A Disturbance of Birds

Women are words.                    —Thomas Howell, Devises (1581)

How strange the way change comes, without warning, and never the way we think. Like a flash flood in the desert, it doesn’t have to be raining before the water hits. I always believed my mortality would arrive on wings of grace, not through a numbing of my body that would prevent me from walking or finding my way toward words.

I close my eyes.

Let me run this scene through my mind once again. I was at the movie theater in Ellsworth, Maine. Inglourious Basterds. The film ended. The violence stayed with me. As I stood up to exit, the right side of my body went numb. I was having trouble walking. Once outside, I called my husband, Brooke, and I could hear that whatever was happening was affecting my speech, as well. It was dark. I was in my car, being guided to the emergency room through online directions delivered to me by Brooke from our home in Utah. I pulled into the parking lot and told my worried husband I would call him as soon as I knew anything.

Once inside the Maine Coast Memorial Hospital, primarily used by injured lobstermen, I apologized. For what? I can only remember thinking I was overreacting. Sitting in a bright white room where I waited after my symptoms had been described, blood pressure noted, and temperature taken, I watched a fifteen-year-old boy walk into the hospital screaming in pain. He was accompanied by a policeman who by law had to place him in handcuffs. “I’m not a criminal! I didn’t kill anybody,” the boy cried. “I just wanted to kill myself.”

After several hours of tests, including a CAT scan and an EKG, a physician’s assistant finally came into my room. Without a preamble, she said, “There is a soft-tissue density on the left side of your brain measuring 11.8 by 8.6 millimeters in maximal dimensions.”

I asked her to speak to me in a language I could understand.

“I don’t know exactly how to say this,” she said. “But it appears you have a brain tumor and you’re in the middle of a stroke.”

I started to laugh, unable to take in what I had just heard. By then the doctor had walked into the room. Overhearing the conversation and the edges of my humor, she interrupted, “How about this: on a scale of one to ten, you are at an eight.”

That got my attention.



Illustration: Jimmy Brown

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