The man with two brains
Written on May 20, 2013 by Daniel P. Malito
Those of you who are a bit older and enjoy cinema the same way I do may remember a movie starring Steve Martin called The Man With Two Brains. In this movie, Steve Martin plays a neurosurgeon who, through a series of unfortunate events, ends up befriending a brain in a jar. The pickled mind is from his dead wife, someone he loved very much. Lately, I feel as if I have two brains myself, and while one of them is keeping me grounded, the other is filling me with irrational fears that keep me awake at night.
Yesterday, I awoke with a sore left hip. This wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for someone who suffers from Rheumatoid Arthritis except for the fact that my hips were replaced way back in 1996. Since part of the reason for replacing a joint is to eliminate any pain emanating from said joint, you can see why I was surprised to wake up feeling like a gorilla had punched me in the thigh. All throughout that day, I was a little worried about the hip joint hurting, but I chalked it up to the fact that I had been working in the yard for two days straight, and in addition, I had used my thigh for a Kineret injection site two days earlier. Since I had so many other tasks to complete, I was able to make it to bedtime without any serious mental anguish.
Unfortunately, the demons come at night. As is always the case, when 2 AM or so rolls around and no one else is awake, the dead quiet of nocturnal solitude is deafening. That night, as I lay in my bed, my brain began to fill my head with the dread thoughts that terrify me for no rational reason. I was on the verge of tears, wondering just what the hell was going on with my prosthetic hip. Worst-case scenarios played out in my head like some drive-in theater of the eternally unlucky, showing movies with titles like “The boy whose prosthetic hip gave out and he fell and broke his neck,” or “The joint replacement that dislocated and ripped the patient’s muscle right in half.” It sounds silly because it is. Despite the utter ridiculousness of these potential events, though, for some reason one of my brains still fears these eventualities as if they are as possible as the sun rising in the East.
As much as I would like it to be, this wasn’t the first time I have felt irrational fear when I am alone with my thoughts. It all started a few years ago when I was sixty pounds heavier due to a tremendous daily intake of steroids. I was taking upwards of 40mg of Prednisone a day, and my body was at its breaking point. I was bloated all over, of course, but where it really showed was in my belly. I had such a huge protrusion in the front that people actually thought I was physically deformed. As my brother told me once, it looked like I was “pregnant with a set of twin elephants.” Trust me when I tell you this was no exaggeration. In fact, my stomach was so distended that it pulled the rest of my body out of alignment and I ended up with spinal compression fractures to boot.
Because the constant pressure on my torso was tremendous, I suffered from labored breathing on a regular basis. In addition, I couldn’t swallow a bite of food that I hadn’t chewed more than fifty times because it wouldn’t fit down my esophagus without coming back up. I was a mess, and I knew it. One night, though, as I was preparing to sleep, I realized that I was terrified of suffocating in my sleep. It was a curious thing – I knew that it was nearly impossible for me to do so, but I was scared to death that I was going to close my eyes and if during the middle of the night I wasn’t able to breathe due to the pressure on my chest, I would simply expire without waking up. It was an irrational fear, yes, and my second brain chimed in to tell me that I was being ridiculous, but the fear was as visceral as if I watched someone die of suffocation due to steroid use right in front of my own eyes.
Eventually, I lost the weight and my body, though horribly disfigured with stretch marks and extra skin, went back to a quasi-human shape. My Rheumatoid Arthritis even calmed down and returned to a semi-normal state. The only thing that didn’t revert to pre-steroid-use levels was my predilection towards irrational fears of death and suffering. It was as if a switch got flipped inside my head, and now I couldn’t switch it back off.
So, now, I battle these ridiculous fears when the lights go out and the world becomes all about me. My second brain always tries to help by telling me “so what if the worst happens” — I’ll just go to the emergency room and get my hip put back into place, or I’ll get an emergency surgery if needed. Unfortunately, that tactic only worked for a short time. Once I suffered from my heart attack and my ticker was involved, I started to have fears where the “worst that could happen” was death. Even though I know my implanted defibrillator will prevent me from having an arrhythmia, I still have an absurd fear that when my heart begins to beat abnormally, it might just be my time. Of course, that only makes me even more nervous, and thus makes my heart rate increase even further, thereby making the entire situation much worse. It’s a vicious circle, and I’m at the center.
It’s an amazing time we live in. Medical advances have given me and others who are like me the opportunity to live mostly normal lives when just twenty short years ago, those who suffered from R.A. and other autoimmune diseases would be confined to wheelchairs. Medical science has come a long way, and my second brain knows that. It’s my first brain that I have to worry about, or more accurately, it’s the brain that worries about me. I’ll eventually find a way to conquer these fears to the point where I can live my life without interference, but I doubt they will ever completely disappear. I guess that everybody is scared of something, though, and now that I have much more to live for, it’s natural that I’d have an increased fear of losing it all. Next time the demons come in the later darkness I’ll have to do my best to turn them away at the door.