Entry 5

Entry 5

Entry 5
A weeklong electronic journal.
July 12 2002 5:04 PM

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View from the bridge back toward Boston
View from the bridge back toward Boston

Eager to stretch my legs the other day, I walked across the Longfellow Bridge into Cambridge. From the bridge, the view back toward Boston is terrific; from it, I can finally discern the "hill" in Beacon Hill. The bridge's pedestrian walkway, which accommodates both east- and westbound walkers and runners, is not very wide. A few feet out onto the bridge deck, I noticed that I was having some trouble keeping my balance. Cars screaming by on my right; joggers brushing against my left shoulder, trying to pass; the water below. And me, trying like hell not to fall down. What was going on? I always assumed that my operation two years ago had killed the eighth cranial nerve on the left side of my head. A branch of this nerve is an important component of the system that governs balance. In the first days after my operation, I struggled to recalibrate my internal gyroscope, learning to use my vision to fix objects in the distance in order to compensate for the lost nerve. After a few days I found my feet—I remember walking across the Mass Avenue bridge the day after I got out of the hospital—and have been fine ever since. So why the trouble now? Yesterday morning, I met with my doctor, who told me that most likely the nerve was not dead and that the daily zappings could be the cause of my wobbly performance on the bridge. OK, so I'll pay a buck and take the red line to Cambridge from now on. No problem. My doctor then asked if I feel fatigued. I do not, and I shouldn't, at least not this early in my treatment. Overall, in fact, I feel better than I have in months. Less sluggish, better appetite. I chalk this up to my escape from the office, where the last couple of months have been pretty hectic. When someone from the hospital called me in May to notify me that the radiation treatment would start in early July, I grew excited and began to look forward to it as one might look forward to a vacation. Those considering a career in law may want to consider this before signing up for the LSATs. The only sobering moment before I began these treatments happened when I stupidly purchased a book on radiation therapy, a kind of primer for patients and their families. What I didn't realize was that this book's subject was general radiation therapy, the kind used to treat metastases, and not the kind of highly focused radiation I was scheduled for. As soon as I got home from the bookstore, I scanned the index for "Brain," found the relevant pages, and started reading. I remember coming to the section on side effects, and it was divided into "Short-Term Side Effects" and "Long-Term Side Effects." Nothing unexpected or frightening about the former—fatigue, as always, topped the list. But the opening paragraphs of the section on long-term side effects stopped me in my tracks. It said, and I'm writing from memory here since I've long since tossed this book, that loss of memory or cognitive ability may occur, but that patients should remember that such effects are considered long-term effects and that most will not survive long enough to experience them. This silly episode is, I believe, the perfect illustration of a problem that occurs whenever regular people (and I consider myself as regular as regular gets) first become exposed to high-end medicine. Step 1: You find out that you have a medical problem you've never heard of. Step 2: You run out and acquire every book, pamphlet, Internet message board screed, whatever, that you can get your hands on. Step 3: You read all this stuff, much of it inapposite to your problem, and you become terrified. The treatment itself today was a breeze, like always. By now, the sight of my head frame has me conditioned to open wide, bite down, and move my head into position to be bolted to the table. And as in Pavlov's experiment, drool is an inevitable byproduct. If my therapists can handle it, I figure, so can I. Just pass the tissues! I caught a free outdoor concert in Copley Square yesterday afternoon. The audience was a curious mixture of office workers filtering through the neighborhood on their way home (suits, brief cases); tourists (cameras, funny shorts); students (piercings, tattoos); and homeless people (shopping carts, aluminum cans). One lady was wearing a tiara and gloves up to her elbows. The stage was set up in front of H.H. Richardson's Trinity Church, and it was a striking backdrop. As I sat on the grass in a patch of late afternoon sunlight, listening to Juliana Hatfield's delicate voice, watching planes glide by every few minutes in their ascent from Logan, I thought: Now, I'm really relaxed.