In Which I Walk Unchallenged Among the Living

Tuesday began simply enough.  Faced with the prospect of six hours at Stanford being examined and quizzed by a self-described multi-disciplinary team, I needed to be comfortable.  Like all curly-headed women, I focused on making sure that the riot of tangles could be snared if the occasion so demanded.  In the meantime, I strove to pull a clump of it away from a face gone fat with laziness and the inertia born of spending my days in solitude.

I had the claw ready for the capture of the entire mess.  But I could not find a clip for the basic hairstyle that I wanted to accomplish at the outset.  I rummaged in my small make-up bag, in which I have absolutely no make-up.  There I found a tube of arnica gel, a spare ink cartridge for my Lamy converted fountain pen, a blister pack of an unrecognized over-the-counter drug, and fifty cents in nickels.  Then I pulled everything from my Guatemalan overnight bag that I bought at Goodwill for six bucks.  No luck there, either. 

Moving to the secondhand rucksack which doubles as a computer bag, I searched the extra zipper pockets.   Sprawled on the desk, its contents amounted to an elastic, not one but two old pairs of glasses, a box of ink cartridges for the Lamy, a promotional Chapstick from somewhere in St. Louis that must have been left by the person who sold the bag to me on Poshmark, and the six-inch claw which I’d need if I wanted to secure the entire twenty-three inches of riotous waves.  

From my purse, I managed to find yet another pack of ink cartridges, two folded wads of cash, thirty-six cents, and some receipts that I no longer recall saving but which I presume are important.  No barrette.  I stared at my three piles, then selected the elastic which sufficed but just barely.  I stared in the mirror at the shock of grey now clearly displayed at the apex of the small array now piled on the crown of my head.  It would have to do.

When I entered the lobby of the Neuro-science building, I got my first surprise since arriving in South Bay.  Faces.  Complete, whole, unmasked faces, and lots of them.  Apparently we’ve clicked over to a new age, a post-pandemic state of euphoric optimism in which even the medical professionals concede fatigue with fastidiousness.  I slipped my own mask back into my pocket and made a mental note to schedule my fourth booster.  

In the next six hours, I learned something from each of the five professionals with whom I met.  From the occupational therapist, I got tips on how to train my hands to continue clutching objects even with my eyes elsewhere occupied.  That lady decided to add a speech therapist to the line-up, and from the new team member, I discovered that I could possibly reach a happy plateau of eating without coughing.  The physical therapist introduced the idea of wearing foot braces to give the lifting muscles more stability. 

By the time the neuro-muscular specialist joined the parade, I had begun to tire but my enthusiasm had not yet waned.  We discussed my most recent testing which he conducted himself a few weeks ago.  The mysterious new neuro-muscular ailment that started a couple of years ago defies diagnosis.  This young and talented professional has disproven each of his theories about its origins.  We agreed that as long as he’s ruled out anything actually treatable, we don’t need a name for the troubling set of symptoms.  We only need to follow the guidance of his team to stave off my inevitable decline.

I left their suite feeling weirdly optimistic.  I have no reason for unbridled hope; and yet, the morning had inspired that attitude.  Thusly buoyed, I made my way to what must be the mostly poorly designed building in the Stanford stable, where I had to cajole, beg, and finally bully assistance from the distant parking lot to the door.

No matter; I refused to be stifled.  In the comfort of Suite F, I studied my fellow hematology/oncology patients from behind a book while waiting to be summoned to a review of my lab results.  I felt no trepidation.  Stanford has a possibly misguided practice of highlighting undesirable outcomes in red italics, and I had seen none in the online report.

A few minutes later, the doctor confirmed my belief.  We reviewed the numbers, talked about the dietary changes that I had begun to make which could have impacted them, and devised a plan for retesting.  We talked about the day’s news from Neurology, which she acknowledged having heard from the neurologist himself.  To my puzzled query, she replied with the rueful confirmation that my complex situation intrigued them both.  I decided that her admission deserved a beaming smile and my sincerest appreciation.

I left Stanford with the firm and deliberate conviction that I might yet live to see a few more turns of the earth and settings of the sun.  I celebrated with a visit to a Palo Alto icon, Bell’s Books, where I acquired several volumes for myself and three to send to my son for his thirty-second birthday.  All came from the second floor, to which I climbed on their steep, wooden steps assisted by a clerk and a customer who himself seemed like a staple in the place.  By the happiest of coincidence, I got a text from my son just as I stood considering between two books that I thought he might like.  I leaned against a book case to steady myself while I responded, smiling all the while.

Our exchange concluded, I hefted my pile and peered over the balcony.  I aimed for a cheerful tone to call down to the men behind the register.  Once I had their attention, I inquired whether anyone might be willing to assist in the reverse trip on the stairs.  I’m not sure which was which at this point, but I will forever recall with gratitude the gracious help accorded me by Kevin and Kris during my happy sojourn in that place.

Reading material acquired, I began to contemplate food.  I studied the options along a route vaguely half-remembered from prior trips.  A green square caught my attention.  Thus did I make the happy accidental discovery of the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden. I spent a pleasant hour there, traversing its gentle walks, resting on its inviting benches, and studying the other visitors.  Some merely sat.  Some briskly walked from one entrance to another, presumably passing through the place en route to a pressing obligation but unwilling to make the journey solely through city streets.  Families pushed strollers, and one intriguing soul idled in an electric wheelchair powered by something resembling a laptop.  He held a camera that put my cell phone to shame.  

I watched him position his chair for a better angle and lift his lens to take a careful shot of a spray of lilac.  I held my breath until he lowered the camera and slowly made his way along the walk and out of sight.  Just then, my phone dinged.  I glanced down to see that I had two messages, one from my friend DL asking how the doctor visits had gone, and another from my sister Ann, thanking me for the garden photos.  Happy birthday, I told Ann.  I could not think of a better place to be on the anniversary of her birth.  Her own garden puts most to shame, and I have walked behind her in the Missouri Botanical often enough to know that she would love this beautiful acre.

When I had breathed sufficient summer air to energize me for the rest of the day, I continued my drive to Zareen’s Palo Alto, where I tried their marsala paneer (mild) with rice and Naan.  I sat in the hustle and bustle of the dinner crowd, pretending to read.  Voices rose and fell around me, a plethora of enchanting, mysterious other languages.     If I slid my chair in either direction, I could kibbitz on a couple having a lively debate in what I took to be Japanese or three generations of Pakistani passing plates of steaming, savory food to share family-style.  I spared only a second for regret at my solo occupation of a two-top.

When I had eaten all that I could of the bountiful helpings, I gathered my belongings and made my way back to the car.  As I sat contemplating whether I needed anything before I settled for the night, my phone dinged again:  This time, the California lawyer for whom I work wanted to know how everything went.  I responded with my own query about her broken foot, and sat texting with her until the tap of a horn alerted me that a gentleman wanted my parking space.  As I pulled from the curb, the two ladies who had just disembarked from his vehicle waved their thanks.

As the evening drew to a close, I found myself back in what can only be described as a large, dingy motel room.  I’ve occupied my share of these over the last eight years.  A clutch of old establishments ring the core of the Stanford campus and offer discounts to visiting patients.  I fall for their ads every time.  They never quite manage to be as terrible as I fear or as wonderful as they promise.  But they suffice.

Over a cold bottle of water, I scrolled through images on my phone.  California has so much depth.  It presents a range of living options, from small town to city; from desert to snow-capped; from beach to sidewalk.  My love affair with the state began with my first trip to Stanford in December of 2014, when I stayed at a place just blocks from this one.  Whenever I come here, I commune among the living with the idle panache of a cheerful pretender.  This trip has been no different, though somehow, for some unknown reason, I feel less alone.

It’s the twenty-eighth day of the one-hundred and fourteenth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Please note:  If the gallery lags, click on one of the images to open it; then close it.  This should prompt the scrolling to resume.  Thank you.  Please enjoy.

In the last few days of Pride Month, you can still purchase my book and be part of the donation to this month’s charity.  Read about it here.  July’s charity will be announced on Sunday.

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