Monday, February 28, 2011

Brotherly Love

A few days after I got back from California, I bought the plane ticket to Duke. I hovered over the “Purchase now” button much longer than I have over almost any other purchase; for something I sat over a computer on my own to do, it felt awfully (and I mean awful-ly) momentous. This despite the fact that I was actually buying a triangular ticket, one to Barbados, then to Duke then back to Austin. I figured after all the high wire material of the last 3 months my wife deserved a break. Barbados was really different than any place we’d been to since our honeymoon, Aruba. It was an island with no real culture and appeared that time mostly would be filled with sitting on the beach. My wife grew up in Hawaii, she’d picked the island and there we would go.

A day or two after that my older brother Alonso came to visit. Unfortunately, like too many people who came to visit, I had scheduled medical appointments around their visit. I felt awkward about doing this but not knowing how to schedule time off for both medical appointments and to spend time with people and still to preserve time off, this seemed like a good trade off. We met with my new neurologist for the first time, someone who had been described as a brilliant Argentine, Dr. Perurena. He was by far the liveliest of all the doctors I’d met with. As he went through my medical records he visibly grimaced, shook his head, made noises like “hmmm” “blah blah blah.” This immediately endeared me to him; while I understand bedside manner and its purpose, for me I’d much rather have a doctor who was, well more like me, fairly explicit and direct. The “complaint” I’d been told that his patients often had was that he over explained things; this was never going to be a problem with me. He came across as a cocky guy who was confident of what he said and was the only doctor, including the neurosurgeon, who would be doing the procedure who said “You made 100% the right decision. Trust me. I’m not a demagogue.” He kept using that last expression so often it made me wonder why but there is no good way to ask that question. He was also impressed with the fact that I’d gotten access to the guy at Duke and congratulated me on that like I’d won a prize. He met the measuring bar that I had set for all my doctors; he was okay with me putting off brain surgery to run a marathon but he added to the list of things I’d have to do during the weekend of the event. We did another EKG, still showed as normal. Several EKG’s from 20 minutes after the seizure until this one…still everything showing normal. Why was I doing brain surgery again?

We also went to a vasectomy appointment that day; I wasn’t having one quite yet but apparently you have to have a pre appointment before you’re allowed to have the procedure. The doctor asked standard medical questions but said he’d never quite gotten answers like the ones I’d given him. He became the 7th person to know someone who had known someone with an astrocytoma and the story again ended the same way, with the person dead within a few years (though it was the longest at seven or eight years). For the record, my wife and I had been talking about not having any more kids for a while. The issue was not settled but this latest of medical complications settled it; even if everything went perfect I wasn’t expected to have that long of a lifespan which seemed unfair to both another child and to her. The vasectomy doctor said if it was his wife, he’d be telling her to stay on birth control or to get a procedure done herself. I told him after all I’d be going through this procedure was a joke. We set up an appointment for late April.

My brother and I kept joking through the various appointments and then he took me to my running group. Once it was all done, something started upsetting my stomach and I ended up vomiting until past 3 in the morning. I had to wonder if it wasn’t psychosomatic from one of the doctors having talked to me about how radiation occurred more than 50% of the time after this procedure and that the biggest side effect of it was near constant nausea.

My brothers and I had communicated more since this diagnosis but it’s tough to accept that as quality time. I mean look at this visit: a day off…spent with family…at medical appointments…and then feeling sick after? In fact, I never got to say goodbye to him because I was asleep recovering from vomiting. My brother handled it all with grace and always let me feel like I had dignity. Still, how many days in my future would be this pattern? I hoped not many but I didn’t know since I wasn’t a demagogue.

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