Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Miracles X: Unfolding

I have sought for a way to explain what took place that shares my amazement as effectively, and it continues to elude my grasp. So let me try to just chronicle the events as they took place, and you can draw your own conclusions.

After I thought the nurse was trying to start an autopsy on me, things are a bit blurry for a while. I saw a lot of ceiling tiles of hallways of the U Hospital as I was wheeled around form place to place, and I suppose someone told me what they were doing to me, but I don't recall much of it. One incident I recall fairly clearly in a sort of vignette memory was the performance of cerebral angiogram. They placed me on some sort of apparatus like a turntable that allowed them to rotate my body as needed to feed a catheter up from femoral insertion point, through my heart, and into my brain. From there, each separate vascular system of my brain could be singly injected with x-ray opaque dye timed with blood flow to outline the select vascular system on a fluoroscope and trace the brain's individual vascular flow very distinctly and very finely.

I listened as the techs and the neurologists chattered, as this procedure progressed, and they watched the pictures form. They talked to me occasionally, mostly by way of offering instruction and encouragement. They noted one major system after another was "slick", or "looks good". "Clean as a whistle" was an expression I kept hearing.

Then they steered the catheter into the basilar artery system, and everyone grew more quiet. They commented about obvious extensive development of atherosclerosis, saying that the vascular path of the basilar artery system is what they term "tortuous". Accumulation of extensive scar tissue and plaque build up are the obvious source of brain stem strokes. This was pretty grim news, because it pretty much confirms that the strokes are not much subject to any kind of medical intervention, and all they can do is let nature take its course, with some very good measures that can prolong my term but only effectively delay more inevitable brain stem damage. Even these good doctors cannot give me a new basilar artery system.

Somewhere about this time, Dr. Skalabrin, whom I presumptuously and affectionately started calling "Dr. Brin", literally adopted me as her cause. I was not aware at the time, and not until much later, but she became my private advocate in the neurology department, and worked tirelessly on my case. Indeed, she exhausted herself and her personal energy, and after they found the spinal tumors, her own colleagues insisted that she go home and not come back to work until she had rested sufficient.

The first I remember that I personally noted Dr. Brin was one day when she came in to my hospital room leading the teaching rounds. She lead the team through extensive neurological examination, which I have taken to referring to as "stupid pet tricks" after having performed these types of manipulations so many times. After Dr. Brin was satisfied, she summarized with a short speech of encouragement that I thought was part for MY benefit -- I don't remember anything of what she said, except that she iterated the neurological deficits they noted, and very emphatically asserted that they were NOT OKAY. This as an assurance that they would continue to try to find causes. And she was as good as her word.

After that, things slowed down again. I interject here that I met a nurse at this point who calls herself "Tina". She is really of Vietnamese ancestry, so that is not her real name. She was delightfully witty and kind, and I was absolutely enthralled with her cool offhanded comments observations about cultural anthropology. She was really intelligent, and could hold up her side of a discussion as a true peer without any need for me to tone down my rhetoric or make pretences about respectable argumentation. It has been so long since I was so impressed by such a woman that I fell in love with her, and resolved to propose. Like a stupid fool, I approached the whole thing far too aggressively, and of course, she declined. She said she had promised her parents she would never marry but to a Vietnamese man. I understand, but still maintain some hope of salvaging something. A strictly platonic affair is the only ideal I could manage under the circumstances.

Unrequited love, so sad.

Anyway, more about me and Dr. Brin, my favorite of the neurology team.

My next study of ceiling tiles was a trip across the ward to a room where they conduct EEG studies. With the help of some very capable EEG techs, I donned a not-so-fashionable hat crafted of dozens of electrodes pasted on to various places on my scalp and around my head, with a tail of many colored wires trailing back to a mysterious black box that fed signals into a polygraph trace machine. I could not blink my eye or wrinkle my nose without the machine tracing lots of squiggly lines down the paper to record the event.

The neurology team was disappointed in the EEG results in one respect. I was definitely not having anything like epileptic seizures. After a multitude of "Shark Attacks" under close medical scrutiny, there was no conclusive brain signature that would be indicative of any kind of seizure activity. I started hearing groups of doctors gathering outside the door conducting whispered conferences of concern, using words like "psychotic" and "somatoform".

(You gotta see what these terms really mean to truly appreciate what all these guys were thinking about me at this time. They were pretty sure I was a genuine fruit cake, and I wasn't about to argue.)

At this point, I really did not care what diagnoses they presented me with, as long as it could help me understand better, and hopefully stop me from hurting.

While I was in the EEG study, there was a visit from the psychiatric team that I cannot recall the details of clearly. I will ask for some assistance from others to recall. One thing I do recall very vividly was a question directed from the head of the team, delivered in rather a tone of amazement. "Then, you have hope?", he asked. I answered him most emphatically and in the affirmative, that I have the most firm of convictions that the course and purpose of my life is firmly sealed, and that I place utmost faith and confidence in that. That is all I remember of the incident.

Along about this time, my son Jim and his wife Jen showed up one day, along with their two children Katelynn and Christopher. I have not seen Jim for over a decade, and was almost ready to get up out of bed and walk, I was so inspired by their visit.

My darling sweet grandchildren played by my bed, and were intrigued by my strange looking multicolored hat. Katelynn, a precocious 7-year-old, was curious enough to climb up on the bed and take a closer look, but Christopher, the young two-year-old son, was happier with his great-grandmothers lap and views of the fire engines and life flight helicopters operations visible from the fifth-floor window view. He was having nothing to do with the old guy in the bed wearing the weird-looking hat, and I can't say that I blame him.

On other occasions, all four of my sons, visited at the same time, and we exchanged hugs. My sons gave honest pledges and unmistakable tokens of their love, and I believed them. It had been so many years since I had even seen my sons. Even to see one of them was beyond my greatest dream. Imagine all of them gathering together.

If I had to die right then, I was ready for heaven. Fortunately, heaven did not ask me yet. Not just yet. In fact, sacred promises were made and sealed upon this occasion that I would live years to survive and I believe long enough time to fulfil my mission here upon the earth. I look forward to that with eager anticipation, and am hoping it involves spending time with my sons and their families. That will be almost as blissful as heaven itself.

For the next act, Dr. Brin summoned me once again to the imaging lab, this time for an MRI scan of my spinal column. All of the scans heretofore had focussed on the brain, but Dr. Brin apparently deduced that they were missing something significant from the neurological deficit picture. So, scanning for abnormalities of the spinal column.

It turned out to be a very inspired action. They detected an abnormality - a tumor mass on the  lumbar spinal column.  Of the type known as a Schwannoma, the tumor was judged to be significant, and the neurosurgeon, Dr. Kenneth Yonemura was summoned to operate at 1:00 in the morning. He responded with every haste, and the procedure was performed.


Hallelujah! I could feel my feet moving as they should feel! There was an immediate and gratifying sense of proprioception in my lower body that was completely and totally absent before the surgery.


Next instalment:  Home Sweet Home II


Anonymous said...

Dearest brother -

I will be in downtown Salt Lake on Friday, and will be happy to deliver a letter to your friend Tina at your bidding. It would be both my pleasure and my delight. Why not establish a "pen pal" relationship?

Patricia said...


I think I could get college credit for all the things I've learned hanging around your site. And I know I'm going to learn even more. For a learning-addicted soul like myself, that's one of the best things about knowing you.

About this weekend: It looks like I'm comin' up, though my special needs daughter's circumstances are not the best. I'll call your mom tonight to see what's possible for us meeting up. (Though I could forget--one way or another I'll get in touch.)

There's always the possibility I'll have to leave Utah Valley early to beeline home to help bail the rest of the family out of some crisis. But if at all possible, I'd like to meet up with you if it's still all right with you.

Jim Cobabe said...


The folks are leaving me home to fend for myself this weekend, but please do call if you are at all available to try to meet. It would be a joyous occasion, under any circumstances. My little sister Ruth is baby sitting so we are fairly mobile and can meet where ever it would be convenient at short notice. Lets try!

Anonymous said...

"Babysitting". HA!

We're partying hearty! What mom and dad don't know won't hurt them, right???

Patricia said...


Would Payson be too far for you to travel?

If not, let's tentatively schedule something for this Sat. eve, Feb. 28th, around 5:30-6:00 in Payson. I'll call when I have a better idea about how things are going to work out.

I SO look forward to meeting you!

Jim Cobabe said...


That should work great!

Lets do it. Call when you can to work out the details.

Patricia said...

...and I look forward to meeting you, too, Ruth!