Bonfire: The Diagnosis

Not long ago I realized that certain symptoms, which I’ve always considered overwhelmingly normal, might amount to what they call a “syndrome.” It’s been research and treatment options ever since.

I’ve been plagued with watery eyes, persistent sneezing, and more recently loss of hair and recurring episodes of memory failure—note that this is very different from memory “loss,” in that I always remember everything later, much later, long after it would have been useful. A typical example: “What was the name of that restaurant we like in (say) Atlanta?” my wife asks.

I usually remember this when we are far, far from (say) Atlanta, somewhere like (say) Albuquerque. If you asked me for the name of the place we like that is actually in Albuquerque, I would have to say (say) some place in Florida. And so forth. I always considered this normal—not totally normal, but kind of normal, like dandruff or fear of dentists talking to you when you can’t answer.

In my research I’ve discovered that my symptoms form the central basis for a scary terminal diagnosis: Latent Incipient Forensic Eponymia, which it turns out, bears some similarity to Lou Gerhig’s Disease, although without the Hall of Fame career, or the Gary Cooper biopic. Now, it turns out that Lou Gehrig might not have even had Lou Gehrig’s Disease! If he didn’t have it, maybe I don’t either? More research. Now I’m realizing that  what I have is actually more like the lesser-known Wally Pipp’s Disease.


Wally Pipp (1893-1965) in pinstripes. Twice AL home run champion, but best remembered for taking a day off due to a headache, The Yankees put in Gehrig at first base who then played the next 2,130 consecutive games at first.

Just like Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) my syndrome is better known by its acronym (literally, “tall word”), or LIFE. “Give it to me straight, Doc,” I said when I felt she might be beating around the bush, “I can take it. Am I going to die?”

“Yes.” She didn’t look as sad as I thought she would.

I choked back either tears, or watery eyes, it was hard to tell. “How long do I have?”

“Well, it’s hard to say,” she continued, while reading from a tall chart. “I’ll just have the lettuce wrap,” she said quietly to her assistant. Then she looked back at me. “You see, your condition is relatively rare. A lot of men don’t even notice the symptoms, unless they include ED.”

I couldn’t think of anyone by that name, but she went on, “Mostly what you are experiencing is just an awareness that every day could be your last.”

“Wow,” I thought to myself, “that’s really heavy,” and I handed her back the medical dictionary I’d been using to look up the big words. I wanted to ask if she had any advice, any words of comfort, any way to convince myself that it would all be OK.

“It’ll all be OK,” she said.

It didn’t help as much as I thought. I looked into her eyes, but all I saw was a deteriorated skeleton of a man. Then I noticed the backwards words attached to the bones, and I glanced over my shoulder at the anatomical diagram labeled Normal Musculature. This bore little resemblance to the actual me, but that didn’t cheer me up much either.

“Doc,” I mumbled, “I can take the worst. If I’m going, to die, just tell me how long I have.”

“Probably somewhere between fifteen and thirty years.”

The phrase hit me like a ton of bricks, until I realized that a normal brick weighs a couple pounds, so 2,000 pounds of brick would only build a house about eleven inches high. Then I realized that fifteen years would equal out to 5,475 days unless you count leap years, which add at least a couple more days, while thirty years would be 10,950 days, again without leap years.

OK, I didn’t realize any of that until I got home and hit the calculator function on my iPhone. Ten thousand days is a lot of days, I said to myself. I should dedicate myself to doing good. I should realize that I need to use every day, every hour, nay every minute. I realized I shouldn’t use the word Nay, because it sounds like a horse. But I have time, precious time, to devote to loved ones, to lost causes, to watching more Cubs games. And Andy Griffith reruns. (I still haven’t seen them all!) I should watch more sunsets, have more adventures, make love to more women.

“Why are your eyes watering?” my wife asked.

“I was just thinking about . . . poor Wally Pipp,” I lied.

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