DBS – Part One


(I am considering using this exceprt as the revised opening to the memoir I’ve written – the overall gist of which is to describe what life is like for an early onset Parkinson’s disease patient – any feedback would be appreciated)

January 14, 2010:  I wake up and I am half sitting in my hospital bed in a large room.  The heavy metallic frame that was screwed into my head earlier in the morning has been attached and locked into some larger metal base that I can’t see.    I can hear the usual blips and beeps of hospital equipment, plus the low hum of static.  It’s chilly, and there are people in scrubs milling about.  One of them notices I am awake, and the next thing I know my neurosurgeon, Dr. Rosenow, is in front of me.  He tells me the static I hear is in fact my brain talking, the impulses it creates converted to audio, and that they’ll be listening to it and talking to me as they install the first set of electrodes in my brain.  The fact that my brain waves sound like static is somehow not surprising to me.

As I sit there, awake with neurosurgeons literally in my head, listening to the white noise my brain is broadcasting, I look around the room, at least the portion of it I can see through my peripheral vision, as the bracket my head is mounted to prevents me from turning.  I see to my left and right a curtained off area that goes in a half circle around me, there is a man, a neurosurgeon I’ve never met before, sitting to my immediate right, and Dr Rosenow is behind me now, talking to me, apparently on the other side of the curtain.   He explains that they are now to the part of the procedure where, before they install the first electrode, they have to make sure they are in the right spot, and that they’ll be “listening” to my brain.  For the next hour or two, Dr. Rosenow, for the most part unseen because, just like the wizard of Oz, he does most of his work from behind the curtain, explores my brain by doing whatever the heck he is doing back there.  This must involve turning a dial of some sort, because sometimes, I can hear the static gradually getting louder, and then I feel my right leg and foot and then hand start to tremble and shake, slowly and gradually at first, then more and more rapidly and violently, until he turns the dial down and the shaking diminishes.  The other neurosurgeon takes my arm and bends it, and when he feels the Parkinson’s cog-wheel effect, they listen for the resulting quick change in the static to know they are recording the symptom; as they go on, I learn how to listen for these slight changes in the static patterns that indicate whether they are in the right spot in my brain.

This is all part one of the two part procedure known as Deep Brain Stimulation, or DBS.  When part two is complete, two weeks later, I will have two electrodes installed in my brain; they will be connected by wires which run from my brain down my neck to the right side of my chest where a neuro-transmitter will be installed.  Once programmed and turned on, the neuro-transmitter will send signals to my brain that will drown out the noise caused by Parkinson’s disease, the noise that is largely responsible for my symptoms of rigidity and stiffness.   DBS treats the symptoms of those Parkinson’s patients who are in an advanced state of the disease yet still young and healthy enough to lead an active life.  For these patients, it is viewed as a second chance, an opportunity to regain capabilities that the disease had stolen, and to retain a level of independence and freedom required to carry on a normal life.   It is not a cure for the disease, and does not prolong the inevitable outcome; rather, it treats the symptoms for a period of time.  I’d been eagerly anticipating this second chance for the past six months, as various complications delayed its start, and between work and Parkinson’s, life was declining in an increasingly repetitive exercise in fatigue and discomfort.  I felt like I was gradually fading away.

My Good Reads review of “Chronicles”, by Bob Dylan


(I’m a big Bob Dylan fan, and I loved his memoir, “Chronicles”I wrote this review for Good Reads a little over a year ago)

Dylan is a hero of mine, but I never expected this book to be this good.  The parts where he describes his experiences as a young folksinger on the streets of New York City in 1960-61 are amazing.  Here is this “complete unknown” from the wilds of Minnesota landing in the NYC coffee houses, learning his craft as a performer, and then, with no ambitions greater than adding some new material to his act, beginning to write songs.  It’s fascinating as he brings to life Dylan before he was Dylan, before he had ever written a song, before he became the greatest songwriter ever and the most elusive and enigmatic cultural icon, when he was just another anonymous folk singer on the NYC streets at a time when the fuse was being lit for what was to be the greatest cultural explosion in our history, an explosion that would resonate with the echo of his voice.  “Blowing in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changing” have become the definitive, archetypical protest songs, theme songs for any attempt to promote and preserve humanity.   “Like a Rolling Stone” captured the dissonance, the restlessness, the anger and the chaos of a world in change, while “Mr. Tambourine Man” poetically described where this chronicler of time and space landed after the explosion, bruised, exhausted, and longing for escape (“To dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free / silhouetted by the sea / circled by the circus sands/ with all memory and fate / driven deep beneath the waves / let me forget about today until tomorrow”).   Before Dylan was Dylan, pop music was Perry Como, folk music was the Kingston Trio, and the Beatles were singing “I Want To Hold Your Hand”.   Dylan recaptures where he was during this time with an amazing recollection of detail, and with a rhythm and voice of a seasoned novelist. 

Dylan has spent much of the past forty years trying to deconstruct the myth and icon he has become.  It’s fascinating that here, in his autobiography, he traces the origins of that myth, and, in many ways, embraces it, by describing the neon-lit wintry New York nights, the various couches and floors of apartments he slept in and their stuffed bookshelves from which he fed his new found intellectual appetite, and the coffee houses and clubs where the metamorphosis from a young anonymous mid-western misfit to the mysterious and misunderstood genius who would change the course of popular music and culture forever would occur.  In doing do, Dylan seems to be accepting that our need for the myth and underlying mythology is just as important as his need to break free from it.