Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How I spent September 11: Getting tested for Alzheimer's....

Recently I joined a volunteer AIDS program which involved taking a lot of classes and learning a lot of new stuff that needed to be memorized. No problem. I made flashcards. But the flashcards didn't work. I must have gone through the pile 100 times. Nothing. While all the younger people in the program were soaking this stuff up like sponges, I just couldn't remember diddly-squat.

"Jane, have you ever considered that you might be in the initial stages of Alzheimers?" Had I ever considered that I might be losing my mind? Not really. So I considered the concept. And immediately burst into tears. But wait! I have options. I can be tested and find out for sure. Thank goodness for MediCare.

"It's not exactly that easy," said a friend. "My husband had Alzheimers and our doctor told me that the only way to find out for sure if you have it or not is to give you an autopsy." No thanks.

But then I really started to worry. Every time I forgot my jacket or got lost -- I'm always getting lost -- it started to really freak me out! What if I AM getting Alzheimers? Yikes!

"When my mother got Alzheimers," said another friend, "she got delusional." If you mean delusional like the rest of America -- who actually still believes that there were Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq or that Bush didn't steal both presidential elections or that the World Trade Center buildings fell down in a perfect planned-demolition pattern all by themselves. If you mean that kind of delusional, well, then, I'm TOTALLY sane. For all the criminal things Bush and Cheney have done to my country, I want to see them in jail. You can't get much saner than that.

But still, I had better go ahead and check this memory-loss thing out. So I called around. "First you go to a psychiatrist," said my general practitioner, "and then you take some tests." The psychiatrist acted as my organizer here and coordinated my various medical work-ups. "But I can't be totally insane," I told the shrink. "I just wrote a 532-page book!" Then I tried to convince her to buy a copy but she had other things on her mind. Rats.

"First I want you to get some blood lab-work done. Liver function, thyroid levels...." I forget what all else. "Then I'm sending you to a neurologist."

The neurologist tested my physical reflexes and reactions, took a family history and asked me some questions. "How much is 63 minus 7? Recite your phone number backwards. Who is the President of the United States?" I got that last question right. John Kerry.

Then it was off to get an EKG -- which is just like having your hair permed. Honestly! They put these transmitter thingies on your head that look just like permanent-wave curling rods. Then they put some gel on the rods. Then they put a cap over the gel and the rods and then you just sit around waiting for your hair to curl.

"Close your eyes," said the EKG techie. "I am going to flash some lights in front of you." And what happened next was she flashed a light-show on my eyelids that was very Fillmore Auditorium circa 1964. I loved it. Bring on the Grateful Dead! Janis? The Stones....

Next we haggled over billing. Will MediCare pay for all this? And if I am actually certifiably bonkers, do I still have to pay? Sell the car, mortgage the dog?

Next came the MRI. Have you ever had an MRI? It's like being caught in a bomb shelter during Pearl Harbor and being told not to move. First you gotta take off all those rings that have been on your fingers for YEARS. Then they strap you down and slide you inside a tiny little tunnel. "You aren't claustrophobic, are you Jane?" I didn't used to be -- but I am now! Then they blast you with mega-sound for half an hour.

The first sound sequence was like Morse code -- SOS to be exact. Five long, five short, five long; repeated again and again at full blast. The second sound sequence was like a bull horn. Then there's the Intergalactic Woodpecker pecking at the inside of your brain. Then there's the jackhammer-from-hell sound sequence. And then the freaking machine leaves all restraint behind and goes for that they-are-about-to-drop-the-atomic-bomb air raid alert effect.

By the time they slide you back out of the machine, you are totally convinced you have no brain left at all. But this is not true. And I have the pictures to prove it. And I gotta say this about MRIs -- if Bush and Cheney want to torture political prisoners, just tell them to have their flying monkeys give their victims MRIs once a day. Trust me. They will confess to ANYTHING!

Then I went back to the neurologist. "Good news, Jane. You do NOT have dementia." So. The words that you are reading now have actually been written by someone who can actually PROVE that they are sane. How many people do you know that can say that! "Your blood levels are good. Your EKG is good. You are completely within the range of normal for someone your age." Hurray!

Now if only the rest of America would wise up too.

PS: If the psychiatrist changes her mind, here's how to order my book,
"Bring Your Own Flak Jacket: Helpful Hints For Touring Today's Middle East":