From here on, I start listening to my wife more carefully. A lot more carefully.
It was Melissa who, a few nights ago, informed me that there was more to my recent headaches and diminished vision than simply needing new glasses. (I’d been putting it off because our son needs some as well, and the insurance doesn’t always cover as much of the expense as one would like.) She says we discussed the possibility of taking me to the hospital and that I agreed to it without argument. I don’t remember it that way, but since when we got to the emergency room, I also couldn’t remember my home address or what year it was, I’m willing to admit that it might have happened like she said it did.
Bad eyeglasses don’t make you forget what year it is. But brain tumors do.
Mine was more or less the size of an egg and sat placidly on the left occipital lobe. Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis—which I perversely kept trying to call “Memorial” until I could come up with a mnemonic that would stick in whatever part of my brain was still working at the time. (“though this be madness, yet there is Methodist in it.”)—scheduled the surgery for Monday morning, and sent me home for the weekend to think about it.
To the extent I could think about anything, that was. My speech was okay (“he’s very well-spoken, isn’t he?” said one nurse to another. Well, you know…), and I passed all the little neuro-muscular tests they give you, except for the one where they asked me to pretend to hold up a pizza box, and that would have baffled me anyway. Who holds up a pizza box when he’s flat on his back?
I wasn’t worried about pizza boxes. I was worried that all of a sudden, I couldn’t do math any more. And by “math,” I mean something along the lines of 9 x 7. I’d lost the top half of my single-digit times tables! Not good—and especially not good for someone who’s always been very good indeed at mental arithmetic.
Here’s an example of one of the many problems I tested myself on over the intervening weekend. I found it curious that although my numbers were gone, I still knew how to manipulate them. Instead of just knowing that 9 x 7 = 63, I would have to stop and figure out what it should be. I knew that the digits of the answer must sum to 9, because I was multiplying by 9. I also knew (barely) that 8 x 8 was 64, and knew that (a-b)(a+b)= a²-b². By setting a equal to 8 and b equal to 1, I changed 9 x 7 into (8+1)(8-1), which by the formula equals 64-1 or 63. It took less time to do than to explain, but it still didn’t make for a very enjoyable couple of days.
And then, suddenly, it was Show Time.
Enter neurosurgeon Dr. Troy Payner (University of Cincinnati, 1988) and a little something called Fluorescin Sodium, a yellow dye that’s been used before, but was in my case still in the experimental stages. According to the theory, the dye would illuminate the tumor (more accurately, the blood it was greedily devouring), thus making it easier for the surgeon to tell what to take out and what to leave.
Dr. Payner later told Melissa he was skeptical of Fluorescin going in (so to speak); but that the dye did exactly what it should have done, and reduced the operation to little more than cutting along the indicated lines. The tumor’s gone, my arithmetic’s back, and there’s at present around twenty staples in the back of my head that I trust will lend me an air of dangerous mystery.
Why should all of this have gone so outrageously well? That’s easy. As with most good things in my life, it all begins and ends with Melissa. And when she got the social-media grapevine humming (because everything, but everything, gets documented around these parts!), the generosity—spiritual and material—started rolling in from everywhere. We’ll be paying it forward for a very long time to come…and that’s just fine with us.
So what’s next? Funny you should ask. After a suitable recovery—which we are constantly being reminded NOT to rush!—we’ll just get back to work and keep on keepin’ on. You’ll note that we’ve taken down the countdown clock on our upcoming Paul Mallory thriller, Chance Of A Ghost, but we still hope to have it out by the end of January and are looking forward to its release. It’s a good one!
That’s a 30…but, thank goodness, it is NOT The End. Be seeing you!
*the title of this post comes from Chapter One of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward (1967). Unfortunately for the character Pavel Nikolayevich, to whom the words were addressed, he was indeed suffering from lymphoma…