It was a classic Indian summer day when Richard and I headed into
the VA Medical Center in Denver this morning, cool air and warm sun,
with white streaks of snow marking the peaks of the Front Range
floating above the city skyline. We were feeling good, so we climbed
the stairs to the Sixth Floor instead of taking the elevators. After
Richard checked in, we took our seats in the crowded waiting room and
did our best to ignore the bleating television. (Why do healthcare
facilities have televisions in their waiting rooms? Surely everyone
knows daytime TV is bad for your blood pressure, if not your general
health!) We hadn’t been there even ten minutes when Dr. Allen, who
leads Richard’s neurology team, came out herself to get us. She gave us
each a hug and then led us past the crowded examination rooms to her
office. After going through the preliminaries and asking Richard about
his symptoms and how he’s feeling, she got down to brass tacks and
began showing us the images from yesterday morning’s MRI.
It was like looking at abstract art dominated by elegant curvilinear shapes. Some
of the shots were vertical slices through his brain, showing his spine
and the lovely winding channels leading from his ears, others were
horizontal views with his eye sockets in front and the gorgeous arc of
his skull shaping the back of his head. To me, the architecture of the
human skull is beautiful, and the brain as well, with its complex,
symmetric in-folding creases which themselves branch into smaller
creases and those creases into ever-smaller creases, and so on in a
pinnately compound design that reminds me of plant veins. I look at the
images of his brain and it reminds me of his art: at once familiar and
mysterious, wordless forms that evoke the Earth he loves.
The news was not so beautiful. First, the better stuff: His symptoms
have mostly subsided. (I say “mostly” because he still has some visual
abnormalities including a fascinating tendency to be very sensitive to
reddish colors and shades.) All of the tests they’ve done on his spinal
fluid and blood have come back negative. (Except for the test for
antibodies to herpes virus, which was off-the-charts positive. Hence
the anti-viral drugs they’ve been and will continue treating him with.)
He’s outrageously healthy overall, and his kidneys are functioning
normally despite the heavy doses of anti-virals.
The less-good news: A vaguely circular shape has appeared in his
right temporal lobe (the site of the intense swelling his team has been
so concerned about, and the area that processes visual stimuli). In the
MRI images, it’s flat white against all that sparkly gray matter of
healthy brain tissue, and it suggests a tumor. Tumors in the brain are
not good news. The ghostly shape did not show up at all in the MRI of
three weeks ago. Richard’s neuro team is calling in various experts to
look at the images, including the authority on viruses of the brain,
plus a neurosurgeon and a neuro-oncologist.
In order to see what’s happening, they’ve scheduled him for another
MRI in three weeks, followed by a neuro consult. They are also
scheduling him for a biopsy. (Right now my mind refuses to consider
what they have to do to remove a bit of his brain tissue to test, but I
do know you have to get through his skull, something that has proven
very difficult my decades of trying.) We’ll hear more news in the next
few days as more experts weigh in.
In the best case, this ghostly circular mass simply goes away. Next
best, it’s a tumor but it’s benign. Next not-so-best, it’s a very
slow-growing cancer that can be treated by chemotherapy, no picnic in
itself, but better than brain surgery or the other alternative, which I
am not even going to name.
So we’ve had a truckload-of-lemons day. We left Neurology almost two
hours after we arrived, and walked down all six flights of stairs, just
in case we needed any karmic points. When we came out of the Medical
Center, I was surprised to see it was still a gorgeous day: warm sun,
cool air, street trees beginning to turn lemon yellow and burnt orange and gold and even a few in scarlet here and there. We took a picnic lunch to a bench in Cheesman Park where
we could see the distant ridges of the Front Range and watched the
view, and the people out running and sunning and biking and walking
their dogs…. Life cycles on whatever the news, whatever the weather,
whatever you’re feeling.
This I know: I love this guy, ghostly circular form in his frontal
lobe or no. And he loves me. So I’m going to keep making him picnic
lunches, holding his hand, holding him in my heart, whatever comes.
It’s just that simple. Onward we walk, hand in hand, heart to heart,
mindful that life offers no guarantees. But it sure beats the
Coming Attractions: Later this week I’m taking a break from this
particular personal drama to interview Wyoming writer Diana Allen
Kouris about her memoir, Riding the Edge of An Era.
Tune in for a talk with a writer who tells an engrossing, funny, and
ultimately tragic story of growing up cowboy and the home she can never
return to. In an era when so many of us are wanderers, Kouris’ life is
rooted in place and she does a memorable and moving job of evoking the
sounds, smells, and stories of that place.