There were positive aspects to all the drugs I had been administered since my admission to the hospital. Given my jolly nature, I chuckled. This was a rousing good time. The neuro wore a long, serious face as he sat down. There probably is a course in medical school: "How to Deliver REALLY BAD News to Patients." Given how many MDs lack traces of personality, the course would about have to be required. If this neuro had enrolled in such a course, he had done so years ago and not received a very good grade. He pulled out a deck of what a second look indicated were 3-by-5 index cards. I inferred he had one for each patient on a given shift. In high school and college debate we’d used index cards for quotes; called "evidence" in debate. I wondered if he had so little to say to each patient that he only used 3-by-5s. Our cards had been 4-by-6, and we did not have advanced degrees.
He took a seat in the chair next to the window, with a beautiful view of the parking lot. Sarah was in a chair at the foot.
He babbled for a minute or two about the tests they had run, how the startling and extreme onset of my conditions made diagnosis easier, and that I had Multiple Sclerosis. There was a pause. Back in med school, in that course he'd nearly flunked (I was certain), one lecture probably had been devoted to "the" pause, the few moments during which the dire news was allowed to sink into the mind of patient and loved one. I started to chuckle. He looked at me, maybe out of concern for his safety. People who receive horrific news and turn maniacal perhaps can pose a menace. Laughter may be "the best medicine" in The Reader's Digest," but it also could be taught as a signal to call security because the recipient of the REALLY BAD NEWS is about to lunge for the physician's throat. Of course, with a catheter stuck in my urethra, I was not able to make much of a lunge. Plus, the LP I had received and the three minutes I had sat up since he had arrived had combined to build up a killer headache.
I was not trying to put his mind at ease when I said, "MS? Get it? Not many people are diagnosed with a disease the acronym for which also comprises their initials." Honest. I said that. I can be quite lucid when stoned out of my gourd. There are distinct advantages to a college education received in the 1970s.
He looked at me quizzically, like he was about to ask me "wtf." I noticed he had ignored Sarah the entire time he was there—and would whenever he came into my room. He cleared his throat. "We don’t know a lot about MS," he said. If by "we" he meant himself, his partners, and other neuros of same or similar capabilities, he probably was right. As we would find out relatively soon, he was wrong about the medical world—and I mean "World," as in Belgium, France, the Netheralnds and the rest of the US of A—a great deal was known about MS, but we did not know that at the moment. He explained the mechanics of MS, how part of my immune system attacked the myelin sheath of my central nervous system. Myelin covers nerves in fashion similar to insulation on electrical cord. MS causes the flow in the nervous system to short out. "We do know certain demographics about the disease: more likely as one travels away from the equator; more likely amongst women than men; more likely amongst persons better-educated..."
I interrupted him and asked, "You mean like college graduates?"
Again, he looked perplexed. "Why, yes. College graduates."
I shook my head. "I knew that dorm food would come back one day to haunt me." To be accurate, I only was in the dorm freshman year, but the food was not great, except for the instant mashed potatoes served with every meal.
He went back to his notes, said they would put me on an IV-drip of an equivalent of 850 milligrams of prednisone per day, and begin physical rehab the next morning. His lecture given and diagnosis delivered, he fled. By then two of Sarah’s sisters had appeared. When, where, how they appeared, I don’t know. Things had a way of happening during those several days around my diagnosis. A techie came in and hooked a different bag up to the tree on my IV, then left. A nurse entered and emptied the bag for the catheter.
I did know this. I am a native born Hoosier. I just had been diagnosed with a disease everybody always said was REALLY BAD. I figured I was in the hospital and they couldn’t boot me out. After all, it was 25 below outside.
One of Sarah’s sisters, who is a tee-totaler, asked me if there was anything they could get me.
"Yes," I said. "IU is playing Purdue in a little bit. Could you get me a 6-pack of Bud? 'Tall boys'? You know, 16-ouncers?" She said sure, and a short while later, a 6-pack was in the drawer of my night stand, just within my reach.
IU was ranked. Purdue was good. Everyone left. I was too looped to make heads or tails of the news I had just received. I was too looped to understand I might not be able to work again.
The prednisone seemed to make me thirsty. After I killed the last of the beers, I hit the button for the nurse. She appeared and asked me what I needed. I said the bag for my catheter was full. She said that was impossible, as she had just emptied it. Then she saw the can of beer on the table and my smile and said something about how they had a goddamn drunk on their hands.
I felt a little guilty about causing her to have to deal with a bag full of urine, but I had received REALLY BAD news. Besides, it was a Purdue-IU game. (I like both schools—received my JD from IU School of Law-Indianapolis and was on staff for four years at Purdue.) The guilt I really felt came a couple of weeks later. We were at a chili party for the second IU-Purdue game. IU won. I said that it was a bummer. Somebody asked why.
"Because I like to see those two teams split their series. They’re equal."
Sarah said, "No, Purdue beat IU two weeks ago. In double-overtime. You watched the game in the hospital."
That’s how messed up I was the night I learned my diagnosis. I am a native-born Hoosier who likes both IU and Purdue and did not remember Purdue having won a game between the two—and in double overtime.