, I was going to be presented with one of those insane bills that infuriate ordinary people. One baby aspirin, 81 mg...$28.

I was having a hard time processing the idea that it was even possible that I might have had a stroke. Strokes are things that happen to old people. Sick people. And yet, if true, I was about to add stroke to open heart surgery at the top of the list of medical conditions I've experienced prior to my 60th birthday. This is the sort of thing that might strip a person of their self confident optimism, if they're not careful. This is what I get for watching my weight and working out four times a week for most of my life? Not possible.

I had convinced myself shortly after my five minute "incident" that it was just one of those senior moments that everyone over the age of say 50 gets from time to time. We stumble around for words sometimes, that's all. Like when you suddenly, momentarily can't recall your child's name, or you can't remember the name of the place you had dinner a couple of nights ago, or what you had for breakfast this morning. The medical term is brain fart, I believe. And now, with each test result coming in negative, my diagnosis seemed correct. So I privately started to steam at all of the bother, fuss and expense.

The last test of the day would be the MRI of my brain, whereby I would be slid inside a giant tube, instructed to lay perfectly still for twenty minutes and almost immediately be attacked by a phalanx of killer attack ants laying waste to the inside of my nose. All the while these ants were busy brushing my nasal hair with tiny peacock feathers, another army of construction workers began pounding on the side of my head with a thousand jackhammers. As I lay there I recalled seeing the name Siemens emblazoned across the entrance of the machine. I thought, leave it to the Germans to have manufactured such a contraption. Then I thought of clam chowder. Pam was to have made homemade clam chowder last night for dinner. But I had to lapse into my Harpo Marx impersonation, and now I'm having an MRI. Funny how quickly things can change.

As they wheeled me back upstairs, I thought of Pam, alone in my room, and what she must have been thinking. My wife, generally speaking, is a glass half full sort of gal, so maybe she was searching for the silver lining. Of all of the bodily functions that her husband might lose to a stroke, speech clearly had an upside. She must have been dreaming about what it might be like not to have a husband who might at any moment blurt out something entirely inappropriate. What would it be like not to have to worry about your husband embarrassing you by saying something that, while perhaps being true, still should never be said out loud? What a relief it would be not to have to listen to another baseball story, political diatribe or horrible pun! Always look on the bright side, that's my wife.

When the results of the MRI came in, the news was delivered by a white-coated Neurologist, complete with the obligatory stethoscope dangling from his neck...So, the MRI confirms several acute infarctions in the front left lobe of the brain, all in a limited area and all recent indicating a stroke.

After this sentence pierced the air, he was all encouragement, citing all of my positive risk factors, talking about starting me on a couple of medicines that would fix me right up. But all I heard was stroke.

Within a couple of hours of the good doctor's pronouncements, I was back home...like nothing ever happened. I finally got my clam chowder. It was delicious.

Soon enough, I will get over this. By the time I'm in Maine, this will all be a distant memory. But for now, it's still fresh. Every time I have struggled over a word the past couple of days, my heart has skipped a beat, but this too will pass. We human beings have a remarkable ability to cast out bad memories, to blot out scary things. I will with this. In a week I can resume my gym workouts, and I will with a vengeance. Before you know it, there will be no more thoughts about strokes, no more obsessing over dropped words or mangled phrases. 

But, for now...you'll have to give me a few days to get over a weird 24 hours.