Friday, September 17, 2010

Neurologists I Have Known

Katie is in the writing class I go to. She is eighty, give or take a year, and has Parkinson's Disease. Somewhere along the line, Katie had cancer, which is apparently acting up again. Suzanne, our instructor, has been accompanying Katie to her appointments. Last week in class, Suzanne mentioned something Katie had said about her neurologist having a rough bedside manner.

Until a few years ago, I took the attitude that since I was going to feel better in three days, anyway, why bother going to the doctor. So, I'm probably not the best judge of medical demeanor, but the neurologists I've since come to know do seem a little different. My first encounter with a neurologist came early in 2006, when I went to see Dr. Mellick at ACMC. He was a friendly guy with the kind of cynical sense of humor I enjoy, and he provided a running commentary as examined me. I wasn't quite sure if the purpose was to keep me informed or if he was just talking to himself, but as he went through the different steps in the examination, he would say, "OK, that must be this," or "Well, it can't be that." When he finished the examination, we sat down and he began a very perfunctory listing of possible causes of what was ailing me. It was all sort of "blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." One of the blahs was, "or it might be a brain tumor," which he uttered in the same dull monotone as all the other blahs. But as soon as he had mumbled it, he turned and looked at me straight in the eye and said, "Boy, I hope it's not a brain tumor." At that moment, "brain tumor" went from being one of many possible problems to being the obvious problem, at least in my mind. A week or two later, after I had had an MRI of the brain, Dr. Mellick told me my brain was normal, which was a relief to me, although nearly all my non-medical acquaintances expressed their doubts.

Dr. Mellick then referred me to the Cleveland Clinic, where in October 2006, Dr. Rudick diagnosed my problem as primary-progressive MS. That appointment began with the usual questions about the problems I was having and when they began. Then he asked me to go over and get on the examination table. As I made my way to the table, he told me to be careful and take my time, and I came back with what I thought was a witty retort acknowledging that I had no choice but to take my time. "I'm glad you can laugh about it," he said. But he said it with an edge in his voice, like the one Mom used to have when I broke something she had told me not play with, and she'd say, "We'll, I hope you're happy now."

A few months after that, I asked Dr. Bathoux at the Mellen Center about getting a disability placard for the car. He got out his prescription pad and noted that I had MS, a lifetime disability. I took the slip to the license bureau and was told that it needed to have an ending date on it: the DMV doesn't issue lifetime disability placards, six years is the maximum. The next time I was at the Mellen Center, I gave Dr. Bathoux the prescription and told him what I had been told. He gladly wrote out another slip, noting that I would have MS for the next six years. "Won't they be surprised when you show up again in 2013?" he joked. I know there is no cure for MS. But there are times when I would rather not be reminded of that, and that must have been one of those times.

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