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15. Lights in the Rear View Mirror

15. Lights in the Rear View Mirror

This is a crazy party I’m at. It’s going on in three or four weird houses all of which have strange ways of moving from room to room and floor to floor.

There are pillows on the floor and people everywhere milling about and somehow I’ve lost track of my wife. I start calling “Suzie… Suzie!” No answer. People are looking at me like I’m nuts.

I start searching everywhere. Up and down twisted stairways, one room after another… One house after another. At one point I notice a room off to the side where I can see a couple on a bed making love. It’s like Burning Man in the city.

“Have any of you seen my wife?” I plead with a group of revelers. One answers that they saw her a little while ago, but don’t know where she is now.

“Suzie!” I keep yelling, hoping somehow she’ll hear me over the din of electronic music which seems to be everywhere.

“Has she run off with someone?” I think to myself. This is it! I’ve HAD it.

Somehow I finally find her. “Suzie! I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Where have you been?”

She shrugs and goes back to talking to whoever she was talking to. My fury and anguish rise inside me and I yell, “All right, if that’s how you want it we’ll get a divorce…”

She looks at me coolly, shrugs again like she couldn’t care less, and goes back to her business.

“Arrrrrgh!” I lunge to try to grab her by the throat and squeeze it until she does gives a shit.

And then I wake up….

Oh thank god! Just a nightmare. OK, I can deal with that. It’ll be OK. She’s right next to me in bed. I wake her and quickly tell her about the dream. “Poor baby,” she says, “I’m sorry…”

I can tell that she means it, and I begin to calm down from the “fight or flight” chemicals coursing through my body.

And then, as consensus reality begins to get a better hold on my consciousness, I begin to run the movie of my life through my head to locate where I am in it. I know I’m supposed to drive my youngest son to school this morning, and thinking of that cues me in to what happened to me yesterday.

The HORROR! I wished I was back in my nightmare…

Here’s what had happened:

Returning on a 7 AM flight from Palm Springs where we spent Passover with my parents, we had dropped Zohar off at school directly from the airport before going home. Suz was completely exhausted and needed to nap, so I volunteered to pick him up after school and take him to his special-ed dyslexia class from 5 to 6 PM.

I needed to leave at 4 because his school is in Aptos, a 45 minute drive from Bonny Doon where we live. I said goodbye to my older son, Barak, and asked him if we needed anything from town. He said we were out of bread, and I said I would stop and get some.

I got into the car and set up my Iphone in the holder which was hanging from the vent on the passenger side of the dash. I thought about moving it to the vent in front of me and then dismissed it. What difference did it make?

I drove down the winding mountain road to get to highway 1 which would take me through Santa Cruz and then off to Aptos. As usual, I was listening to NPR which had the 4 PM news going. By the time I got to the highway, the main news had finished and they were beginning a program that always bored me. I decided to switch to my Iphone and listen to an Alan Watts lecture on Buddhism.

I was speeding up to 55 which is the speed limit. I always use cruise control to make sure that I don’t exceed the limit through inattention. As I accelerated I leaned over to press the “play button” to start the lecture. It didn’t work at first, and I had to press it a few times to get it to play. Then I noticed that I had swerved across the yellow divider while my attention had been on the Iphone. I instantly corrected it and checked my speedometer at the same time. I saw I was still only at 45 mph, so I accelerated to 55 and set the cruise control.

Then I checked my rear view mirror and saw a cop car with lights flashing behind me.

“He probably needs to pass me,” I thought to myself and so hit the brake and pulled over to the curb to let him get by. Instead of passing, he pulled behind me. “Oh shit,” I thought, “He’s after me. But why?” I brought the car to a halt. I could hear him saying something from a loudspeaker, but couldn’t make out what it was, so I rolled down my window.

A mechanical sounding voice was saying, “Drive down to the next road and turn off…”

I began to do as instructed, all the while wondering what I possibly could have done to make him want to pull me over. Then I remembered how I had swerved when fussing with the Iphone. That must be it. SHIT!

The truth of the matter is I try to drive like a frightened grandmother these days. I take NO chances anymore. The days of radar detectors to beat speed limits were way behind me. As were rolling stops, ignoring meaningless stop signs in the middle of nowhere, etc. All the usual shortcuts that a lot of us are guilty of all the time. I DON’T DO THAT ANYMORE. And here I was getting pulled over anyway.

A young, handsome police officer came up to my car and I handed him my license. “I’m sorry, I was trying to get my Iphone to play and I somehow lost track of the road and swerved,” I explained.

“Yes, the swerving is one of the reasons I stopped you, but at one point you were also going 80 miles an hour.” He answered.

I blanched, “80?!!!! I thought I was going 45!”

“Have you been drinking?”

“I don’t drink,” I answered.

“Wait here,” he nodded and went back to his car to run my license.

I slumped over the wheel in absolute terror. If I was really going 80 when I thought it was 45 then my cognitive problems had reached a new low. Trembling and breathing hard I tried to think what I should do.

If he wanted to test me for drinking, I knew I would fail the “walking a straight line” test. My balance has been off enough since I was diagnosed with MS that I knew I was incapable of passing it. I decided I would ask to blow up the balloon, instead. That at least would prove I had no alcohol in my body.

The cop came back with his ticket writing folder in his hand.

“Was I really going 80?” I looked at him with pleading in my eyes.

“I’m not exactly sure, I didn’t have the radar on, but you were definitely somewhere in that neighborhood.”

“You don’t understand,” I said. “I have multiple sclerosis. Last week I was driving through the middle of town and suddenly had no idea where I was.”

“Really?” he said. I could see a look of worry cross his face. “Did you see me coming at you when you swerved?”

I searched my memory of the event. “I remember swerving. I don’t think I saw any car. Certainly not a POLICE car! I don’t think I could have possibly ignored that if I had seen it.”

I continued, stammering, “You have to understand, the point is, if I was going 80 when I thought I was going 45 then I’m worried about driving at all. I mean I could be a REAL menace… Please, tell my wife what happened… Please!” I pleaded with him as I dialed home on the Iphone.

Suz picked right up. I guessed she had already woken from her nap.

“Suz, listen. I got pulled over by a cop. He says I was going 80 when I thought I was going 45.” My voice was trembling, on the verge of hysterical. “Please talk to the officer; I don’t know what to do.”

I handed the Iphone to the cop who spoke with Suzie. “Well, I only wrote him up for crossing the line, but now he’s not feeling comfortable about continuing on to pick up your son.”

He handed the phone back to me, went back to his car and drove off.

Suz said she didn’t think I should drive at all, that she would come pick me up.

“No. Forget it. I know I can make it home. I’m only a mile or so down highway 1. You’ve got to go get Zohar, or get a friend to pick him up. I’m way too shook up to make it to Aptos and back…” Aptos is a 50 mile round trip from our house.

“Alright,” she said in a soothing voice. “Come home. I’ll deal with Zohar, don’t worry.”

Hanging up, I wondered if I had made a mistake. After all, if I couldn’t tell I was going 80, maybe I might miss a mountain curve and go over a cliff. I thought about calling her back and asking to be picked up.

I sat in the car for maybe five minutes flipping and flopping as to what was the right thing to do. I mean it wasn’t only me that could be hurt/killed if I zoned out again.

In the end I decided to give it a try… REAL slow, so that even if I had an “episode” I was unlikely to hurt anyone. There’s almost no traffic at all going up the hill and I figured I could make it the mile or so down the highway to the turn off.

Obviously I did make it home, since I’m now writing this.

“What happened?!” Suzy demanded the second I walked into our bedroom.

“I don’t know,” I answered, “The best I can do is telling you my version of it as I remember. Barak!” I called my 18 year old son to come hear as well. I now rely on him almost as much as I do on my wife.

I related the whole story to them as best as I could.

“That cop was lying,” Suzy said. “He obviously thought you were drunk when he saw you swerve. He was going to try to bring you down with everything he could come up with…”

“I agree,” Barak said, shaking his head. “Think about it. If you were really going 80, why didn’t he write you up for it?”

“He said his radar wasn’t on,” I answered. “Maybe he thought he didn’t have the evidence to prove it.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Barak continued. “Wasn’t he driving behind you for a while before you noticed him?”

“Yes, clearly. I mean he had to turn around after he saw me swerve and then had to catch up to me.”

“Well then, all he needed to do was look at his own speedometer and he would have had all the evidence he needed. I agree with Eema, (Hebrew for Mom), he was lying. You couldn’t have been going 80, there’s no way.”

I thought about it and realized they were probably right. The more I thought, the more angrier I became.”

“That FUCKER!” I yelled. I mean if was really drunk, why would he need to make up the speeding bit. Being drunk is more than enough to nail me hard…

But the reality is that I am now so insecure about my cognitive abilities that I had originally believed him when he told me I was speeding.

Normally I would have simply told him he was wrong. I had looked at my speedometer when I swerved and it was 45. I hadn’t yet reached the speed at which I routinely engage the cruise control to make sure that I wouldn’t exceed the speed limit through inattention. Like I said before, I now drive like a frightened Granny.

I had a lot of interesting things I was planning on writing about today, and more kvetching, especially after the last chapter, may not play too well in the narrative. Perhaps I’ll cut it or put it in a few chapters later in the book, if I ever finish it.

In the meantime, I needed to “blow out” all that happened in writing. It’s a useful way to “externalize” bad feelings so they’re not just bottled up inside oneself.

The Sanskrit meaning of Nirvana is to “blow out”, that deep sigh of relief that happens when one realizes that everything is going to be alright.

Having written this, I now feel a little better, though I’m still afraid to get back in a car. I’ll have to get passed that feeling. I can’t leave all the driving to my wife and Barak still doesn’t have his license. I’m out of Valiums too. Maybe I’ll smoke some pot and that will help. Maybe I’ll try to meditate. Maybe I’ll blow my head off… Just kidding!

I’m alone in the house now. It’s 11 AM and Suz has to go to the dentist after dropping the kids off in school.

I can’t distract myself with the news and blogs online. Hillary’s victory in PA is just too awful for me to think about today. I haven’t had my first Provogil yet, and I wonder if I should. Maybe the MS “brain fog” is what I need right now rather than clarity.

God, do I HATE feeling sorry for myself. I apologize to whatever audience may end up reading this. Don’t worry. I’ve been through worse and will come through this fine.

I just need a little more time….

April 23, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

14. “Where the hell am I?!!!”

Took a day off from writing yesterday. I couldn’t write. All afternoon I busied myself with blogging, news, listening to physics lectures. ANYTHING that would distract me from thinking. I was alone at home and began calling anyone I could think of for support, starting with my doctor.

“What’s up, Joe?” She asked in her usual easy going manner.

“Hi Grace. Listen, I’m not sure if I’m calling you just for reassurance or whether it’s something as my doctor you should know…”

What I told her was that on my way home from visiting with my friends Steve and Ellen, taking the same route I’ve been down hundreds if not thousands of times before, I suddenly had no idea where I was, where I was going, where I had come from…

I’m not sure if I knew who I was, but I might have since I realized I was having an “episode” and didn’t panic but tried to figure out what had so suddenly vanished. I looked around and recognized nothing. I kept driving and looking at the street signs. No help there, I didn’t recognize them. I figured if I just kept driving straight I would eventually see something I recognized.

Sure enough, about four or five blocks later I came to Ocean Street, which is one of the main streets in Santa Cruz. Got it! So I’m going in this direction across Ocean… That means I’m on my way home… Right! And I was at Steve’s house before. Got it!

And I was back. Back, in the usual movie that each one of us creates in our minds. You know the one you always star in every morning till sleep time. Sometimes in dreams as well. What is it that gives it the feeling of a movie? Continuity. There’s a system in our consciousness that stitches events in time together to form a narrative of sorts of our experience. I think it’s that system that the MS occasionally interferes with.

A very weird experience. It felt as if someone had taken a scissors and cut the movie.

“What the?…..Where the hell am I?!!!”

It didn’t last very long. Maybe 30 seconds or so. And I recovered and even remembered to drop something off for my wife in town before going home. I was proud that I didn’t forget to do that.

But once I got home, things changed for me. I thought about the experience and began building all sorts of fantasies as to where this disease was taking me. None of them good.

I got caught in a “fear loop” that whirled round and round getting scarier with each revolution.

“What if next time it lasts 30 minutes?” “What if next time I won’t recognize Ocean Street.” “What if next time I forget how to drive?” On and on and on…

I took two valiums and got into bed to wait for my wife and son to come home. At this point I felt emotionally almost paralyzed. “Maybe I’m overdoing this?” I thought to myself. “Maybe NOT too…”

Once again it’s important to point out that this experience doesn’t “feel” like anything. If I hadn’t been driving, just walking, I might not have even noticed. That’s what makes the whole thing so frightening. You don’t really know that it is happening till afterwards. And then it makes no sense.

I mean, why did I lose it there and then? I thought back over everything that had happened before. I was looking for any sign of a cause/ effect, if you will. The only thing I could come up with was that I hadn’t taken my second Provogil of the day which I usually have at noon. The episode happened around 1:30. But that didn’t really make any sense. The single Provogil works all day, the second is more a booster to keep me going past 5 PM.

After I called the doctor I called my father. He had trouble understanding what it was that I had experienced. That’s when I came up with the metaphor of the film being cut.

“Now you listen to me,” he said with as authoritative a tone as he could muster, “Write that down!”

“I can’t. Not now. I’m in bed.” I explained.

My dad went on, “Alright but be sure you include that in your book. That’s an amazing description that gets the idea across beautifully. Your mind is more than fine, it’s superb. You have nothing to worry about, OK?”

“Thanks Pop. Coming from you, that means a lot. You are after all, the master of words.”

After I hung up I was left with the question of how it was possible to express myself in a way that even dad thought was good while at the same time not knowing where I was.

Sometimes when speaking, I just can’t come up with a word, even a common one. I wave my hand and point to my head, “Mad Cow!” Usually I can get the word after grinding for 10-30 seconds, but not always.

I know now that I have gotten completely garrulous and so usually preface any long remark by asking if I had told my audience this before. More often than not, I have.

That’s another nice thing about writing. As long as you read what you’ve written, you don’t tend to repeat yourself.

What sort of a “cure” am I looking for from the ayahuasca? Do I seek to simply stop any more relapses or do I hope to get my mind back?


As I’ve said before, when it comes to health, hope springs eternal.

April 18, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments