N.B.: I was born 11 May 1942, and retired at the end of 2007…
On Saturday May 3, 1958, I went out bar-hopping with some of my slightly older friends. I did not drink enough (beer) to get a hang-over, but I recall sleeping restlessly, and struggling to do two digit by three digit multiplication in my head(?). When I awoke, I was in a hospital room, (Lakewood Hospital, where – as it happens – I had been born), and a nurse’s aide was reading get well cards to me: it seemed I had suffered a very serious medical incident, but I was oblivious to all. The captain of our high school track team visited me (a big event for a sophomore!), and he said he understood that I had missed a birthday: Sunday May 11,1958 had been my 16th – a major milestone that had been lost in the fog. I became mentally more cognizant that next week: I was in an orthopedic ward with three college age men with leg injuries, but no one would say what was wrong with me. (Perhaps they realized that if I knew what had occurred, I might have died of fright!) I slowly gained information, and when a spinal tap found no more blood in that fluid, I learned what had happened: I had suffered a CVA, specifically a spontaneous subarachnoid hemorrhage caused by a ruptured aneurysm: a blood vessel had ruptured in my brain. (A CVA is a cerebral vascular accident , i.e., a stroke). One specialist had wanted to perform a risky operative procedure, but one Dr. Alexander Ling (brought in by advice from my Mother’s brother, Hampton Kline), said: “Perhaps, with someone this young, we might wait, and see if it heals naturally.” Life Lesson Learned: “In a crisis, a calm, patient, analytic approach usually accomplishes more than panic, hysteria, and hasty action: at the end of the day, inaction may at times have been the best approach“. I must have decided internally to cure myself and continue on with my life: on May 18th, I was discharged, and, as we did not have a car, my Uncle Hampton drove me home in his (non-hearse-like) Cadillac. ( I learned later that I would have stayed in the hospital longer, but my Mother, an RN struggling to provide for herself and three teenagers, had decided to make ends meet by temporarily doing without medical insurance: there were some professional courtesy rates in effect, I expect – Dr. Ling’s bill was only 75 (1958) dollars.)
In my continuing recovery at home, I was isolated from such financial and other issues: I lay around all day watching one of three channels on (black and white) TV and reading, and my Mom cooked me anything I wished (she worked nights.) Even that eventually becomes old, and when I learned of the Sophomore class picnic to be held in June, I wanted to go. After a visit to Dr. Ling’s office, he discharged me as a now recovered patient, and said I could go to the picnic, but must not engage in any even remotely strenuous activity. At the picnic, girls in my class (their maternal instincts blooming at 16 along with other flowers of womanhood), observed that I was too thin, and fed me all day! (I doubt if I made any friends: the girls must have envied anyone who shamelessly ate everything put in front of them, and some of the boys must have looked over and thought: “Some people will do anything to get attention!”.)
The summer moved on, I finished my 10th grade course work at home, and in the Fall of ’58 I was back in classes and again doing custodial work after school, on weekends, and during school vacations. (For good pay, which funded part of my college).
One issue with a complete, relatively rapid recovery is that the care and concern are as ephemeral as the blooms of a flowering tree – within a year few others still remembered or cared.
In the early ’60′s, my Mother told me that a pathologist at Western Reserve Medical School had assured her that he had opened up a number of stroke victims, and that the scar tissue that formed was always stronger than the blood vessel ever could have been: I expect that reduced my concerns, but not actually hers – she was, of course, a mother!
My attitude was, and still is: be positive, never give up, live every day to the fullest, and que sera sera…
I went on to get a B.S. in Mathematics from Case Institute of Technology,scored in the top 1% of the Mensa qualification exam, ran track and cross country in college, and have lifted weights well in excess of my body weight, so some of my brain cells and arteries must have remained in tact. (Perhaps it was the humility cells that took the hit that day…)
In 1970 I went to have an exam with Dr. Ling ,and when he asked me why I was there, I told him I wanted to see if I were still all right. He shrewdly observed : “I think that you walked in the door indicates you are!”. (Upon further review, he might have wondered how many 28 year old single males see a doctor when nothing seems wrong!) After performing a subtle neurological exam, he then gave me an emphatic prescription for the rest of my life: exercise regularly, and always get at least 8 hours of sleep. (Dr. Ling never made much money from my case, but I expect that for a medical professional, there are few things more rewarding than seeing a critically ill young person become a healthy adult, and I must have believed his advice, as sleep and exercise are still part of my regime.)
As I am at times unconventional, iconoclastic, and perhaps a bit eccentric, I have seldom discussed my medical history with friends or co-workers (“Oh, That explains IT“), but in 2002, when a twenty-something colleague of my wife’s – both teachers at Bay Village High School – had an experience similar to mine, I encouraged her and others that it need not be life-altering. I was discussing the situation – which was the talk of Bay High – with one of my colleagues – who had a son in school there – and I told her that a boy in my high school class had suffered a brain hemorrhage when we were in the 10th grade, and seemed to recover.
“How is he doing now, do you know?”, she asked. Unable to resist a smile, I savored one of life’s rare moments, and replied: “You are talking with him”.
In 2007, my PCP retired, and I moved on to a new doctor – Rummel Moya. He was concerned about my history of a CVA, and said I should have an MRI. “Why? I’m still alive”, I said. “You might have other weak spots, or a hereditary defect.” “Ok, if insurance pays”. The actual procedure was delayed while the bean counters in the insurance company debated whether my life was in fact worth the price, and then on Monday, 9 July 2007, I arrived at 4:15 to get an MRA and MRI. It was deja vu all over again:”Did you have surgery?” “NO: Look – NO scars”. “Have you ever had an MRI?” “NO!” “Did you have an accident?” “NO, it was spontaneous.” Having answered these and other insipid questions multiple times, I finally had the procedures – what an introduction to 27th century music, although it will never be my favorite entertainment activity. ( 27th century music refers to the noises the MRA/MRI machine made).
I asked if I could see the results, the technician said yes. High resolution computer graphics showed that my arteries looked fine, and the area where the hemorrhage had occurred was visible, like the vestigial ruins of the Titanic on the ocean floor. The technician said that she was not a ‘doctor’, but that everything looked fine and Dr. Moya would go over the results with me. She looked on in sheer disbelief. I don’t think she had really believed me (hardly the first!). There are so few people who have had a CVA at such a young age – and certainly even fewer who recovered with no surgical intervention – that there are few, if any, precedents. Dr. Ling had been right, and modern technology, after 49 years, 2 months, and 6 days vindicated him: I can only most humbly echo the words of Ms. Teri Garr (who was also born in Lakewood), and who said (in a somewhat different context), as Inga in the movie ‘The Young Frankensteins’, “…thank you, doctor”. I walked out of the center with a nearly fifty year old monkey off of my back: there are no weak places lurking to transform me instantly into a vegetative state. Thank you, Dr. Moya, for prescribing the MRA/MRI: I may yet live to retire, and have lived sufficiently long to tell an interesting tale.
A few days later, we were having dinner at Saucy Bistro in Westlake with friends, when my mobile phone rang: it was Moya’s office. I walked away to take the call, not without some anxiety. The caller said my brain was fine, but I had a sinus infection, and they had called in a prescription: That moment provided final resolution…
N.B: My son’s middle name is Alexander – from my Father’s side of the family, and, with gratitude, from Dr. Alexander Ling.
N.B: As I left the MRI facility, I did not replace my tie, left my collar open, and looked a bit disheveled. As I reached into my pocket, I felt my watch and my wedding ring, which I had removed for the procedures, and I quickly placed the latter back onto my left hand: if one is going to go home looking as if they have removed some of their clothing, it is always best to have the wedding ring in place!
N.B: Lakewood, Ohio, the city where: I was born, nearly died, and married; where my Father and Mother-in-law graduated high school; my parents started housekeeping; where my wife and I lived when we met; and where my son was married.
Also, for those who have not yet seen “Young Frankensteins”, this is the quote:
[Frankenstein, Igor and Inga in front of HUGE castle doors]
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: What knockers.
Inga: Oh, thank you doctor.
That Ms. Garr (playing a hyper stereotypical zaftig German servant) is well endowed made this a memorable, brilliant visual/verbal pun.