I’ve already said it a thousand times and I don’t think I’d feel bad saying it a thousand more. Every time I walk these streets, and even more profoundly true now that I sometimes need basic help to get around, Taiwanese people are the kindest humans on the earth. I swear today an older man lied to me about being on his way to a bank just to walk me there. We chatted (in Chinese, thank you!) all the way there and as soon as we arrived he dashed off in another direction.
To continue the superlatives, I am the most insane human on earth. Can I not chill out? I of course took it as a personal challenge to make it by myself all the way to another distant bank and back to the hospital. I had to stop here and there to, well, concentrate for a moment to get my bearings. But I made it. And it was a beautiful day. And, honestly, I think the walking helped. Especially after what the doctor said. Oh yes, that.
Well, the Neurologist and five of his furrow-browed students had fun playing the “Kai puzzle” today. He loved my two pages of cartoons explaining my case history. Me sleeping on a bus. Me looking dazed. Me getting poked in the butt with needles. He had the nurse photocopy them for his collection. He asked me if I was an even better illustrator when my brain worked.
The doc ran me through my paces, having me demonstrate slow halting speech and hand tremors, looking up each time to say, “eh? eh?” to the students. He then pulled one of my favorite tricks. He held up my left hand and told me to clench and unclench it each time he counted. “Yi!” I told my hand to close. It thought about it. It closed. “Er!” The hand slowly opened. “Yi! Er! Yi!” It got a little faster, but always lagged a second behind. I focused all of my attention on my left hand. “Kuai yi dian!” (faster). I grimaced and focused all the harder. At last he let me stop. He told me to move them as fast as I could. He then explained that it was a test of rigidity… in my other hand. The tricky devil had been yanking my right hand around in all directions and wanted me distracted so I wouldn’t affect his test. It worked… far too well. Bonus point: doc.
Eventually he summed all of his poking, playing and questions. He decided that there was a good chance I was right about the carbon monoxide poisoning. A big dose, and I would be dead. But a medium dose… would produce this. Basically, Parkinson’s like symptoms with the additional difficulty concentrating. For the fun of the class he then had me stand up and try to walk. He immediately took my arms, which I hadn’t realized were raised, and yanked them down. “See? The classic Parkinson’s stance.” He imitated it and, to my chagrin, I was going right into it. Hunched slightly, forearms up. I stood up straight and let my arms fall. There was no way I was going to let that happen again. I paced around for the students, faster a bit, and we called it a day.
He set me up with an MRI of my basal ganglia. The thinking is that if this confirms his suspicions, we can begin drug treatment. Rapid success with the drugs should further confirm the diagnosis. The downside? He left me with just enough time to get into trouble. This is no China, where I could walk down the hall, get an MRI, and walk back in less than 45 minutes. My MRI is on Saturday and the next appointment on Monday. This set me up for a classic Kai move.
I worked my way back towards the hostel where I’m staying. It’s only two subway stops away, but I needed a little help finding the station. Honestly, I would have needed the same on any normal day. I came out the other end continuing my new walking technique. Do a few kung fu punches and shoulder rolls, loosen up, stand up straight, walk normally. After a few minutes, check my stance. If I was starting to hunch or my arms came up I repeated the shake up and went back to normal. I swear this actually seemed to clear my head a bit. At least, that’s probably why I noticed the huge sign.
On one side, there were two circle people holding hands. One circle person was white, the other black. As my eyes rolled along the sign my heart began to pound in a familiar, normal way. Children’s Go University. I forgot about food, about walking normally, and, well, anything but the giant grin on my face. I leapt through several of the wrong doors before beaming out onto the second floor. It was glorious. A huge space with classrooms full of excited children learning Go. I burbled in random Chinese at the women at the desk who tried to explain that they only taught children. (In Taiwan they call children, 小朋友 (little friends). I thought this was just an adorable address but, in fact, they say this instead of 孩子。)
At last we worked out that they would have a women give me a call. I made it downstairs to have my first ever squid in squid ink pasta when she gave me a ring. Afterwards I wasn’t sure, but I thought perhaps I had agreed to watch a go class. Or take one. Or something. I was pretty sure it was at 7:45pm and made a point to be early.
Do you remember when you believed that if you could just stretch your body long enough, longer than you ever had before, until you almost reached the ceiling, the teacher would call on you? The little girl in front of me almost popped her arm out of her shoulder shouting, “wo zhi dao! Wo zhi dao!” (I know! I know!) She and three boys were all about to explode with certainty that they could solve the Go problem the bouncing teacher was popping up onto the big board with huge magnetic Go pieces. She teased them and toyed with them, playing them like a harpsichord. It was so beautiful to watch. When each child went up and made a wrong guess she would grin and shout, “Hao. Zai jian.” (OK. Good bye.) This was the “nope” that sent the child “oohing” and waving their arms back to their seat. She kept them riveted with her explanations, she drew in the slower children, she dangled the troublemaker like a ball on a string. The energy level was amazing. At the end I wanted to applaud. But it was my turn.
I didn’t tell her about my brain. I wanted to see what I could do and I paid for it. I used every muscle to keep thinking as I tried to understand her Chinese and her explanations of Go. Fortunately, she only dropped her persona ever so slightly for me. When she wanted to show me how bad a move was, she made huge crying sounds and rubbed her eyes. I laughed and told her to keep treating me like a big kid, I needed it. She was fantastic. I actually managed to learn several new josekis, some great closing strategy, and a new way of counting. I left with a borrowed game board, a huge book of professional games to play out, a promise to return tomorrow to pick up a list of go terms and a problem book, and a vague sense that I was forgetting something. Something about…
resting. I’ll never learn.
I spent all day running around a hospital, ranting nonstop with Gunter, strategizing with my parents and sister, exploring the meaning of life with Nikita, trying to walk, struggling to learn Go and understand Chinese… my brain hurts. And yet, dear reader, I knew that I must power through a last effort to get you this update. I built up to it by playing guitar, something that terrified me (I didn’t know if I’d be able to do it) but it went… incredibly well. It really gave me hope. There were plenty of challenges today but I really do feel like I was better off than yesterday and being able to move my fingers fast enough to play guitar was a huge relief.
Love to all. I’ll keep these updates coming. My apologies for not having the energy to edit them, or keep them short!
photos link to photographer’s sites unless they’re mine