When you cannot write, the next best thing is to write about why you cannot write.

I am unable to spend extended time reading or in front of my monitor because my eyes are wacky (see previous post). This post is weeks old because I have to write in fits and starts, depending on how clear my eyes are and how long they last in front of an illuminated screen.

Two months after seeing my first doctor about my eyes, I have not yet closed in on a diagnosis or a prognosis for my eyes. I will see a corneal ophthalmologist (1,500 miles distant) in Seattle on Wednesday. Perhaps I’ll know more about my eyes then. For now, there are other pressing medical issues.

My latest medical evaluation (two weeks ago in Seattle ) was at once reassuring and unnerving. There was good news and bad news. The good news was the endocrinologist said my pituitary gland was fine. The neurologist levied the bad news. “You have a 5-6 millimeter aneurysm that has a bulge, a “sister sac.” This extra bulge is cause for alarm. ” In direct and exact language Dr. Kim  concluded, “You need brain surgery.”

Sheila and I listened for thirty minutes as the doctor laid out in detail what was involved. He outlined the risks. He gave us the odds if we do nothing — likely stroke (deadly or debilitating) in my lifetime. He gave us the odds and risks of surgery. He told us recovery would take six weeks. He told us how he would make an incision from my right ear over the top of my head, pull back the scalp to reveal the skull, then make a round access hole in my skull bone with a diamond-tipped craniotome (a  glorified keyhole saw).

All during his explanation I felt an emotional surge building inside my head, throat and chest. Though the room was comfortable, my arm pits began to sweat. Drops of water trickled down the sides of my torso.The interior of my body felt like an enormous Midwestern plain with tornado clouds building. The sky was a sickening greenish-dark and the air felt heavy, almost electric. The low-level buzz of the fluorescent lights were suddenly menacing, like that of an experimental laboratory . 

Like a skilled car salesman, my surgeon went from high technical language to personal relevance. “Cranial surgery is not like other surgery in that the head is largely immobile. You will be able to walk around comfortably after a day in ICU, not like the surgeries you’ve had previously where walking is uncomfortable for weeks. “You will find that chewing will cause discomfort for a while, so you will be on a liquid diet for the time. We have to disturb the jaw muscle where we have to operate.” I found this odd, since the incision was above my ear and over the top of my head. Later, I placed my fingers on my temple and chewed and recalled that old ditty, “The jaw bone’s connected to the skull bone…”

He tried to reassure us by saying I was “a good surgical candidate.” It sounded like I was on someone’s short list for a high office. He said it was fortunate that the “site” was between sections of the brain and not deep in the brain. “We’ll move each section of the brain aside to access the aneurysm.” He will use a titanium clamp to pinch the aneurysm off “to cut off the blood supply.” At the end of his presentation he simply said, “I’ve done thousands of these. It’s what I do. I do nothing else. I can heal you.” 

Even though I believed him and even have confidence in his ability, I sat there with the storm still brewing inside. I was so addled that when I rose from my chair I felt a little dizzy. Walking down the hall I wasn’t thinking too clearly and started walking in the wrong direction, passing rooms with other surgery candidates. They all, looked like I felt, their eyes filled with bewildered anticipation.  

Though we expected some such news, we left the office of two minds. On the surface we left with the confidence that doctor wanted us to leave with. Underneath the surface both Sheila and I were a bit dazed and doing our best to keep a good face as we were driven to our restaurant in the hotel’s courtesy car. We ate at  an upscale but not outrageously expensive restaurant. It seems that most of the clientele were young upwardly mobile types just beginning their professional lives and not in the least concerned about health issues. We sat enjoying the panorama — the slick, short-cropped, vogue hair styles on both men and women, and the body accentuating fashions 20- and 30-somethings wear while on the prowl for suitable mates or even casual hook-ups.

Our waiter was a young black man recently moved from Florida and originally from the east coast. Near the end of our dinner, we had asked him how his night was going and he was taken aback. “Why do you ask?” As my tip meter was beginning to trend downward, I said, “We’re from out-of-town and we’re curious about people in Seattle.” After a few more icebreaker moments, he warmed to the idea of talking to two older white folks. Maybe he initially thought we were  food critics checking the affability of the wait staff. Maybe he thought we were a bit too personal. Whatever he thought initially, he became animated and we learned a lot about this handsome young man who was spreading his wings by traveling and working in a variety of venues. He liked the Seattle “vibe.” We did too, especially when you needed to forget for a moment that life had once again thrown you a curve ball or maybe a sinker.

A few hours later we flew home. We arrived late, our two teens were already in bed. We talked long into the night with our host guests. They had a wonderful time keeping up with all the antics of our small tribe, including our regal to rambunctious Pekingese.


Update: I have written a few poems this month by composing them in my head and later sitting down  to transcribe them on paper.  They are different kind of poems but this seems to work. If anything I will come through this with a better memory and a new way of composition.


When you can’t write like you used to write because of medical or time constraints, do you write anyway? Have you discovered new subject material or new ways to write as a result of writing in new ways?


ILLNESS: the ultimate writer’s block

Sometimes it is impossible to write. There are many reasons for this.

Sometimes the words just won’t come because the outside world intrudes. Say a kid that decides to parade up and down your street with a boom box on his shoulder, sharing his love for Eminem. Sometimes the words remain locked inside while you wrestle with the argument you had with your spouse that morning. Then there is the classic writer’s block when a seemingly insurmountable problem in the composition appears to vex you. Some days you are unnerved to be pleasantly distracted by the bird song and sun coming across your window sill.

All these variations of writer’s block have their solution. Mine may or may not.

The last few months I have not been able to put much down on paper. My blogs postings have stopped altogether. I’ve written drafts of only a couple of poems. Essays remain half written. The reason is I’m a sick puppy.

For months I could not fathom why I was so tired, unable to focus or concentrate. I was experiencing my usual blurry visual irritant — owing to Fuchs’ Corneal Dystroph, a rare genetic disorder. Along with this, something even more insidious was at work. I could see the screen of my computer but the experience of gazing made me uncomfortable. It was as if there were an invisible force field not letting my see with my eyes.

So now, most days reading and writing are tedious chores. A half hour at my computer or with a book would leave me exhausted. There are days I can do nothing but sleep. I just came off a 36 hour sleep marathon. Some days I sit in a chair and wonder what I will do if I lose my sight. Today was a good day, so I’m posting here notes accumulated over several days.

After seeing two doctors in my home town I know little other than I am ill and need to travel out-of-state (1,500) to see two specialist for evaluation and treatment. I will see two neurosurgeon and an endocrinologist at the University of Washington. What I do know is that I have an aneurysm the size of a dime in my right middle cranial artery and a suspicious looking pituitary gland. The pituitary gland may account for my deteriorating vision, occasional nausea and fatigue. The aneurysm is simply a ticking time bomb.

As much as I love to travel and as much as I’d like to leave the snow (yes, snow is still on the ground here, May 2), I’m not looking forward to this trip. I do not like sanitized hospital environments (though I’d much prefer them to less sanitized ones).  Still, I want this physical writer’s block to go away. This might not be possible. What might be possible may not be preferable. It may be something radically different. Most of the options are not comforting: limited vision, blindness, disability, paralysis, chronic pain.

I’m hoping and praying for health, yet know what I want may not be what will result. What I want is the vigor necessary to explore the world and love and care and share with my family. Beyond that, I want to write what needs to be written.