Opinion: Outside In

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On My Mind

By David Weinstein

It was with delight and appreciation that I saw my Yuletide byline when I opened the holiday edition of the Independent. I have been writing a Christmas letter for the last 30 years to friends and family and was tickled to get it to a broader audience. So, with just a hint of irony, upon seeing it, I exclaimed to no one in particular, “Now I can die a satisfied man.” A word of caution here—never utter anything out loud you don’t sincerely mean. The cosmos is a vast and enigmatic place and has a way of responding to these casual entreaties.

So it was that on the evening of Dec. 23 as I lay down to bed, instead of visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, I felt a peculiar numbness on my left side and my hand began clamping into a claw. And just as in that celebrated Yuletide poem, “I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.” As good fortune would have it my son-in-law, a Navy doctor, was at the house. He took a hard look at me and drove me directly to the emergency room.

There they poked, prodded, and slipped me inside something the technician called an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging device) but more resembled, and sounded like, an enormous concrete sewer pipe being beaten on by large men with sledgehammers. When the results came back, the doctor pronounced that I had had a stroke, and that the damage showed as a small buckshot-like array on the right hemisphere of my brain.

Among the more disquieting statements you might ever hear, this is near the top. My blood pressure and heart rate, which was being continuously monitored, shot through the roof. And for some unexplained reason the first thing that came to my mind was Cliff Clavin, that goofy character from the 1980s television show “Cheers”, explaining how your brain, like a buffalo herd being attacked by wolves, benefited from anything that killed off its weaker elements. That this depredation made your brain, like the buffalo herd, a more efficient machine, which was why Cliff claimed he always felt a little smarter after a few beers. I chose not to share this thought with my neurologist lest it might fuel a further diagnosis of me.

From the onset of my event, I have kept constant stock on how I’ve been feeling. And I’ve discovered something interesting—not only am I a procrastinator, but I am also a hypochondriac. Every headache, feeling of imbalance, or dizziness now causes me anxiety. Every pain is a sure sign of some terminal, incurable ailment. I explained to my wife that I was having difficulty concentrating on anything that required my attention for more than a moment, which she thoughtfully reminded me was not necessarily a new trait. Though I’ve been tested extensively, my doctors have been unable to find a specific reason for my stroke or any long-term effects. My neurologist even went so far as to say I was lucky that the part of my brain that had been affected, “really didn’t do much.” I wasn’t sure how to take this: as good news and a sign of hope, or a slight?

Recovering, I have discovered some fascinating anomalies. For instance, when the Led Zeppelin song “Stairway to Heaven” comes on the radio, I am able to sing along to every lyric, verbatim. However, when I tried to explain the IS-LM curve from my early macroeconomics training to my brother-in-law, which I used to know cold, I am at a total loss. Strange what the mind decides to hold onto and what it jettisons. So, if you are in need of some help with macroeconomics, sorry. But if you’re looking for the lyrics to an old pop tune from the late 60s or early 70s, I’m your man.

Since my stroke, I have begun saying a short prayer each morning when I wake. I pray for grace, peace, and love. I pray that the hubris of mankind will not destroy this lovely planet that sustains us. I pray that someday I may be able to cut and peel a mango without ruining the shirt I am wearing. And I pray that my 1987 VW van, and this old body of mine, can move a little further down the road.

And I give thanks. For family, friends, local newspapers, especially the Laguna Beach Independent, and, of course, you—my readers.

David lives in nearby Newport Beach and his column frequently appears in the Independent.

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