Thursday, February 23, 2017
Ask any writer and he or she will tell you that the question most commonly asked of him or her is, “Where do you get your ideas?” You’ll get the same answer if you ask any writer for his or her least favorite question. It is a question that has no good answer. Ideas fall into our heads or are developed over long periods of time, and they come from everywhere, from...we don’t know where. Writers hate the question because we have no answer.
Well, I think I’ve found the answer.
For some years now, I’ve been having a lot of neuropathic pain on the left side of my body. The entire left side, top to bottom, front and back, and even in my mouth, tongue, and eyeball. It has grown steadily worse, become increasingly disruptive, and has seriously damaged my ability to work.
A month ago, I saw a neurologist who pulled up my records on his computer and showed me an MRI of my brain that clearly revealed a prominent spot in the center of the right side of my brain. A tumor there would explain the weird left-side-only pain I’ve been having. The problem with that MRI was that it had been taken in 2007—and I had never seen it! I stared at that spot, shocked into apoplectic silence. When I told the doctor I had never seen the MRI before, he did not believe me. “Oh, I’m sure you reviewed it with the doctor who ordered it.” But I had not. He said he wanted to take another MRI to see if the spot had grown or multiplied.
That was a month ago. I just got the MRI results today.
In the meantime, while I waited in paralyzing suspense, I decided to do a little research on that 2007 MRI I had never seen. It had been ordered by a neurologist I was seeing back then for pain control. I’d just had the third operation on my right hip, a hip replacement to replace the first replacement that didn’t take. I was having a lot of pain and needed help managing it. But I soon realized this was probably not the man to address the problem. He was disheveled, frequently confused, he forgot an appointment, and his office was a mess. Records were stacked everywhere—on tables, in boxes, boxes on top of boxes. I assumed he was either on drugs or mentally ill and only saw him a handful of times.
I was having a lot of procedures back then because of that hip and I guess I decided it was conceivable that I had forgotten that MRI. I had no memory of having it done and still don't. But I know I would have remembered a spot on my goddamned brain. I never saw that MRI, but knowing who ordered it makes that easier to understand. I found some California Medical Board documents online and discovered that, two years after ordering that MRI, this doctor killed a patient.
He had a female patient on the Fentanyl patch, a pain pump, morphine, and Valium, and he allowed an unlicensed, inexperienced assistant to administer the woman’s pain pump refill. The assistant gave her eight times the prescribed dose and the woman collapsed in the parking lot outside the office and died later that evening. The doctor was stripped of his license, but was told that if he decided to renew his license, he would have to take an extensive course in record keeping, because his records were a disaster.
I wondered if that could be the problem. Maybe that MRI with the spot wasn’t mine at all. Maybe it was someone else's MRI, someone else's brainspot, and had been misfiled, or something, by Dr. Julius Kelp. I could hope. And I did, fervently, for a month. But little could distract me from the gigantic deep-purple neon sign that kept flashing in the middle of my mind: BRAIN TUMOR!
I was surprised that even more frightening than a brain tumor itself was the prospect of brain surgery. The idea of my skull being cut open and my brain being tampered with probably kept me from sleeping more than anything else. With it came the fear that such an operation might leave me spending the rest of my life begging George to tell me about the rabbits.
Not knowing something about your health, like whether or not you have a tumor growing in your head, is a monster that gets bigger and more menacing the later the night gets. It’s been a rough month.
Today, I saw the doctor to get the results. It turns out that old MRI is mine after all. So is the spot. It’s still there and has not changed in ten years. It’s a...spot. I didn’t know you could have just damned spot on your damned brain, but apparently you can and I do.
I’ve decided I’m going to carry a picture of that MRI with me wherever I go, and every time someone asks me that question—“Where do you get your ideas?”—I’m going to take it out, point to that spot on my brain, and say, “See this? That’s where they come from. That’s my cerebral idea sphincter. The ideas come out of there. Sometimes in fragments, sometimes in one whole piece. It’s long been speculated that every writer has a cerebral idea sphincter, but mine is the first one that’s ever been captured in an MRI.”
Hey, these days people will believe anything.
NOTE: I’ll be selling wallet-sized photos of the MRI showing my brain and its spot—which you can call your own!—to writers only (be ready to show your license) in the lobby.
I managed to keep from spending the past month under my bed thanks to a small group of friends who were extremely supportive and generous. You know who you are. Thank you. I love you.