Physical Exam, Monday morning . . .
In the last two hours I have had many invasive procedures performed on me. I’ve had needles jabbed into my arms. Lights shined in my eyes. Probes in my ears. And fingers up my . . . never mind. Point is, I feel medically violated.
I picture myself on an episode of CSI, curled-up in the fetal position, explaining how the bad man touched me.
Right at this very moment, I am naked under a tissue paper thin hospital gown with the same crappy little designs you’d find on cheap kitchen ware—something between yodas and bacterium. This gown, it ties impossibly in the back, where no human can reach, so there’s more than enough space for anyone to stare at my nakedness.
I’m sitting on butcher paper waiting for another doctor to ask me a battery of questions that I can’t possibly answer. And in walks a doctor with enough white hair to be in a George Washington look-alike contest.
“Hello, there. Let’s see,” he glances down at his clipboard. “Gonna ask you a few questions. Do you have a history of allergic reactions to . . . prescription medicines?”
“I don’t know.”
He nods and skips to the next question. “Have you ever been treated for a sexually transmitted disease?”
“I sure hope so . . . but I don’t know.”
“History of heart complications?”
“What do you remember about your medical history?” he says, looking up from the clipboard.
“Nothing,” I told him. “I’m barely five-months old.”
“Oh,” he said, a look of recognition in his eyes, “. . . you’re that guy, with the localized bilateral lesions of the limbic system, notably in the hippocampus and medial side of the temporal lobe . . .”
“The amnesia guy. You’re the guy who lost all his marbles . . . so to speak.”
“Yeah. That’s me. Funny amnesia guy.”
“Have you been experiencing any thoughts about harming yourself or others, or of committing suicide?”
“Is that a trick question?”
“What?” he said with more than a hint of alarm on his face.
“Just kidding. No. No thoughts of hurting myself, or taking my own life.”
“Okay, then,” the doctor says as he gets to mark one box out of a hundred on his printed checklist. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
He tells me they’re going to run an ECG (electrocardiogram) to check out my heart. An EEG (electroencephalogram) to look in my brain for signs of epilepsy, brain tumors, and sleep disorders. MRI (Magnetic resonance image) to look for any abnormalities of my spine, any signs of early-stage cancer, or cerebral edema—which is swelling in my brain.
“None of these will tell us if you’re suffering from psychiatric illness,” he said, then shrugged. “So we’ll let your friends in Neurology determine that.” And the way he says it, I can tell he’s skeptical of the Neurology Department. They’re probably like the dentists of the medical field, looked down upon like low-level scourge by the other doctors.
Well, that’s a vote of confidence. I tell him that all of those tests sound terribly expensive. And then he leans forward, putting his hand near his face like he’s going to tell me a little secret.
“We’re billing the government for all your medical examinations . . .”
And I’m thinking that there is probably a Russian boxcar full of money that just gets lost in the hospital’s bureaucratic shuffle.
So, I say to him, “I guess it’s best to test for everything possible . . . on Earth.”
“Why,” I ask, “do we need all of those fancy tests, though?” And really, I’m just asking for the fun of it. See, each doctor has a different programmed response to this question, and I like to hear them talk. When smart people explain things to me it makes me feel like I’m a tiny percent more intelligent. And at the pace we’re going, I should be performing surgery in the next six months.
“These tests give us a picture of your body’s overall level of health and immune efficiency. When we have all of the results we will have a profound understanding of how you have managed to get past your unfortunate trauma so amazingly. As well as your body’s coping mechanisms.”
Nice one. I’m going to remember that.
“By the way,” he adds, “. . . do you have any hallucinations?”
“No, sir,” I answer proudly. “All the monsters I see are real.”
That elicits the condescending, patronizing doctor’s laugh. And with each smileless ha, ha, ha you can almost see the words moron, moron, moron coming out of his mouth.
“Do bright lights give you headaches, or make you feel nauseous?”
“No. What makes me sick are the faceless creatures that sit on people’s chests, carving out their souls.”
“No. No headaches.”
Anyway, this goes on for a couple of hours. Doctors come, doctors go. At one point, a cute nurse named, Becky, comments on my higher than normal body temperature. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail, with honey-brown eyes. She says that I might be, “. . . hot-blooded,” and then she giggles.
I’m not sure if she’s hitting on me, humoring the retard, or playing with the circus freak, but I like it. As she’s checking me, she touches me just a little longer than normal. She’s examining my knees with that small hammer, and then playing with my feet to check for feeling and sensitivity.
Uh, yeah, there’s plenty of that.
And as she’s doing this she looks up at me, “You have a kind face.”
“But, you look tired. Really tired,” she adds as she runs a ball point pen along the bottom of my foot.
“That tired look,” I say, “it’s from being so kind all the time.”
She giggles again and stands up, circling the exam table I’m still stuck to. She’s wearing the thinnest green scrubs, and her body . . . it’s exquisitely proportioned.
This nurse Becky, she smells wonderful—like all kinds of expensive flowers and other girly spices that I’ll never understand. And as she makes her way to my side, she puts her hands on my shoulder, looking at the scar on my head. Being naked, with this tiny gown thing on, I am hoping that it’s cold enough in this examination room to keep me from showing signs of excitement.
Nurse Becky, I can feel her warm breath on my neck. And she’s standing on her tippy-toes saying, “And you don’t remember anything at all?”
Well, there goes that chubby. The blood that was gathering below my waist is now pumping upward towards my brain as I realize she, too, was just interested in the tragedy that is amnesia guy. I think the nurses and orderlies have a running bet that I’m faking the whole thing. Ricky’s gonna make a fortune.
I kind of feel like the guy in the booth at a circus. Like the Wolfman. Or maybe that chick with gills—the mermaid. Come see Jack, the guy with four arms and lizard scales. Good thing they don’t know what’s really going on with me. Then I’d really be a freak show.
So, the hours drag on. About three more nurses come in to study this, or scrape off a piece of that. And finally, a young doctor from the Neurology Department comes in to see me. I’ve only seen him a few times, but he had that familiar passing-doctor look about him. Like one of the extras on ER.
“Hey there, Jack. I’m Dr. Salter. We’ve done every test on the planet, and you can put your clothes back on and go.”
“When do you think I will get the results?”
He looks up, like the answers are written on the ceiling, “Well, we should get the blood results tomorrow sometime. As far as the MRI, that will take a few days, to get the images processed and whatnot. The EEG, the ECG, we’ll study those up at our department, but I didn’t see anything I was too worried about. You look tired, though.”
“It’s from being so kind all the time.”
“I noticed,” he said as he chewed on the end of an ink pen, “that your core temperature is running a fraction high. That’s usually the early sign of an infection, or sickness. So pay attention to how you’re feeling. Don’t sleep with the air-conditioning too high. And eat your vegetables.”
“But, other than that . . . I’m healthy?”
“You’re doing really well, Jack.” Then he crossed his arms, “Your head trauma, it was obviously horrible, but some very positive things have come out of it.”
“Well, you were just moments from being dead. Actually, you were dead, on and off several times, for a period of just over an hour. Sixty-seven minutes to be exact . . .”
67 minutes? That’s the same amount of time Ricky told me I had before I froze to death.
“. . . It was definitely a tug-of-war to keep you from the abyss. Alive, dead, alive, dead. But we tried some experimental new procedures, figuring we’d lost you . . . and here you are, alive and well. It’s amazing. Miraculous, really.”
“Yeah, I say, but I don’t remember anything.”
“That’s one way to look at it.”
I raised my eyebrows at him, waiting for the other way I should be looking at my complete long-term memory loss. So optimistic, these doctors.
“You get to do something that almost every person on this planet would love to do . . . you get to start over. To begin again. You have a new life, and you can do anything with it you want. You can achieve great things, if you have the desire to.”
“Could I become an astronaut?” I ask. Of course I’m joking, but he doesn’t get it.
“Well,” he says, his teeth together as his bottom lip recedes a bit, “. . . probably not an astronaut. But there are a million other things just as noble and lofty.”
“These procedures you did to keep me alive,” I ask to him carefully, “. . . would they affect the way I see the world?”
He explains to me, in a mixture of doctor-speak and layman’s terms, that the different emergency procedures that were done, were designed to be utilized in the most dire of circumstances. He mentions something about stem-cells—which I’ve been reading about in Popular Science and Wired—as well as some electrical neuron stimulation techniques that I have never heard of, and imagine that I never will, again.
“. . . If everything continues as we think it will,” he surmised, “You’ll be an example for the emergency treatment of near-fatal head and cerebral trauma. You could think of yourself as a pioneer, Jack. You might accidentally usher in a new era in our understanding of the brain.”
“Like a saint?” I say.
He smiles, “Not a bad way to look at it, at all.”
If it looks like a saint, and acts like a saint, and talks like a saint . . . it just might be.
I put on my clothes and slip on my shoes before people with needles come back needing more of my insides.