The real D-Day, when it finally arrived, took me completely by surprise. With the spectre of inorganic causes still haunting me as it has for the past twenty days since leaving Melbourne hospital, I attended a six monthly Neurology appointment wondering how the local specialist would respond. I hadn’t considered that this might actually be Diagnosis-Day. Well, it was……..sort of.
Inorganic Causes. It’s a beguilingly simple phrase, and yet these innocuous words have felt like an aimed rifle, forcing me repeatedly down dark corridors in my imagination; attempting to explore the remote possibility that I might somehow be deeply, pathologically insane! Could I possibly hate myself (an insane though in itself as I’m actually reasonably fond of me) to the degree that I am destroying myself from the inside out? Could my familiar struggles with my own self-worth (and who doesn’t have those?) have delivered me to a place of giving up on life? Could this be some mad subconscious avoidance on a monstrous scale? I doubt it, I seriously doubt all of it. But every doubt creates its own tension. The words that others speak can have extraordinary power.
I once thumbed a ride from Alice Springs out to Ayers Rock; back in the days when hitch-hiking was still safeish. When my first lift turned off the Stuart Highway a long way from anywhere I discovered that people are understandably reluctant to pick up odd bods in the middle of nowhere. You know that thing that happens when you see someone wandering along miles from Woop Woop, and you automatically accelerate a little? The trip ended up taking two full days, and necessitated a camp in the bush that I was utterly unprepared for. All I had was a tin of baked beans, a pocket knife and a flattened teaspoon that I happened to find lying on the road. It was a cold night, and I had to light a fire to lie beside (so I must have had matches too!). The moment you kindle a flame amongst spinifex and mulga twigs a bright blaze springs up; and in that instant the dark night closes in around you like a draw string bag! There is no way to explain the tricks your mind begins to play. Every noise takes on a preposterous form, and every silence breathes with menacing intent! I was a naïve teen back then; but as a wise old man my mind seems just as susceptible to formless fears.
Having calmed down somewhat over the last fortnight and become fairly sure I wasn’t going mad, I nonetheless needed to run the inorganic causes outcome past every second person in my world. Friends, family, therapists. In a way I am still doing it right now: I have to write about this, I have to tell you also (whoever you are, friend or stranger), to purge myself of these shadowy and elusive demons. My GP was a voice of practicality, as GPs so often are. She had read the Melbourne report and offered a succinct one word response in the practice corridor: Stupid!
Thankfully the Neurologist also immediately dismissed the hospital report, describing it as the age-old medical solution: assuming the inexplicable to be psychological. “The danger”, he went on to say, “is that you then become labelled; you fall into an abyss where every medical practitioner sees the words ‘functional illness’ written large on your file, and no one looks any further”. He assured me that he would not fall into that trap, and neither would I fall over the brink. And he said it was time we settled on a “working diagnoses” of emergent PLS, the rare form of motor neurone disease that other doctors have mentioned from time to time. I left the appointment with a relief that outweighed, for a time at least, the gravity of this uncertain diagnosis.
A final note of assurance came from a source far higher than even my Neurologist. On the following morning I read these words:
“The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end” (Deuteronomy 11:10-12). The future is not at all like the past, the old tricks won’t work again, and our ability to control our world will not protect us in the new territory for which we are destined. God himself is our light on the path ahead; a path which traverses height and depth; a path watched constantly from above.