A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Thursday, November 27, 2008

My Own Private 9/11

It was September 11 of this year when I discovered that my brain wasn't working right. (Don't even try. Every possible joke based on that set-up has already been made. Mostly by me.) I woke up that morning and looked at the digital clock by the bed. It said: 26. It's not supposed to do that. And then I looked at the book I had been reading the night before. The author listed on the jacket was"Ian Barnes." That wasn't right either. His name is Julian Barnes. And the time was 7:26. Somehow, I couldn't see the leftmost number in the time and the first three letters in the name.

My first thought was: Stroke. My second was: Tumor.

Many hours and several CTs and MRIs later, I learned that I had a brain abscess, an infection that had left me with limited peripheral vision in my left eye. As it turns out, the stroke or the tumor might have been more manageable.

"How do you get an infection in your brain?" my daughter asked.

I didn't know. I'd never heard of such a thing. But typically, the infection spreads there from somewhere else. Once they figure out where, and can identify the culpable bacteria, they can deal with it.

The trouble is, almost three months later, the culprit remains at large. I've had a brain biopsy (I needed another hole in my head). And they've run tests on every part of me, with no success. "The Mystery Man!" a neurologist recently greeted me when I went for a checkup. I can't share his enthusiasm for becoming a medical anomaly.

Still, the antibiotics they've been flooding me with -- intravenously as well as orally -- seem to be helping. At my last checkup, about a month ago, the lesions had begun to shrink -- or so the MRI suggested.

(Ever had an MRI? It's like lying in a sewer pipe on which someone is banging with a ball peen hammer, and next to which someone is using a jackhammer and occasionally blowing an air horn next to your ear.)

Anyway, this is all to explain to anyone who might have tuned in to this blog to read about books why I haven't been much in evidence lately. I spent the month of September in Stanford Hospital. Since then, I've been in a skilled nursing facility -- largely because Medicare pays for most of it. (The anomalies of the American health care system -- if "system" is the right word for it -- are something I've experienced firsthand. It's possible that I'll be here for six months longer.)

The thing is, I'm feeling great. I've recovered much of my sight -- or at least have learned how to overcome the deficiency -- and I've been working out with physical and occupational therapists every day. I'm in better physical shape (aside from the pus in my brain) than I've been in years.

But I can't go home. I'm tethered to an IV pump that feeds antibiotics into my system via a PICC line. PICC is "Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter," but nobody calls it that because nobody can pronounce "peripherally." Mine runs from my left biceps through my veins to my heart. Every eight hours, I get a new bag of antibiotics, and a nurse shoots a syringe of saline through the PICC to flush it.

Too much information?

Anyway, I'm back. I'm taking a break from reviewing for obvious reasons. But a couple of reviews of mine have been published since I got sick, and I'll post them soon.

Stay healthy!