Wednesday, September 24, 2008

New Sheriff in Town

Yesterday we saw a new neurologist. The doctor we've been seeing for the past year is a lovely man but his approach to Flip's disease is completely laissez-faire, what-will-be-will-be. Sitting in his presence for a few minutes every three months feels like a coffee klatch without the coffee, so I sought a doctor who specializes in Alzheimer's.

Dr. G is personally quite repulsive. He creeps me out, and not only because of his attire: Blindingly bright turquoise nylon shirt so tight that his belly bulges between the buttons in flaccid bits and a tie that looks like Salvador Dali vomited. He walks like a chicken and his hair appropriately resembles a cock's comb. Let's just say that he is old enough to know better.

He enters the room, strutting, and informs us that he doesn't have to work -- he does so because he loves it. I think this is meant to be reassuring but it falls far short of its mark.

I am uncomfortable that he makes eye contact only with me the whole time he is with us. To be fair, I have done most of the talking because Flip's disease is impeding his verbal skills. Since doctors allot only so much time per patient, it is more ergonomic for me to explain what is going on. But if he is going to treat Flip as a nonentity, then he is not our man.

He touts himself as being on the "cutting edge," an expression which I have found usually indicates a huge ego. And while some degree of ego is probably necessary to accomplish anything, too often it controls the beast and blinds it to its own faults.

He has one of his assistants, of which there are several, make us copies of the particulars on two drug trials he is running. The sheaf of papers is a good two inches thick. I have my reading material for the next millennium right there.

One drug is an hour-long infusion by needle which is given every six weeks, followed by an MRI to monitor swelling of the brain which is a possible side effect. He minimizes the seriousness of this for us, but I am a lay person. Swelling brains do not sound good to me.

The other medication is a daily pill, the possible side effects of which are: headache, diarrhea, rash, head cold, dizziness, problems with balance, nausea, tiredness and muscle pain, vomiting, abdominal pain, cough, sore throat, itching and visual disturbances, as well as intestinal blockages requiring hospitalization. Confusion is another, although I am not sure this could be determined in a patient with Alzheimer's.

Either of these regimens could have been an important part of Dr. Mengele's repertoire, or the Marquis de Sade's. It seems that quality of life should be a factor.

Flip asks me if there is a third party regulating these trials, and I tell him there is not. Basically, I am all he has. Unfortunately I am not a trained medical person, but on the plus side, I am reasonably intelligent, I can read, and I am absolutely devoted to protecting him.

I hate that the doctor must be considered an adversary. We are between that rock and hard place in that seeing Doctor #1, who is a nice man and seems genuinely regretful when he tells us there is nothing he can do, has begun to feel too much like giving up. Our visits to him are basically a quick conversation after which he pronounces, "Yep. You've still got it."

I need to feel more proactive and less resigned even if we are fighting air or tilting at windmills.

Doctor #2, on the other hand, may be on the cutting edge but he is also clearly in the pocket of the drug companies. He is probably being paid for every body he brings into the studies so there is no way his first concern is for the patient. It is obscene that drug companies and insurance companies control medical care in this country.

While I understand the necessity for drug trials, I am extremely reluctant to subject someone I love to them. I want a drug that will erase all symptoms of the disease with no side effects, a drug that will spring fully formed and armed to the teeth like Athena from Zeus' head. I want to know that no animals, human or otherwise, were harmed in the making of this drug.

Is that too much to ask?

This disease is a maelstrom whirling faster and faster. As rational beings, we want to make sense of our life's experiences. Understanding them is second nature because we have no other way to navigate the future. Accepting that perhaps there is no sense to be made here goes against all our conditioning as reasoning beings.

Alzheimer's is the best reason I know for living in the here and now.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Odds and Ends, mostly Odd

My healing has progressed enough that I attempted a walk today, despite being a bit wobbly. Besides, I had library books to return, which I enlisted Flip to carry for me.

We passed a tiny princess and her mother on the street. The child, who was 5 or 6, was decked out in full princess regalia, which elicited "awwwww" from all who were not too brain dead to notice her.

Someone asked, "Is she in a play?"

"No," said the mom. "She just likes to be a princess every day."

"She's a very pretty princess," I told her. To Flip, I said that I would like to be a princess, too.

"You were one," he said.

I stopped dead in my tracks.

"Exactly which day of my life are you referring to?" I asked.

He backpedaled. "You must have been one."

"Because I'm Jewish?"

"No, because you were a child."


"I think you mean I should have been, but my parents weren't having any of that."

"That's too bad," he said. "My father wrote a song called 'Little Princess' for my sister." Flip's father was a famous Western swing band leader and his sister is still a princess. It's not something a woman outgrows or forgets how to do.

It is some consolation that I am self-sufficient, but not nearly as comforting as you would think. More precisely, every woman should be able to take care of herself, but how wonderfully luxurious if now and then she didn't have to.

Another mother came along with the ubiquitous double stroller. All babies come in twos these days. She was chewing gum and teaching her progeny to say "Ba ba ba ba ba" as if they were genetically programmed to become sheep when they grow up.

I was embarrassed by baby talk when I was a child so I never used it in conversations with my own children. It also seemed unfair to teach them a language which they would only have to unlearn later when they discovered the real words for things. They were all highly verbal at a young age. Perhaps all babies could be if adults did not speak to them so condescendingly.

Mine knew the unflinchingly correct words for body parts and their functions, which some adults found upsetting to their delicate sense of balance, so easily thrown by a two-year old stating that he had to urinate instead of making a weewee.

At one corner, about a dozen shopping carts filled with various kinds of garbage and many old suitcases had been abandoned. San Francisco has a large homeless population, which is not surprising when you consider how expensive it is to live here. It is normal to see people pushing overflowing carts along the sidewalks and carefully guarding their worldly goods, so I'm puzzled.

Has there been a *Harmonic Convergence to which all the shopping cart folks have been called, or has the **Hale-Bop comet returned and spirited them from their earthly cares to Heaven's Gate?

And why was I not told?

*The Harmonic Convergence was an event in 1987 when people calling themselves "light beings" gathered to usher in a new era of universal peace, beginning the 26-year countdown to 2012, which the Mayan Prophesies stated would be the "end of history" and the beginning of a new 5,125-year cycle. All the evils of the modern world -- war, materialism, violence, injustice, governmental abuse of power, etc. would end at that time.

** Comet Hale-Bop
Heaven's Gate was a UFO religion based in San Diego, California whose group suicide coincided with the appearance of Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. They believed that their souls would board a spaceship hiding behind the comet and thus be saved from the imminent cleansing of the planet Earth.

I have never used footnotes in a post before! I feel so scholarly. So.. um, pretentious. Let's blame it on painkillers, ok?

Flip, team player that he is, has brought home a giant bag of pretzels. I love pretzels but am not allowed to eat anything crunchy for a week following my oral surgery.

The only time I was drunk in my life, I ran around a bar confiscating baskets of pretzels from all the tables and piling them on mine while my date watched in wonder. It never occurred to me that anyone would object, and they didn't. So pretzels and I go way back. The best ones are made by Quinlan's on the east coast which are called Rold Gold in the west, but they can't fool me. I know my pretzels and they are the same. A rose by any other name.

It was clear that either pretzels or screw drivers would have to go, and I preferred my oj straight up anyway. I probably wouldn't confess this if I were not a bit looped on prescription drugs. Usually my dirty little secret is protected by other people's assumptions that I don't drink because I'm a recovering alcoholic. It makes me feel so worldly-wise and sophisticated, almost like a grownup, that I just smile into my cranberry juice or virgin bloody mary and pass for normal.

So I sincerely hope what happens here stays here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Walking Wounded

Today I turned myself in at the oral surgeon's office for excavations.

It was ... interesting.

The silent TV screen overhead offered a nice, restful beach scene but its benefit was lost when they covered my eyes. They enclosed my hair in an elasticized blue surgical cap, which can't have looked good, and then placed heavy fabric over my eyes for the duration of the procedure, probably so they wouldn't have to see them wide open in abject horror. I thought briefly of executions in which a black hood is lowered over the subject's head before hanging or shooting, doubtless for the same reason. It's easier on the bystanders.

When I was suitably disguised, they brought in the chain saws. One of the teeth slated for demolition had to be deliberately broken. Deliberately, as opposed to accidentally, and removed in pieces. At one point, the doctor requested forceps of his assistant, which made me think of high forceps deliveries although I have never experienced one except in movies. A lot of sharp implements were used, most of which I had never heard of before. I'm pretty sure a battering ram was employed against my jaw bone.

The doctor kept up a running commentary, although I was able to respond only in gurgles.

Afterward, my wisdom teeth were disposed of as hastily as you would remove a dead mouse from your dinner plate. I did not get to pay my last respects.

I was fitted out with two kinds of huge pills which require a mortar and pestle and applesauce, a lot of gauze and a sheet of instructions for my care and feeding, then released on my own recognizance.

Six hours later, I am still bleeding profusely, which has reinforced my loathing for vampires. Blood has a vile and nasty taste, even my own, although it is a pretty color.

Not only that, but someone is eating all the medicinal ice cream. Round up the usual suspects.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Close Encounters of the Turd Kind

Things are heating up in the 'hood.

I was standing in line at the local grocery store at 5:00 pm, peak time, very long line. A woman placed an overflowing hand basket on the floor behind me, bumping my ankle in the process, and wandered off to collect more items.

I had to move several times because she had blocked off the access lane to the front door, so I nudged her basket back about six inches to make room for people to get by.

A man came along and said, "Who does this belong to?"

I indicated the woman, who was at the deli counter, ordering. Periodically she came back to her basket to make more deposits.

"I don't think it's fair," I said. "I would move up." Which he did.

She came back and said, "Are you together?"

"No," he said.

She raised her voice, "I was next in line."

"You weren't here."

"Are you going to make a big deal out of this?" she sneered.

"I would expect more courtesy and consideration," he replied.

"You're an asshole," she yelled. Everyone turned to look.

"You're still shopping," he said reasonably.

"Am I supposed to stand right here and have them bring my things to me in line?"

(No, you harpy, you're supposed to collect everything you want and THEN get in line.) I didn't say anything, though, because he seemed to have things under control.

Nobody said anything for several beats and then the man inquired, gently, "Do you have everything you need?"

She didn't respond.

"Because I would hate for you to forget anything."

Facing the other way, I smiled to myself.

She suggested that he commit a physical act on himself which is impossible except for circus contortionists.

He didn't bat an eye. "There must be something in the store that you missed. Wouldn't you like to make sure?"

At this point, I was full-throttle laughing.

"I could hold your place in line if you want to check out the back room," he offered.

By now, I was at the check-out stand. "Hi Ishmael," I said to the checker. I parked my hand basket on the counter to take up as much room as possible so she would have to wait to unload her stuff. I can be passive-aggressive with the best of them.

I stopped to pet the most adorable dog I have ever seen on my way out, and then it hit me. I should have invited the man to get ahead of me in line so she would still be directly behind me, but he wouldn't have had to wait for Her Highness to buy $200 worth of groceries. I wish I had thought of it.

Sadly, I'm sure there will be another chance. There seems to be quite a run on rudeness these days.

Mother of the Year

A toddler trundled out of a coffee shop and headed, wobbling, for the street as Flip and I passed by.

I stopped and looked around.

"Wait a minute! I don't see an adult with this child," I said.

I planted myself in front of her and squatted, "Where's your mama?"

She tried to continue her lemming-like trajectory toward the nice moving cars.

I placed my hand on her shoulder and said, "Let's find your parents" as I guided her gently toward the restaurant. We met an angry woman with a stroller coming out who glared at me and said, "Get away from her!"

"She was nearly in the street," I said.

She snatched the child roughly, shoved her into the stroller and strode off in the other direction.

Point taken, lady. You would rather see your baby become roadkill than accept help from a stranger. It takes a village indeed.

Quick! Get the license number on that stroller.

(And you thought this was going to be about Sarah Palin, didn't you?)