The Case of the Flash-Aphasia

There’s always something more you can do. That’s what I’ve always told myself. I’m not being glib here. I always have. Always. That indefatigable sense of, well, I’m just not sure. Lay persons would call it optimism. Pessimists have called it idealism. For me, it’s been more of a mathematics issue: gamblers would paraphrase me with “you’ve got to play to win”. In other words, where there’s life there is, if not hope, at least opportunity.

If you’re waiting for an “until now”, your wait is over. This time, at least, I’m predictable.

Until two days ago, by far the nastiest test of my stubborn bright side was when Allen was very close to death. So close, in fact, that his body (he wasn’t there anymore) lacked the muscle tone to keep his vocal cords out of the path of his labored breaths. Go ahead, try it yourself: take a deep breath and sigh. A long sigh. But let your voice come through that breath. Awful, isn’t it? A hollow sound, plangent and plaintive and nothing more. As if Unstoppable Time is extracting life from you with a painful billow.

Still, when Isabelle coached me that day she told me, “There are details you don’t have to pay attention to anymore, Jeff. This isn’t going to end but the one way.” And still there was some stubborn, almost autocratic, bit of me that twitched with involuntary disagreement. It’s not that I didn’t know it would end that way, it’s just that the absoluteness of her words kept ricocheting around inside my giant head and standing my ground was the first attempt to make it stop.

The beginning of the end was only a month or so prior to his death, when I came home one day and he was speaking to me but not using the right words. He’d grabbed a pen and a notepad and wrote down what he was trying to say, but his assumption that it was only his speech that was damaged turned out to be wrong. There were words on the pad, but nothing any more sensical than his speech.

Approximately fifteen hours ago minus thirteen years, Allen’s body was making that exact sound. Approximately fourteen hours ago (again, minus the thirteen years), the sound had stopped. Silence had won and I despised it even while respecting its sway over our bedroom. I spoke softly and kissed him on his cold lips, saying, “Goodbye, Yog.” No tears, certainly no wailing. I was nothing but the Utilitarian Stoic: there were things to be done, coroner to call, family to call, my voice aimed at anyone who had the ability to hear me.

But this is not about Allen, it’s about me. That’s a new thing. As you might have read, I had a slightly-more-than-a-moment first-hand experience with aphasia myself.

And my previously indomitable “where there’s life there’s opportunity” obduracy has finally met its match. Oh, it’s “probably nothing”, my little aphasic episode. The doctors at Davies’ ER said so. “Atypical migraine” they called it. Two CT scans, one with and one without contrast dye, showed all-clear, but fear is winning. Fear is the mind-killer, it’s been written, but my fear is about the potential mind-loss. The philosophical cart ahead of the paralogical horse is not a practical configuration.

The fear is so front-and-center that I’m not sure about my LA trip anymore. A strange city where I know no doctors, no hospitals. A trip that I’ve so much been looking forward to—especially in getting to meet Adam—that I haven’t been able to much think beyond July 18. And yet still, right now, I can’t imagine myself doing anything but bringing people down, much less having any fun myself.

Anyway, all of this put another way? After Allen’s death thirteen years ago today I reminded myself with authentic confidence that “I’m still here”. It was a restorative that never failed me. Now I cannot even muster those words without also adding “but for how long?”

I miss him, y’know? But right now I’m worried that I’ll miss me more.

This Time It’s All About Me

I’m here in Davies Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Room.

Earlier today my hand went numb, right up to the wrist and no further. Then it went further: up my forearm with a clean stop at the elbow. Until it started up again. There were runners of numbness climbing up my upper arm, but then feeling was restored in a matter of a couple of seconds, all the way down to my fingertips. This had happened to me once before, two or three months ago. The numbness didn’t ascend further than the middle of the forearm, though, and the numbness was nowhere near as complete and total as it was this time. “Complete and total” is a bit of a misnomer, as I didn’t lose strength or mobility, but at the surface of the skin, well, let’s just say I could have given myself a total stranger.

No real cause for alarm. Even though it was my left arm, there was no shooting pain, no pain in the armpit, no tightness in my chest.

It was what happened 25 minutes afterwards that set the bells to ringing.

I’d gone to see a movie with Kurfty, and as we were driving down Market Street towards downtown to the Metreon. We were having a conversation about what I just told you about, and I started tripping over my own tongue. I must have mispronounced 5 or 6 words. I started to laugh, feeling like a clown or an idiot. Or both.

But then I said the word ‘numb’ and it came out ‘humm’. I stopped, the joking part well past, and said it again: ‘humm’. And again, going for ‘numb’: ‘humm!’

I told Kurfty that it was freaking me out a little and that I was going to “just shut up now”. There was no other impairment. I mainly kept silent before and through Hellboy 2, enjoying the hell out of it. It was big fun, with a far more compelling and satisfying ending that I ever thought it would be for comic book fare.

On the way out, on the way to Kurfty’s house, my speech was back in impeccable form, not even swallowing a single final consonant.

But, bless the kind heart beneath the beautiful face, he kept asking if I was OK, then demanding that I keep him apprised of things. I promised.

I called up Felba when I got home—after having called my mom, the nurse, to tell her I was worried. “Get to the E.R. now. No waiting. Do not drive yourself over.” When Marie talks like that, I listen. When it comes to healthcare, her imperatives are mine. No questions asked.

It turned out that both she and Stork showed up to drive me over here. I’d insisted already that they didn’t have to stay. Part of that was just not wanting to be too much of a burden: and what could they do here but sit out in the hallway just outside the E.R.? I have to confess now, though, that on the slight offchance this was going to be something difficult (like a TIA or even a stroke), I wanted to hear it just for myself. I’m just that kinda guy.

Now, Davies E.R. is in the lowest part of the building, half-dug into the rock and buried under five or six hospital floors. No signal. None. Not even my 3G dongle could find purchase in the frequencies.

I’ve been here just over four hours now, and I’m fairly certain that Stork remembers or figures out that cell signals don’t exist down here.

They drew blood for basic tests, and a nurse-phlebotomist named Ivy (I.V.!) put in the line and drew the blood.

I had one CT scan earlier which was clear, but after a consult, I suppose, the E.R. doc, known to me only as Rob, told me to sit tight, that they were going to do another CT scan, this time with contrast chemicals. I asked the tech and he read the bottle to me: “organically-bound iodine, if you know what that means.” I said “yes” while trying to move neither my head nor my mouth as I was already on the sled with my head stuck between two stabilizers.

They warned me that there would be odd sensations from the dye: I’d feel warm in my armpits and then in my groin, but nothing painful. While it wasn’t any major thing, I am awfully glad they warned me. First I felt the warmth in my neck and then my head, and not long after I first registered that sensation, it felt like someone hand dunked my junk into almost-to-warm unset gelatin.

I’ll pause here, just in case there are any Bears or other emotionally-retarded folks who are thinking “that’s so hot! where can I get some?” while visualizing their slings or regarding their open relationships turning it up (down?) a notch.

Done now? Good.

And yes, it was a strange sensation, but those are the ones I welcome. I could visualize in exquisite detail the forms, musculature and cardio-insertions as the dye flowed through things down there. Just more to learn.

Doc Rob said it was just a protocol thing to cover their asses, and that like the first CT scan, he didn’t expect the contrast-CT scan to show anything more. Of course there’s that one in a million chance it could come back showing a TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack). I don’t expect that either, but never say which before the results are in.

Right now I’m mostly bored. I’ll have to be around people all the time for the next couple of days because I live alone. I find it strange that when there’s someone living in my house ends up having me to be there for them, and all my shit happens when I am living alone. Not bitter, but I’m not going to play dumb, either.

So I’ll know in a little while if I’m cleared to go. I’ll pause this until then…

<br/> <br/>
<br/> <br/>

UPDATE: Both CT scans were clear. They sent me home after 5+ hours in the ER. The were very sweet, all of them. There’s been no sign of the aphasia since those 10 minutes of it this afternoon, but I have to follow up with a neurologist before they’ll clear me to fly to LA on Friday. In my opinion, they better clear me to go, or the blood vessels i’ll pop in my head (ischemia!) will be their fault.