Invited into a study of brain aging. Telephone call from “Megan,” soft voice and youthful accent. Met her at the first visit, a psychology grad, sweet face, gentle smile, like the face I’d imagined on WW II bombing raids to remind myself why I was fighting.
Preliminaries: Name our President. Vice-President. What year? What season? Today’s date? The last stumped me. I never know the date. Resolved not to show up again without a glance at the newspaper for the date.
Turned over to an M.D. for a basic medical, then on to another psych major. This one looked like Hedy Lamar. (The most beautiful woman since Helen of Troy. Google if you don’t believe it.) She took family history including what everyone died of. Then Megan handed me a blank pad. “Draw a cube.”
Showed me simple drawings to copy, then draw from memory. A touch screen, more questions. Qualifying process over, Megan and the doctor described the actual test: 1) memory, 2) MRI, 3) spinal tap. Spinal fucking tap?
I told her about how the army tried to scare us out of getting “a dose.” Movie of a bare male back, hand stabs a horse hypodermic into the spine. Back jerks like hit with 110 volts.
“No, no, nothing like that!” Uh huh.
Asked me to arrive at 9 AM, changed to 11 after I said my brain sleeps till noon. Glad to see Megan again. She read me a paragraph, asked me to repeat it verbatim. Then something else, then the paragraph again. Tricky.
Megan read me ten words: peanuts, flour, tangerine, muffin, veal, chicken, clams, three more. Asked to repeat them any order. I got seven. Did it again, and again, maybe again. Never managed all ten.
Vocabulary test, nothing fancy, Think I aced it.
Asked to name things that go on the feet; shoes, socks, boots, sneakers, slippers, clogs, skis, mukluks, roller skates, ice skates... Rambled on until I petered out. Later—too late—I thought of snow shoes, toe rings, pointe shoes, and stilts.
After hearing a list of two words that didn’t really relate like: cold-ink, room-stool, dog-lion, etc., she said one, I had to recall the other. Bad at this.
Showed me a triangle with a number inside. Then other shapes, each with a number. Shown the shape without the number, I had to recall the number. Terrible at this.
Presented a page of numbers, like:
5 - 2 8 5 3 2 0 8 7 1 9 6 4 5 3 8 1 5 3 7
Had to put a slash through every number that matched the first
Given a clicker to click as many times as I could in 10 seconds. Three times with each hand. Finished with another touch screen. All-in-all, it was kind of fun.
The MRI and Spinal Tap were in a lab eight blocks away. Declined taxi fare and walked. Before getting on the gurney I asked the nurse, “What’s the mortality rate for spinal taps?”
“Zero!” she said indignantly. I didn’t feel the needle go in.
Lastly, the MRI. Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Lie down ears plugged, head propped in a machine of deafening bombinations.
An assistant handed me 50 dollars. “Cab fare.”
“I live eight blocks away.”
“We budget for Queens,” walked me out the door, hailed a taxi and shoved me into it.
A year and a half from now I’ll know if I’m getting smarter, holding my own, or the brain is going down the drain. One thing sure, I’ll know the date.