“You’re not dying,” he said. “But I don’t know what’s wrong with you.”
At the beginning of May, I quit a 20-year, 2-liter per day Diet Dr. Pepper habit. I’d gotten a nasty cold, and while staring at the 2-liter bottle, I had an epiphany of sorts. I’d known, of course, that the chemicals and preservatives in soda couldn’t be doing good things to my insides, but for some reason, on that day, I was able to decide I didn’t need it, so I quit.
Two weeks later, I began to notice on involuntarily twitch in my left index finger. It didn’t hurt, but it was noticeable; The finger would gently oscillate side to side, causing anything I was holding to jiggle slightly. Figuring it was like the occasional eyelid twitch everyone gets once in awhile, I didn’t think much of it until it had been happening for two weeks. The company insurance had finally kicked in, so I went for a check-up, and asked the doctor if she had any ideas. She asked about my caffeine consumption. I told her that I increased my coffee intake from about 2 cups in the morning to 3, but I couldn’t imagine it could be caffeine, since I’d just quit drinking 2 daily liters of caffeinated soda. She asked me to quit drinking any caffeine for a few weeks to see what happened. The results were mixed. The frequency of the tremors dropped significantly, but not completely. At one point I went 2 days with no tremors, but the third day they were back with the usual frequency. Caffeine seemed to exaggerate the symptom, but it wasn’t the cause.
Sometime in June, my left thumb began to spasm, with a much more noticeable movement. It only happened a few times, and stopped after the second day, but it was weird enough to get me to start Googling. The results were not what I wanted to see. Nearly every possible cause of the tremors was either fatal or degeneratively crippling. Parkinsons. Brain Tumors. Cancer. Even some of the best case scenarios, like permanent benign essential tremor, meant this was never going to go away. The doctor scheduled a neurology consult. That appointment was today.
It’s hard to know how to properly panic when you don’t have enough information to know if you should panic at all. Intellectually, I woke up this morning knowing I might receive a terminal diagnosis. I knew that could happen, but I didn’t feel like it would happen. My reaction has been mostly cerebral - I have a pretty good idea of the possibilities, most of them bad, but my mind is apparently an eternal optimist. It hadn’t sunk in what I’m facing.
The neurologist was running 45 minutes late. I feel like if you’re in a business where you tell people they’re dying on a regular basis, punctuality should probably be a priority. As I watched the receptionist take phone call after phone call, life seemed like a formality for a little while. I thought about how in a hospital, yes, people live and die, but people are also coming to work and going home from work. To the patient, it’s life and death, but to the staff, it’s a job. If I tell a good joke, maybe a nurse will mention me over dinner when he goes home, but probably not. My death, within the context of that building, would be nothing more than a new claim would mean to me at my office. On some level, I think I had a brief conversation with the universe, acknowledging its futility, but appreciating the chance to be involved for awhile.
The neurology exam didn’t show any symptoms besides the tremor. Medically speaking, it’s possible I have extremely early signs of Parkinsons. At this stage, there’s no way to know for sure. It’s also possible the tremors will stop just as inexplicably as they started, with the cause forever being mysterious. He had me take a blood test for Wilson’s disease, gave me some dietary experiments to try, and told me to come back in six months. Maybe next time I’ll have more stuff wrong with me so he can tell me how scared I should be. Or maybe I’ll have this damn tremor for the rest of my life. Clock in, clock out.
A year ago, death was something I dwelled on. I feared it deeply, and was desperate for a way not to. I don’t know exactly how, but over the past year, I’ve managed to change my approach from fear to curiosity. Most likely, we die, and then we’re dead. But maybe that’s not the end. Maybe. It’s that maybe that has made the difference. And perhaps the difference between being afraid and not being afraid is recognizing you don’t have enough information to justify the fear that comes with being certain of the worst case scenario.
*UPDATE* I wrote this last night (Thursday). This morning, the lab called to say my blood test for copper levels was low, and more follow up testing will be done. Copper levels are tested when Wilson's Disease is suspected. Should know more in a few weeks.