chapter 40: Can’t Touch This

i began the month of february with a continuance of my exhausting work schedule.  my sleep was suffering, and on february 6th, whether it was related or not, the late afternoon brought with it a distinct awareness of the center of my head.  this feeling grew over the course of minutes and hours, until i was deeply concerned.

what was it like?


take your hand, and hold your opposing wrist.  the grip doesn’t hurt, but it’s there.  you can feel it easily and distinctly.  now imagine you can feel that, in the middle of your brain.

you’re not supposed to “feel” anything there.

but i did.  “IT” was there.  and with its tactile presence, came increasing pressure beneath my thinking cap, getting worse from about 5:00, on…

eventually, i was fighting against what might best be described as a giant fist inside my brain.  i felt as if the Powers That Be were gearing up for a round of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Clash of the Cosmic Robots, but instead of a Star Wars theme, the ring looked like a frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital lobe.  and the head that was gonna go BOING! was my own.  around 8:30, i started thinking it was time for the emergency room.

i didn’t want to abandon my shift, but i also didn’t want to abandon my body (for good).  i called a friend to come and ride with me, in case something horrible happened.  after work, we drove to the UCLA emergency room.  my choice of urgent care provider was due to the previous fiasco regarding Dr. M’s radiological orders.  if there were to be any tests tonight, i thought, i would request they be the same ones he needed, in order to best evaluate evolution of my condition and advance my treatment.

the ER staff took me back fairly quickly and placed me in the hallway, since there were no available rooms; and as i sat on a gurney, passing the time with my friend and my Macbook, i absorbed all of the goings on during this very busy night at the place where lives are saved and lost.  the joint was hopping, in a way i’d never seen before, one that might justify an Emmy-winning series based on its night-to-night events.  maybe even one that could star George Clooney.

–i’d always thought a show about an emergency room was ridiculous.  my sister–who as a child was a revered innovator in the field of New Ways to Hit Your Head, who was an accomplished master of the Inverted Pratfall and known for walking into a tree in our front yard–had many times led a nocturnal family vacation to the ER.  and each time i sat as a kid on the cheap vinyl seats with metal railing, waiting for her to be sewn up again, i was awestruck by the complete absence of anything in motion in that vapid place of languished loitering.  there was barely anyone there; the waiting room seemed to be a private and worthless getaway, reserved just for us and a few other of the exclusive Elect.  to sit.  and do.  nothing.  forever.  it became a symbol of boredom to me, a place in the universe where people are magnetically pulled in by random acts of goofiness and have to be tended to like a cat stuck in a tree, while their companions-cum-chauffers are forced to read outdated magazines, listen to a tv turned up to 1 on a channel in post-programming-hours mode, and survive on low-quality vending machine food for eons.  while little Betsy has the blackeyed pea removed from her nose.  or Ron has the more professional equivalent of two popsicle sticks taped to his forefinger, applied for the absurdly low price of $499.  “i slid into home wrong.”  “i fell off the monkey bars.”  “i got elbowed in the nose.”  “I broke my pinky toe.”  “i jammed my thumb.”  “i accidentally drank shaving gel.”  “thank you.  have a seat.”

but this was UCLA; and this was different

there were staff members everywhere, and people were on the move.  the sights and sounds from semi-private rooms around the ward made me wonder if i should be there, wonder if i was “bad” enough to join the ranks of the ailing and needy all around me.  the wheels of a stretcher coming toward me caught my attention, and as i looked up, i saw a girl, maybe a year old, strapped down.  she had a large device going into her throat, and machines all around her tiny body.  i grimaced at the sight of her.  sometimes in the world, things happen that are just wrong.  and they will always be wrong.  this was one.  i felt completely unworthy, thinking that this little girl should be the focus of the entire staff and its resources.  but then i reminded myself that i have a brain tumor or an aneurysm, and i could die at any second for all i know.  i remembered that my cranium encased what felt like a stick of dynamite with a hot wick.  i could easily imagine the explosion, when TNT would stand for Total Noggin Termination.  okay everybody, take care of the girl first; but after that, maybe take a look at my skull innards.

not too long after i was given my sidelined bed-on-coasters headquarters, a nurse wired me up, complete with an IV in my hand.  she botched the job and squirted a fair amount of my blood out.  well, better a fair amount than all.  even after her attempt at cleanup, there was still a considerable remnant on my hand.  but no problemo.  most of my red, oxygenating lifejuice was on the correct side of my skin.  and on top of that, i had company and my computer.  as hospital trips go, life was pretty grand.  oh, wait, i forgot–i have a brain tumor.

…and in addition to that familiar hitchhiker in the El Camino of my head, i had a couple other passengers:  i was getting pains on both sides, above my ears, almost in my temples.  maybe they were trying to roll down the windows.  the pains seemed to be alternating; they definitely wanted individual attention, wanted recognition for their swelling, pulsing antics.  i’d never felt this before.  what did it mean?

regardless of my prognosis, destiny had smiled upon me in the form of red liquorice: i discovered a fresh pack of Twizzlers in my computer bag.  even during a mortally frightening brain situation, nothing hits the spot like America’s favorite fat-free candy.  or at least mine…

i’ve never been a fan of Redvines…they taste like coiled fake-cherry soap; i resent the insult of a movie theater which offers such inferior alternatives to the best cinematic companion since the advent of popcorn.  Twizzlers and a Pibb Xtra — and okay, a girl is a nice addition, too — make for a perfect night in a dark room, in front of a large screen.  ¡Excellente!

as my brain lesion beat on the walls around it like an indignant prisoner, i ate my strawberry twists and waited to find out if my life was in danger.  the sensation in my temples was shortlived, but hopefully i wouldn’t be.  hours passed, until the early morning, when i finally received my make-up tests to remedy the flubbed business with UCLA Neurosurgery.  an MRA, and MRI, and a Catscan.  what fun it is…  i’m a burrito in the microwave again.  ¡olé!

but fun or no, the fact was, my head was still WRONG.  and my body was drained.  about an hour prior to my tests, i’d been given half a room, sharing with an old lady who told the nurse:  “my stool is usually a little soft.”  um…NOT GOOD.  check, please????!! i was ready to dance my way out of there, doing the Typewriter, specifically.  unfortunately, my skills out on the floor are no match for Stanley Burrell’s; i Can’t Touch [That].  but for all my inadequacies compared to Hammer, i had his costume down pat:  the clothes i’d been given by my nurse were about 80 sizes too big, and my pants demanded i get down; i was minus only the large gold glasses to accompany my brain clump that was 2 Legit 2 Quit. alas, if only i’d had the energy of the premiere rapper/dancer of the 90s:  i had a mind to rhyme, but no hype feet.  as the morning came and went, i wanted so badly to sleep, but my geriatric roommate kept me awake with her television viewing, her conversation with visitors and staff, and all her unnecessary movement.  i reached a point where i wanted to yell “Shut up!” as if she were a rude, giggly, braces-laden 13 year-old talking in a movie theater with her gangly, twittering friends.  but i couldn’t commit to that imagined scenario, having finished my last Twizzler hours before.  regardless, if it were a movie, i’d have to go with E.T., as my advanced wiring in the room had accessorized me with a glowing finger.  in moments of self-mandated relief, i would hold up my finger and creak, “OOOUUUUCH.”

as the clock ticked and i was farther removed from the last time i’d had any sleep, i became increasingly desperate for my noisy neighbor to give me a break.  perhaps pain medication would’ve allowed me to sleep, but i refused it, since it would mute my ability to tell what was going on in my head.  it was anathema to me getting help with my issue, so being jarred was better than being numb.  maybe i could ask the nurse to medicate my over-the-hill nemesis.  enough to knock her out.  or maybe i could do it myself.  Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em.

eventually, the sensation in my gourd subsided, although not all the way.  in the end, nothing tragic occurred.  as i talked with a neurologist, i was struck with the realization that i’d been there for 16 hours.  and for my time and money, i got the diagnosis of, “we don’t know.”  my tests had shown no growth or change of the lesion, which was great.  but there was nothing more to do, and really nothing more to say.  no treatment called for, or even available, today.  what could they do, scratch my back?  i WISH!!!!  i LOVE that.  but that wouldn’t help my proverbial albatross around the neck, my yoke in my Thinker.  it was in the middle of Me–it can’t be reached, can’t be tinkered with, can’t be really seen, can’t be touched.  i realized the bottom line:  there’s something in my head.  it either has to stay or go; it will either do nothing, do a little, do a lot, or do enough to kill me.  and surgery–or the absence of it–is the only choice to be made.  “make an appointment with Dr. M.”  i talked another doctor into prescribing me Vicodin, as i’d lost my 75 tablets of Oxycodone from the previous May.  i wanted some pain meds just in case i couldn’t sleep.  i’d had difficulty resting recently, and the missing Oxycodone had driven me batty.  in the end, though, i never got the prescription filled.  i’m not much of a pill taker.  and not much for the undertaker.  with that in mind, i will continue to navigate this journey, and hope to guide myself through to the safest place.  far from the lowlands of emergency rooms, far from pits of emergencies, and–if i succeed–into a life of emergence.

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