I don’t know where I was for five years. Sure, I know where I was, Barcelona. Bilbao, Paris for a month, and a lot of time at home. I didn’t have a diagnosis yet but towards the end I was afraid to go to the grocery for fear I’d lose my balance, grab a shelf and bring it down in a rain of denting cans.
Early in 2017 I learned I’d been suffering from hydrocephalus, a condition where you slowly lose (among other things) the ability to walk. There was a straightforward solution for that, brain surgery. They implant a shunt that drains off the excess cerebrospinal fluid that has been pressing ever-harder on your brain structures. Something’s gotta give.
But it’s not the illness, the dysfunction, the broken little bones. What bothers me is that I was sure I was myself. There was weird physical stuff but I was still me. My partner kept saying I was off and I’d get furious. It wasn’t till the diagnosis that I learned part of the condition is mild dementia.
What’s that mean, mild dementia? For me it meant I could not see myself. My 96 year old mother said part of her still felt like a girl. This seems wholesome, a continuity of self. Yet I experienced myself as normal. Slippage wasn’t visible to me, but I was slipping. How can that be?
Late in my siege my webmaster began having cluster headaches, renownedly painful. Doctors did what they could, trying various drugs out on him. One of them turned him into his evil twin. Rude, angry, in your face. This a benign spirit who naturally brings people together. It boggles me that while he was under the influence of this drug he didn’t know he wasn’t himself. He stopped the drug and woke up to the bastard he’d been channeling.
I had the surgery in June, 2017. Staph infection in October. (Isn’t it nice to know there’s a “good” staph that’s slow-growing, less pernicious?) The tubing of the shunt was tied off in my belly then and days before Christmas a third surgery reconnected it. I’m fond of Christmas but quarantining this chapter in my life to 2017 took priority.
Come March and my partner looked at me in disbelief and said “You’re back!” I slowly recognized how far under the surface of life I’d slipped. I came back into myself. Quite a homecoming. Inexplicable to welcome back the person you hadn’t been but felt you were. Deeply, maybe permanently baffling.
Most notably after five years of zero creativity I’m obsessively making art. Start at breakfast on my laptop, transfer to the big screens upstairs and work full tilt till dinnertime. New ideas keep spilling out. Like a pan that finally starts to boil.OK, LSD, Alzheimers, mass manias. No surprise that consciousness is malleable. But still. It wasn’t till “You’re back!” that I could see.
During my five year siege I read Nature Journal weekly as it came. I was avid, fulfilled by it, fed. Now it comes and I hardly care. I’m rereading books I’ve loved in the past. Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire? Still remarkable. D.H. Lawrence Twilight in Italy? Hilariously chest-pounding at one remove — one clan of people are so much more manly than the ones on the next hill. Silly, overwrought. Who am I?
I wonder now where in my brain the deforming pressure pushed. A doctor mentioned it’s too bad there hadn’t been an fMRI (functional MRI, more video than snapshot). Was the pressure on the right or left side of my brain? So much right/left stuff has been debunked, so much remains a numinous truth.
Today I feel a giddy sense of rebirth at age 71. Here I am again, quick-witted, quick-tongued. I’d been lethargic, everything seemed like too much work — why bother? I slept too much. Now I’m up before six some days. My neighbors are telling me they saw the decline and that the sparkle has returned to my eyes. A startling number of them — how polite they’ve been.
Hence my joy today, full of a whimsical sense of invincibility. Yet knowing that at my age most of the sand has poured through the timer. L’chaim.