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One Small Neurological Episode; One Giant Leap for My Mind

I don’t want to hype this, cause you to worry or make it melodramatic. It was pretty unusual but it only lasted a couple of minutes and now I’m fine. I can prove how well I am by typing this with all ten fingers.

Wednesday just before noon I had a small neurological event. Two minutes tops. I feel great; within an hour I experienced a fairly amazing spiritual discovery for which I’m very grateful to God. S/he is with me, and I’ve got more work to do, so I don’t expect to keel over anytime soon, especially if I change my life and start to minimize the damage.

Still, at age 59 I began to see that my body is absolutely mortal. I got the first definitive preview; in X amount of time I’ll start to rot.

The strange thing happened;when it faded away I went out to get the phone number of my nurse-practitioner and pat the dog, I left my nurse a message, and then I wrote this so I could read it back to her efficiently. I typed it with all my fingers and named the computer file Paralysis.

I’ve just had a weird experience – a transient paralysis in the middle finger of my left hand – and I realize I’ve gone through this several times before, though not so dramatically.

It began with a small sudden pain, which quickly grew into something so sharp it drew me out of my chair. Then I noticed that once again, that finger was stuck straight out. The pain began to stabilize and I tested my hand for movement. That finger could move down, but not up beyond a certain point.

This continued for over a minute before ebbing away. Previous episodes, maybe four of five of them, have always been over in 15 seconds.

I walked gingerly downstairs to get my nurse practitioner’s name and number from my car, then back upstairs to the phone, where I called V— (my nurse) and left a message. As a strange new symptom, I want her to know.

I typed this note normally with both hands.

November 10, 2010

Around 5 p.m. the triage nurse at the clinic called back. I described the experience as objectively as I could, reading her the above, answering her questions, including my recent diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis in the knee; she consulted V—, then promptly phoned back. I need to see a neurologist as soon as possible.

About five years ago I saw a neurologist after another strange experience, which was later termed a transient ischemic attack – a mini-stroke. I was at work in the psych ER in Merrillville, 2nd shift, when all of a sudden electricity passed through my brain, zzzt! It didn’t last longer than that, two seconds. Some TIAs go on much longer.

It left me a bit dazed, and certainly knowing that this never happened before. I called a nurse on our inpatient unit, went upstairs and described it to her, and she said to get to the closest general hospital ASAP. A social work co-worker, working late, offered to drive me; thank you always, Tina.

The hospital in Crown Point ran a test or two, referred me to a neurologist, Tina drove me back to work, I finished my shift and drove myself an hour home once my relief worker came.

The neurologist ordered a couple more tests, put me on aspirin to thin my blood, and shortly discharged me with orders to call him if this ever happened again.

It hasn’t, for five years. But there have been these few episodes of the middle finger of my left hand losing contact with reality and suddenly listening to Glenn Beck.

Wednesday’s episode was only slightly more dramatic, but I knew to call V—. Was something wrong with my finger joints, like rheumatoid arthritis? Or was something wrong with my brain and my blood, that my finger (just one finger, not the whole left side of my body) went suddenly haywire?

The triage nurse will make an appointment for me today with a neurologist in Lafayette. And if this gets complicated, with thousand dollar tests, I will probably have to sign up for Medicaid, because I have no income or insurance.

(The supervisor of that great job I excelled at in Merrillville made keeping the job impossible. First shift, second shift, third shift, two shifts back to back, it was ridiculous. I could never get a sleep pattern; she didn’t care. She favored her cronies, not her best workers. The whole work schedule was designed to protect a terrible moonlighting teacher from a failed inner-city school in Hammond, who never admitted anyone to the hospital because that was actual work, but the entire agency’s bottom line depended on admitting the seriously ill to the hospital.)

I have avoided taking anything approaching “welfare” my whole life. Paid off my student loans, went hungry a time or two, supported a desperately ill lover all by myself (and signed him up for the Medicare he had earned), but I’ve never accepted a dime from taxpayers. Where I come from, that just isn’t done.

Still, for a couple of minutes that middle finger on my left hand simply didn’t work, and this could get expensive. I don’t want to lose my house over it, anymore than I want to have a stroke.

God only knows how long the waiting list is for Medicaid in this Republican state. If the neurologist wants a thousand-dollar CAT scan, what will I say? “Not till I know I can pay for it.”

But now that I realize I’ve seen the first glimpse into my own death – now that I know I need to make some serious lifestyle changes, stop smoking and drinking – and now that I’m going through the first few hours of mourning, regret, self-justification, confession and faith, I’m feeling pretty good. That finger works just fine.

On a QWERTY keyboard the left middle finger rests on D. So here are some D’s to prove it, each one typed rapidfire, not just holding down the key to repeat itself: DDDDDDD!

I don’t mind dying; I haven’t minded it for years, though some while ago I did get shocked into realizing this actually applies to me. I want to get to heaven, I want to be immortal. I want to meet Jesus, Lincoln and Martin Luther King. Jane Austen, LBJ, Harvey Milk, Mozart, Bach, Schubert; Howard, Brooke, beloved Ervin, Bishop Craine and you better believe it, Fr. Ben. He may have stayed too long at the fair, but my God, what a good priest he was. Not the best administrator, the best priest.

How I loved being his go-to acolyte for every wedding, funeral and unscheduled thing. He was a master of priestcraft; I’ll never forget my first confession, face to face in his office, when he offered to turn his back so I didn’t suffer the embarrassment of seeing his face as I admitted my puny adolescent sins. I don’t remember what my transgressions might have been; I remember his sensitivity, if I’d rather talk to his back than his face. No, Ben, I can tell you eye-to-eye; he gave me two Hail Marys and an Our Father and that was that, scot-free. I skipped out of there like a fox terrier, hyper and jumping for joy.

Most of all I want to see my mother again; I want to see my bro. I want to hug my Grandmas; I had the best Grandmas any kid ever did. They were very different but equally kind. I want to offer them my little triumphs and tell them, they showed me how, just from hanging out in the kitchen. Kids watch; kids notice everything.

I’d like to shake hands with my grandfathers.

Still, I’m not ready to give up anybody’s ghost, especially when in that same hour, I got a new assignment. It concerns adding music to the Daily Office website (over a million page-views), with Anglican chant so that Evening Prayer becomes Evensong online.

Having chant for all the psalms and canticles will make the Office a much more spiritual experience for site visitors; singing with a congregation is so much better than reading a website.

That’s what God wants me to do, to find a way to add all the psalms and canticles in song, with text so people can follow along, to approximate the experience of singing the night prayers in a monastic community, a seminary or a great cathedral.

The work may be difficult; I’ve contacted a faculty member at General Seminary about the possibility of podcasting the chants, but so far no word. It’s apparently never occurred to them to record Psalms 23 and 27 in the chapel and sell it on YouTube for 99¢ a download.

I know my congregation would love to hear our seminarians opening up the Magnificat. With text-blocks I could preserve that sound forever.

Anglican chant is distinctive. It’s not Gregorian, it’s Anglican, and I’d like to get American voices singing modern psalm texts for world audiences, not just reproducing the beautiful but outdated English cathedral sound of the 1662 Prayer Book. It’s lovely but I want contemporary Americans singing in their own tongue, a modern translation, because Anglican chant has to be a living language to survive.

So I’ve got work to do.

Today I got a warning; my time here is not unlimited. I mean, paralysis does get my attention.

But I still have work to do before I turn these fantastically successful websites over to someone else.

Here was my spiritual experience, within an hour of my mini-stroke if that’s what it was.

I made this fast recovery from a finger that quit working (I’m still typing on all ten fingers, my left middle finger on DDDDD) and started posting Thursday’s Offices, which involve plugging in new Psalms, Lessons and Collect of the Day into a pre-existing template. I have about 10,000 files which include most of the Bible; psalm, Old Testament, New Testament, prayer; psalm, Gospel lesson, repeat the prayer. It isn’t clockwork, I constantly have to reformat my files as technology changes, but it isn’t that tough. I often get aggravated over the extra work, but humans like to complain and God doesn’t mind listening with half an ear.

Then I got this idea; why should we read the Magnificat when there are people singing it in community every day? Why not be able to listen and read simultaneously?

Not just the Magnificat and the Nunc, but all the psalms in their liturgical pairings; all the chants a visitor would hear at General Seminary or Holy Cross Monastery?

I can’t afford six weeks of hanging out at the seminary in New York to make a podcast a day; could I interest a seminarian in recording young Americans singing the psalms in community? Should I pay a student an honorarium to make such recordings? What techno already exists, since the seminary already podcasts sermons from the pulpit?

That’s when it happened, less than an hour after my neurological episode, when all ten fingers were working again. God visited me.

I didn’t hear a voice, I didn’t see a spectre; God doesn’t go for melodrama either, unless we’re too dip—- stupid to get it any other way. God’s preferred method of communicating, at least for me, is a loving, gentle, warm sensation in my body, a thrill down the back.

God’s usual way to show me s/he’s here is a little tingle somewhere; distinctive but no big thing. I suppose s/he talks back according to the quality of what we’re saying, our openness as we say it and pray it.

Well… not this time. What I got was one big top-to-bottom thrill-ride, which I took to mean “Yes, Anglican chant on the site, Evensong every day, not just reading. I reach people through art, through song, not just words.”

That was certainly impressive, at least as much as a wayward finger. But then it happened again, even stronger, bodylong. Which gave it a kind of command aspect; “Do this.”

There were very few times Jesus ever spoke in the imperative voice. He reserved it for the few times he gave orders. Very often he taught and gave advice, but seldom did he command and say, “Do this.”

He said it loud and clear at the Last Supper; the Eucharist, the Mass, the Holy Communion. Christians understand, when Jesus said do it, he meant it in no uncertain terms.

And here I was, getting something close to a command.

Jesus likes Anglican chant as much as I do!

Since I can’t take six weeks (the psalm cycle) in New York to make podcasts at the seminary, I’m exploring alternative ways to accomplish the same thing. I really don’t want Oxbridge videos from YouTube. They’re wonderful artistic and spiritual expressions, but they use archaic language when I’m an evangelist in 2010 USA.

(They also invariably say, “We’re high-class Brits and you’re not,” and that stuff bores me. If you want to see faith at work, go to Guatemala or New Orleans or Baghdad.)

So I’ve been given a clear sign of my mortality; a reprieve, an idea, an assignment. I don’t know what’s going to come next, though I know a lot will depend on my response to the call and confrontation.

I’m very grateful for the forgiveness accompanying the thrill, so soon after the quiet fright of paralysis.

A crossroads is before me. My job is to stay on the Way and keep working, not to succumb to the domestic violence, bullying, suicidalness and self-destruction I was programmed with long ago, just because I liked Julie Andrews, “My Fair Lady” and that sexy, untouchable high school quarterback.

This isn’t going to be easy, I will have to pray night and day to get over my addictions; but the Way is well-lighted if we look.++