April 28 is the 35th anniversary of his death. At the time, his death — from cancer — was shrouded in mystery.
My acute pain has not gone away; it has changed.
It has been on and off ever since my first visit to the dermatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery. He just happened to be my closest physician of all and insisted that I go in immediately. I said that I was too tired, but he said I had to see him so he would know I was serious about making the appointment.
I waited about 10 minutes and came out saying, “I will tell you what it is.”
He said, “I know what it is.”
I said, “My neck.”
He said, “I’ve seen it many times. You have a familiar-looking line where the little lines at the back of your neck meet.”
I was disturbed by the realizations. A foreign country with its sights set on going after a mortal soul. It was clear that something had come from out of the darkness and who knows what it was? But what was it? And why was it there and not on my neck?
I didn’t know, but what I did know was that the line was real. It was not a mental image, as I often thought. The line was not I, but me. It was not an illusion. The line was there, but it was a line between me and myself.
I asked him how I could treat the line, or what he thought I should do. He said I could pull my hair back or stiffen my forehead and push the line out of the way, thereby turning away from it or into consciousness. He said my mind would not allow it to do this.
It didn’t matter how he tried to work it away. I could not see this line when I tried to look into my face. But I would not let myself forget it. I would not let the line go, not for one moment.
I didn’t want to leave the hospital that night. I would try everything I could think of and could find. But if I thought this way, the pain was so overpowering that my mind would say, “OK, remember the old friend? Remember that look of yours?” So I continued with the front-combing routine.
After the radiologist determined that I had an astigmatism, or headache, she said that my own tears had sent me into premature orgasm. This is one of the first things I learned about bone marrow. When they are young, the body remembers that it is an idiot. It thinks that the whole body is wiggling in a figure-eight pattern with the crying mouth on the end. This makes everything go good when we remember that a lie is a lie, no matter how tall the lie goes.
I learned this one of many time-tested medical truths I picked up the following years. I also learned the healing power of honesty.
All this perplexed me because I thought it was not true. Why on earth would I have created this thing? Why would my own tears be responsible for an episodic experience?
I kept wondering if there was a secret behind the skin pattern, a force that I was oblivious to.
My encounter with the hospital dermatologist, my very first contact with the health-care system, has greatly influenced my approach to medical practice for the past 25 years.
It opened my eyes to the notion that my own identity is as important as any medical history I might have. Most people know themselves. They know what doctors want, or what the insurance companies want. They know if they are healthy or sick.
For a while, I went along with this.
But, over time, as I became very familiar with the failures in the health-care system, something in me became a more hopeful force.
It seemed almost absurd to think that I would not recognize the truth. I would realize that I had created this new-found consciousness.
The truth is that the real man was there. He was always there. I am not so sure he will ever be gone.
Well, that has been pretty much the case since the last of the batteries had been removed from the power tools.
I continue to treat my chronic pain with a combination of exercise, vitamins and anti-inflammatories.
None of it is magic, but it is working.
Now the shirtless male with the bone-tired legs. His bottom is not that familiar. His arms are long and his neck muscles are like pale-faced muscle bags. So, it