March 24, 2011
Every six months my mother visits a neurologist in Livingston, New Jersey. Ten years ago she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. There are lesions on her spine and brain. She doesn’t walk too well and has problems remembering things sometimes – though whether Bonnie’s memory is a direct result of MS is uncertain. In fact, pretty much everything regarding MS is uncertain, especially what causes it and how to abate its symptoms. Montel Williams, the fervent talk show host, and Teri Garr, the actress, are two celebrities who have it. Montel spoke at my brother’s graduation ceremony at Lehigh University in 2000, and shouted across the vast football stadium: “Mountain!” And then very softly, “Get out my way.” Teri Garr was a personal early cream dream of 80s screwball comedy, Tootsie and Mr. Mom fame. Captain Beefheart, the gonzo psychedelic honkytronic bandmaster, who died last year, was diagnosed with MS, but you don’t exactly “die” from the disease, like cancer – but it is degenerative and debilitating.
Doctors do not like to be put in positions which exhibit their ignorance – too long they went to school and too much money they make. My mother’s neurologist, Dr. Joseph Herbert, must be renowned, since he has appeared on Montel Williams (there are pictures of him as a guest on the show hanging around his office), and has co-authored numerous articles and papers in abstruse diagnostic medicalese. But when I visited the other day, I wish I had Montel with me, since Dr. Herbert didn’t want to talk much, and comported his answers as if to discourage more questions. This void of dialogue, coupled with the limited social worker who talked to my mom like a teenager, and who was quick to suggest Xanax as the solution to anxiety, acted against my departure from the doctor’s office with hope for the profession. My mom has a positive attitude all around, and that is all I can go by – but couldn’t this guy translate some of the complex crap into layman’s terms?
Doctors, like lawyers, are information controllers. If one gets to0 close to perhaps understanding the nuance of legal jargon without a law degree, most lawyers will start to either play mind games, try to distract you, or just whine. Sure, some lawyers and doctors do great things, like perform life-saving surgery, and win big cases that convict corrupt corporations or vindicate the falsely accused. My mother has benefited greatly from medical attention in the past, so I can’t get too worked up. But I cannot relate the same for my father, who, when he was fatally ill in the late 1990s, was uninsured, and treated accordingly by medical professionals like the CIA treats inmates at Gitmo.
It’s not like I was trying to get all up in the Doc’s knowledge. I listened. Sometimes silence intimidates more than noise. I definitely must have made the social worker nervous – she stammered and awkwardly called me “sir.”
… Between the Radiolab podcast I mentioned in last week’s post, and a series of articles by Errol Morris in the New York Times regarding Anosognosia (a brain condition where one is not conscious of one’s own medical predicament, whether paralysis of the limbs, or maybe just one’s own stupidity), the topic of self-deception now pops up in varied places. I thought of it this weekend. I am now back giving doubledecker bus tours – this past weekend was my inaugural return to Gray Line after the “layoff.” It was a vibrant weekend, the people tipped well and were fun, and my tour was, ahem, on fire. Usually one needs a short grace period to get the momentum and style back. I needed about five minutes. Times Square, inexplicably apt, was jampacked with sightseers – it made me think of self-deception. If the billboards are big enough, the marquees bright enough, and the crowds of epic size, one can gain comfort in the realistical moment that our country is supposed to be in a recession. Times Square has no purpose but to delude an otherwise unknowing public who is hungry for no purpose. Like the old songster George M. Cohan once told a young Regis Philbin, who was back then still a bootblack for card sharks and press buzzards, “Give it a break, kiddo – this is showbiz.”