The doctor who saw me in the ER wrote in her report: "nice 67 y.o. male, flat affect, awake, alert and appropriate." I had appeared with slurred speech and a balloon in my head, had driven myself to United Hospital in St. Paul, parked in No Parking, walked in and was triaged right in to a neurologist who trundled me into the MRI Space-Time Cyclotron for 50 minutes of banging and whanging which produced a picture of the stroke in the front of my brain, so off to the Mayo Clinic I went and the St. Mary's Hospital Neurology ICU and was wired up to monitors. A large day in a nice 67 y.o. man's life.
I stayed at St. Mary's for four days of tests and when I left, a neurologist shook my hand and said: "I hope you know how lucky you are." That was pretty clear as I walked down the hall, towing my IV tower, and saw the casualties of serious strokes. Here I was sashaying along, like a survivor of Pickett's Last Charge who had suffered a sprained wrist. My mouth felt fuzzy but I was essentially unscathed, though touched by mortality. Which I have been on the run from for a long time. I never wanted to be a nice 67 y.o. man. I still have some edgy 27 y.o. man inside me.
But when the doctor talks about how you must go on a powerful blood thinner lest a stray clot turn your fine intellect into a cheese omelet, you must now accept being 67 y.o. and do as he says. Mortality has bitten you in the butt.
The women who draw blood samples at Mayo do it gently with a whole litany of small talk to ease the little blip of puncture, and "Here it comes" and the needle goes in, and "Sorry about that," and I feel some human tenderness there, as if she thought, "I could be the last woman to hold that dude's hand." A brief sweet moment of common humanity.
Chicago Tribune by Garrison Keillor, 09/16/09