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November 2012
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January 2013


My interest has always been singing the songs.  Playing guitar was the vehicle for doing that.  (And yet, when I go down to the basement where my gear is I always say, "I'm going down to play guitar" never "I'm going down to sing."  What's up with that?)

I can make my way around my acoustic pretty well, but it's still rudimentary.  And despite my three telecasters, I've never spent much time playing with the sounds.  In the band I just bang away on the chords trying to keep the rhythm going.  They're nice guitars, so I feel guilty about that.

Now, since the objective is to restore dexterity to my left hand (the chording hand), I'm focusing on the guitar sounds.  I'll skip the singing for awhile.  I've set up one of the small amps with an effects modulator in my study.  I'm playing very loud.

One of the most transcendant and luminous pieces of piano music ever recorded is the solo concert that Keith Jarrett did in Cologne back in 1975.  I first heard it a few years after it came out (thanks again to the unknown librarian who was selecting albums for the Oshkosh Public Library in those days) and it was one of those recordings that changed my life.  I go back to it often and it always refreshes me and brings me new joy.

Only recently did I come across the story of how that concert came about.   It was a mess.  The stagehands brought out the wrong piano.  Not the one that Jarrett had requested, it was in lousy condition, had bad sound, malfunctioning pedals.  Jarrett almost refused to go on.  Seventeen year old Vera Brandes, the promoter, managed to talk him into it. 

And that damn piano forced him to go further into himself, into his technique, into his lyrical imagination than he ever had before.  It redefined his career, became the all time best selling piano album and continues to have a tremendous impact.  Resistance. 

In high school I was baffled by the notion of poetic form.  (This was the heyday of free verse).  Why would one want to confine oneself that way?  Sure, I could enjoy a clever rhyme scheme but that seemed like such a secondary effect.  It took me years to understand how pushing against the resistance of form unlocks and opens creativity inside that can't be found in any easy way.  The seemingly arbitrary constrictions of the sonnet form are so attuned to the rhythms and sounds of the English language that they can bring a poet to a level of sublimity that a free verse poem is incapable of achieving.  Resistance.

I can manage the chord changes to "Rockin' In The Free World" pretty well, even with the numbness in the tips of my fingers.  The muscles are fine (it's the nerves that are messed up) and the fingers know where to go.  I'm flipping switches and twirling dials and grinning at the woof-woof the amp makes when I slam the Em and let it sustain.  It sounds horrible because I don't really know what I'm doing.  So I'm pushing.  I'm listening.  I'm finding new sounds that I never bothered to think about making before.  I'm laughing and having a really good time.  It's hard.  I like that.

Resistance is not futile.  It's necessary.


Diagnosticians and Therapists

"There's nothing wrong with your pons," says my neurosurgeon.  "I'm not going to order another MRI.  They can talk to you about that later if they want one."  I've had six already.  And he has ordered up nine of the vials of blood they want.  He rolls his eyes.  "But I'm not ordering that one.  Nothing in your history indicates that kind of vitamin deficiency.  They're reaching." 

"They" are the neurologists, who have been brought in to consult on my case.  When the ambulance brought me in, the first worry was stroke, so they called Dr. O., the neurosurgeon on duty and I became his patient.  The CT was negative for stroke so he sent me down to the tube.  That's when they first saw the inflammation of the spinal cord.  O. was still ready to cut if need be, but he wasn't satisfied with what he was seeing.  "I'm going to run a contrast MRI so I can get a better look at this."  He sent me back to the tube.

Two hours later.  "You don't need surgery yet.  I'm checking you into the hospital."

By the middle of the 2nd day he was sure he didn't need to cut.  There were still four MRIs, a spinal tap and a variety of other tests to go to try to figure out where the swelling was coming from.  "But this is out of my area now, so I'll need to call in the neurologists."  It was apparent that he was trying to decide whether or not to transfer me to their service or just bring them in to consult.  He decided to keep me.  "You're an easy patient."  He smiled.

But he doesn't have the same kind of curiousity as the neurologists.  Like my primary care guy, he mostly wants to figure out what he needs to do to save my life and make me feel better.  He knows he doesn't need to cut and he knows that whatever the cause is, massive infusions of steroids give the best of odds of reducing my symptoms in the short term.  He'd be interested in knowing why my immune system is gnawing at the myelin sheath, but he's due in surgery this afternoon and that's where his focus is.  He's done as much as he can do for me.

For the neurologists, however, my current status is just the beginning.  Now their professional curiousity is up.  Why is my body doing this?  Is it the vitamins after all?  Is there some other kind of deficiency?  How long has this been happening?  Did I have a viral infection at some point?  Is it tied into my optic nerve somewhere?  Why is it mostly in the cervical area rather than further down -- isn't that unusual?  Why is the swelling diffuse along the cord rather  than bunched up?  Is there another test we can run?

I'm amused by the competitive tension -- the different perspectives of these very calm, but very intense professionals.  And it occurs to me that this split may occur, to some degree, throughout  the medical professions.  There are those, like Mike and like O., who are principally therapists -- they want to fix the problem and get their patients back into their daily lives as quickly and completely as possible.   Then there are the diagnosticians like Dr. A. and Dr. S., who really want to know what's going on.  We know so little about the nervous system.  This is a chance to learn a little more.  And then maybe to find a way to treat me a little bit more effectively than their last patient. 

Bless them all.




There comes a point whenever we go out to a movie when Josie will lean out to look past Lynn to me to see if I'm crying yet.  (We usually sit Mommy, Josie, Nonni, Nonai).  The odds are good that I've started a bit before she thinks to look.  Is there any movie I don't cry at?  All three of my strong and steadfast girls think it is sweet and amusing.  I've no choice but to suffer their laughter.

I like crying at movies.  I like my high emotions.  In the later years of my first marriage, I never cried.  I needed to be the rock.  I didn't realize at the time what an emotional cost that demanded.  When I got my tears back, I felt like I'd been given a gift.

The last couple of days I've been particularly subject to bursts of emotion.  I've been listening to Queen's Platinum Collection and am enchanted by the joy that Freddie brought to everything that he sang.  And yes, when he and Bowie duet on "Under Pressure," I cried.  Just for the passion of it.

Part of my current sensitivity, I suppose, is due to the health crisis.  I'd been feeling some tingling in my hands & some weakness in my arms for quite awhile.  Finally got around to going to see my doctor week before last.  I'd been diagnosed with a herniated cervical disc fifteen years ago, and recent x-rays show quite a bit of cervical osteoarthritis, so I put it down to pinched nerves.  Mike told me to load up with ibuprofen to see if that'd ease the pressure on the cervical nerves and he booked an MRI for me for the following week.

Then, early Sunday morning (a week + ago) I'd stayed up to watch a movie after Lynn went to bed and as I was putting  things away I collapsed.  No motor control from the neck down.  Lynn got the ambulance guys here and by the time I was in the ER feeling was coming back.  Turns out that I've got some inflammation in the spinal cord.  "Transverse myelitis" is what they're calling it.  They haven't sorted out the cause, although scary things like MS or a tumor have been ruled out.

I came home on Wednesday, loaded up with steroids and the docs seem pleased with how quickly I've recovered so far.  I still have weakness and tingling in my fingers and hands, but I'm typing normally, getting out for walks, and young Dani, the delightful Occupational Therapist who came by my room on Tuesday prescribed as much guitar playing as I can find time for as therapy for my left hand. I'm grateful to her forever.  I'll go back to work on Thursday.

I found the hospital experience fascinating.  I never lost my sense of humor.  And I've been enjoying the slap upside the head that reminds one of where one's true priorities need to be.  Josie's had the flu, but she texts me every morning to see how I'm doing.

So yes, this all could have me being a little more sentimental than usual, although I expect my girls would tell you it's just par for the course.

This morning I came across Jay-Z's "Where I'm From," the 25 minute documentary he posted on YouTube of his opening stand at the Barclay Center.  Perhaps it's a surprise to some of my mates that I'm a rap fan, but Jay-Z in particular impresses the hell out of me.  The journey that he has taken, and what he keeps trying to do with the larger than life person that he's become, I find tremendously stirring and inspiring.  He knows that his success carries a great weight of responsibility and in everything he does he's trying to live up to that. 

There's a moment in the documentary, from the last of the eight shows, where a fan in the audience hands him a Jackie Robinson Dodgers jersey.  "How far we've come," says Jay.  And how long are the roads we still have to travel.

I cried.

It felt wonderful.