April 18, 2012
When you have a brain tumor, there are scads of simple activities that become difficult. Walking like you had a V-8 for breakfast becomes walking like your one year old niece with a full-head of steam and no real certainty of reaching the nearest piece of furniture. Remembering the full gamut of distant occurrences as if they happened yesterday becomes remembering what happened yesterday as if it occurred in another, more karmically blessed life. Constructing intelligible sentences comprising properly connoted words becomes constructing a ramshackle expression comprising whatever word beats all other words to the forefront of your mind—appropriateness and/ or efficiency notwithstanding. These to only mention three amongst scads of basic turned balking affairs.
Yesterday, a funny example of the third above-mentioned malfunction happened as follows:
I received a scheduled phone call from Social Security—a requisite breach of hitherto guarded information towards the exposure of my inadequacy as a productive member of society, which is to say, an assessment of my disability in order to determine my need for gubmint subsidy. (Supplemental Income is the going term, I believe.)
I should (though need not) mention the concrete scene as juxtaposed with the abstract scenario as you might appreciate the congruency of the image with the idea. The call was scheduled for between 10:15 and 11:15. Given the typical tardiness of bureaucratic eventualities, I reckoned myself well within the realm of safety at 9:30 to take a shower and then sustenance so that I would be bushy-tailed and tummy-brimmed for the grueling task ahead. Needless to say, when I stepped out of the shower at 9:39, my phone was chirping from my nightstand. I hurriedly stepped into my boxers (once simple now perilous—balance- and sharp-sink-counter-wise) and answered the call on what must have been one of its last rings. So there I was for an hour, cold, naked, and hungry, providing information under threat of penalized perjury. The flesh as symbol of the circumstance.
Now back to the construction of intelligible sentences. This was official business, my ducks needed to be aligned and to remain in line. The depth of my penury was in the balance and I needed to proceed mindful of details—their verity and their clarity both on call. Under that sort of pressure, you can only imagine with what difficulty the very simplest of questions became Final Jeopardy versus Ken Jennings and a short, smarmy, gray-headed curator of Egyptian artifacts from Vermont whose scarab broach dangles tenuously from a final wisp of silk.
Here are some highlights.
My son lost a year of his life in my reckoning of his birthday. I gained a couple years of bachelorhood by dint of misremembered duration of matrimony. Apparently, it took me fifteen years to finish my first bachelor’s degree.
For no good reason, I thought myself better served by answering questions with a quick return instead of a lobbed volley. Eventually, this plan backfired as my interviewer began to re-question where there were logical and sequential inconsistencies.
Now here is my favorite highlight.
At a particular point in the interview, I was required to read off a list of my current medications for the record. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind (even a haphazard mind has presence a couple of times a day—like the broken clock) to ask whether she wanted the generic or the brand name of these drugs. Fortunately, she had the presence of mind to choose the latter because, as it turned out, I had a hard enough time with the more simply spelled brand names.
Take Lamictal (generic is lamotrigine) for instance.
“Can you spell that for me, Mr. Scott?”
“You bet. It’s L-A-M-I-C-T-A-L.”
“Ok. I’m gonna need you to say like ‘c’ as in cat, you know, so I can distinguish the letters.”
“Oh, yeah, yeah, I gotcha. Sorry. Ready?”
“Waiting on you.”
“Ok. That’s ‘L’ as in . . .” Paralysis! Brain Freeze. As in what?! as in what?!
Let’s pause the real time narrative and put the frenzied neurons in super slo-motion. Here are their first suggestions: “L” as in languishing, “A” as in anthropomorphic, “M” as in matriculation, “I” as in Immigration and Naturalization Service, “C” as in cat, “T” as in tintinnabulation, “A” as in agoraphobia, and “L” as in lemon-lime liquid refreshment.
Obviously this would never do. Back to full speed narrative, except now I lobbed my volleys, buying time. It was still no eloquent rendering but we got through it, she and I, with patience and mutual sympathy.
“Ok. That’s “L” as in, um . . . elephant, wait, no, I mean “L” as in litter [whew], “A” as in . . . ankle [yeah!], “M” as in monsoon [ok], “I” as in I [duh], “C” as in cat [easy-peasy], “T” as in trinket [pretty], “A” as in ankle [like before], and “L” as in love [too weird? Oh well]—Lamictal!”
“Got it. Next?”
Then three more medications spelled out under similar duress. Good times were had by all.
So, ya see you gotta keep yer dukes up when you're tumor-tipsy and drug-addled. The simple’s neither easy said nor done. Pillows are hurdles. Basic thoughts are feats of focused erudition. Breezy conversations are ponderous palavers. Cats, though, cats are cats are cats as in the letter “C”.
I should (and must now) let you know how my day with the social security office came to a close. How in the end as from the beginning the image and the idea were as a man and his noontime shadow. After the phone interview, I had to go downtown to the SS building to sign a medical records release form. We waited about an hour in the waiting area before we were called to a partitioned window. The worker was an amicable sumo wrestler, quick-witted and fitted with an ineradicable smile. It was nice to have a pleasant experience to cap-off a morning of awakwardness. I signed a paper and off we went.
Done and done, my wife and I left the building. It was raining. We had no umbrellas. Our car was a block down the street in a car park but there was no dry access from where we were to the garage’s entrance. We waited. It would pass. Look, it’s already letting up. Let’s just go. But no, she didn’t want me to walk in the rain, through puddles, with a dragging leg. Good point. We waited. Look, now it’s just a shower. And off we went. No sooner had we gone too far to go back than the deluge returned in earnest. It was a slow, cold trudge down the sidewalk with nothing for it but to proceed.
And here’s the kicker. By the time I got to the car, we were drenched. I had but one option.
I rode home without a shirt on, to the delight and disgust of any fellow commuter with a reasonable view. Picture it: cold again, naked again, and, come to think of it, hungry again. My life in miniature. Grotesqueries in motion. The poetry practically writes itself.