Yesterday I woke up around four, got up to head for the head and the room reeled as if I'd been aboard ship for days. Still half in a dream, I figured it was just the unsteady foot of too much darkness and too little sleep. But deep inside my cerebral sponge lived the word - stroke.
Three hours later I awoke again, this time reeling toward the bathroom for a single aspirin. I said to Jenny, "I need to go to the hospital."
All the debaucheries, the drink, the meat, the late night rambles that have beached my carcass on this aging shore, swam through my head as Jenny drove me toward the ER. The fat that swirled throughout my blood became a living thing, and not merely numbers on a printout. My family history, let free from its resting place, swirled around the car whispering one word - stroke.
Kinder choruses sang optimistic caveats of ear infections and lesser dires. But all the angelic voices eventually spiraled down and, after clearing their throats whispered - stroke.
Without cataloguing my past, I assure you that I have been places and endured things that have scared me to the marrow. I have wrestled with panic and beaten it, and know that I have the courage, if not of the warrior, than at least as much as most men.
But that single word - stroke - scared me more than any outward threat I've ever known.
The hospital took me in quickly. It was early and the ER was barely populated. The nurses questioned me, took my blood pressure and made me comfortable. The doctors asked more questions, all while probing and tapping my corpus with trained fingers, listening for the untuned tympany of disease.
They whisked me into a mechanical room where they took deep soundings of my interior. The technician, an aspiring writer, plumbed my brain with rougher instruments and it was a welcome diversion.
In the end, as in all sappy endings that go on far too long ( think Lord of the Rings, a movie ending that overstayed its welcome like a broke in-law), the answer was an anticlimax. Vertigo was the word. The cause unknown, fitting for one who lives with mysteries. Tomorrow I will see another doctor, and quite possibly another on Tuesday.
Later, as I lay dazed by drugs, I spun around the TV dial and just as a fated roulette player who has put his last chip on double-aught sees it come up roses, Vertigo with Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak came up on the screen. How could I not watch?
It had been a while since I'd seen this movie, and remembered fevered pre-psychedelic camera work and Bernard Herrmann's usual high-drama Hitchcock score. I also remembered all the great shots of San Francisco. The movie, and the city, were a welcome tonic for an afternoon on the couch.
I learned that Vertigo was a flop when it came out and critics had an almost casual dismissal of the film. But later critics have taken a shine to it, some lifting it to the top of the Hitchcock canon. The AFI places it as #9 in the best 100 films of all time and tops in mysteries, a height that causes my head to spin a bit.
Or maybe that's just the vertigo talking.
Tomorrow, our correspondent drives himself to the doc's and to work, all the while hoping a cop doesn't pull him over and ask him to walk a thin white line.