"...who would these fardels bear...?" - Wm Shakespeare
Why does Mayo Clinic want me dead? Because I am not dead yet. Truly they do not mind so much I am alive, but their keen interest comes from me not yet being dead. Even more so that I have not yet been dead for all my life - so far and this far. It makes them curious. What’s up with that? They wonder. What could he be thinking after a lifetime of not yet being dead? Or even capable of thinking?
As you might expect, next they draw blood. Lots of it. Drained into little vials. More vials than I had ever seen - even when dire surgery loomed I had not seen so may little vials. The final one she kneels to fill. Really? "This one goes to Atlanta," she offers by way of explanation sensing that a kneeling phlebotomist might be unnerving. "They need it drawn below the plane of the needle." Why? "Something about the blood cells." she shrugs. I can only conclude she is probably right. I'm sure she knows much more. I'm sure it's complicated. It is going to Atlanta.
No I Pad here. Pieces of paper. Dog-eared and stained little flip books of images. Bits of cardboard cut-outs - circles and triangles. Puzzle pieces. All very low tech. All will be deployed in the next thirty minutes to gauge what I can gauge of words and shapes and small, simple pictures of this and that. Then this:
I had been identifying objects. Common objects. Everyday objects. Well, everyday for me. When I asked how the study accounted for cultural bias - well, let's just say the kneeling phlebotomist was more helpful. I'd think being shown a picture of something and being asked what's missing assumes a lot about what you've been seeing all those not dead yet years you've accumulated. But hey, it's not my rodeo. Anyway among the series of everyday objects these two turn up. A protractor and a compass or is it a compass and a protractor. I tell the guy - it's a guy now - I know the two words associated with these two things but you know what: All my life. All those not dead yet years, honestly, I could never keep the names straight. Dunno why. One of those things. Never could. Can't today. Even with the juice and the breakfast bar I got nothin'. "I can't write that down," he says. "Guess." How about this one's either a protractor or a compass and the other is what the first one isn't? "Guess." Well, it seems to me you want to know what I know and I'm telling you what I know. That's a protractor or a compass and that's a compass or a protractor. "How about you just guess."
I believe in science. I have some appreciation for the scientific method, experimental protocols and such. But there in that room, on that day, science was letting us down. At Mayo Clinic. Millions in grant money. Blood heading to Atlanta. The fella says, "Guess." So, I do. I guess. Did I get it right? Can't recall. See. Told you.
Is this what I regret? Guessing. No. Not my data. Besides I am no scientist. I am a rhetorician. I have a rhetorician's regrets. Such regrets are rarely about data per se. Well, at any rate, it depends. Besides, at this point I have yet to learn that Mayo Clinic wants me dead. That comes next when I am ushered in to see: the doctor.
I figure right quick that this is a doctor who sees subjects not patients. He has been practicing "interacting" but it's clearly new to him. Nice enough guy, just not in his element. First thing he asks me is "how's your blood pressure?" I don't know you all took it this morning when I got here. How was it? "No, I want to know how you think your blood pressure is." Well, the best I can do is say you folks have me taking pills for it, so there's that. Not much otherwise. So....awkwardly.... We move on. He explains how he's now going to be doing things to me. Bit of an examination. I stand and he puts his hands on my shoulders and moves me just a little to the left, then back a step or two. Not sure why. Next it is mostly tapping me here and there with metal objects. Reflexes. Muscle tone. No turning my head and coughing. No gloves. So, not bad and he's done.
Back down we sit. He pauses. Looks at me. Rolls his chair back a bit. Smiles and says, "Well, you know, we're with you to all the way now." Now, I pause. Not sure yet what he means. With me all the way? Oh. Ooooohhh. You mean, to the end? "Yes," he says relieved that I got it. Ok. " So. You're going to die, right?" Yeah. "Well, can we do an autopsy?" he asks. Cupping his hands, he offers them up in a gesture as if cradling something "Because we're going to want to look at your brain." He's now miming holding my brain in his hands. Showing it to me. Then he offers me instead some forms and a brochure.
You want me to tell you now? "No, no. You think it over. Talk it over. Your wife will need to sign this. I mean she really needs to agree to do this because, well, you know...." Right. I won't be around. "Yes, right." How soon do you need to know? "Well, you're one of our younger ...so, there's time. Yesterday I was talking with a man 102 years old." Right, so you need to know from him much sooner probably. "Yeah" he nods pleased that I seemed to have connected the right dots.
So, Mayo Clinic wants me dead. And, if my wife wouldn't mind, enrolled in their Alzheimer's Disease Research Autopsy Program. And herein lies my great regret. A regret not born of some somber thanatopsis contemplating wrapping the drapery of my couch about me or raging against the dying of the light. No, it is a rhetorician's sort of regret.
It might help to read this:
The dictum of the sophists is strange and beautiful: Say the right thing at the right time. What is so odd is that it at once proffers an absolute (the right thing) and a locality (the right time). While rhetoric is often accused of being without standards: the opposite is true. It has as many standards as there are circumstances. For the rhetor it is not that there is no propriety, it's that propriety can never be known for sure beforehand. Propriety emerges - here, there, and everywhere, all the time.
Whenever a rhetor is asked about what's right, his response is usually the same: it depends. Circumstance is local and so is propriety. And, to make things even stranger there is no propriety to a circumstance per se as the circumstance itself is a network of circumstance and perspectives. And each perspective is a network of trajectories of history, memory, desire, need. Nothing is more mysterious and difficult than doing the right thing at the right time.*A rhetorician's regret comes with not saying the right thing at the right time. Not seeing the opportunity. The greater the opportunity missed, the greater the regret.
I get home. I toss the brochure and "Permission for Postmortem Examination" form on the kitchen table. And too late it comes to me.
"Well, can we do an autopsy?"
Over my dead body. Why didn't I say: Over my dead body.
Some fardel that.
* Daniel Coffeen, Reading the Way of Things: Towards a New Technology of Making Sense