Friday, June 2, 2023

It's That Shark Music Again...

'You asked me once,' said O'Brien, 'what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.' 
--From 1984 by George Orwell. Part 3, Chapter 5.

I think I have discovered what my deepest, darkest fear is. 

No, not her. Sorry, this isn't a Diablo post.

And no, it isn't missing out on raids. I get that this is primarily a gaming blog, but come on.

In the realm of nightmare scenarios, I could have chosen family related events such as watching my kids or wife die, existential fears such as nuclear war or a pandemic far more deadly than Covid-19 was, or even personal fears such as losing my job, getting cancer, or causing us to get kicked out of our home. However, it is a particular subset of the dreaded loss of control that I fear the most.

The aftereffects of a stroke.

I've seen it happen to my father, when he had surgery back in 2002 or so. He had a brain tumor that needed removal, so the surgery process was to pop out an eye*, go in through the front where the tumor was, and remove it. With luck, they'd get the whole thing in one swoop and put the eye back in place. No fuss, no muss. (Relatively speaking.)

So we waited around at the hospital for hours on end as the surgery progressed, and sometime about 6 hours after he was wheeled into surgery the surgeon emerged to speak with us. The process was a success, he said, and all of the tumor was removed and sent to determine its malignancy.** However, there was a catch: when they began to bring him out of the deep anesthesia he suffered a stroke. It wasn't unusual for that to happen, he informed us, and they caught it early and were able to administer drugs to control the stroke. However, he said, we'll have to watch him and how he recovers.

The first thing I noticed was that Dad sounded like he was on speed. 

There was absolutely no filter on him at all: whatever popped into his head came right out of his mouth. It was a completely unrestrained Id for all to see. The nurses were used to this sort of thing, but watching it in action was disheartening. 

He used to listen to Soft Rock / Yacht Rock, so on the way home from the hospital I put on some old Sting (Nothing Like the Sun) and about one or two songs in he told me "That's just crap; turn it off." Given that he used to listen to this music for hours on end shocked me, but I took it in stride.

Then, when I kept him company while my mom got some medication for him, he angrily blurted, "I heard you tell your brother that I'm on speed."

WTF and holy shit.

I made a mental note to explain things better to my brother, and informed my dad that it was more like he didn't have speed bumps; your words are just falling all over each other in a rush to come out.

He grunted and subsided. I doubted he suddenly gained control of his Id, so it was likely he had nothing to say.

We got him home, and the next day my mom informed me that it was a rough night, where he was ranting and raving about this and that or how my mom wasn't doing things right or whatever popped into his head. I think I should be glad I wasn't there, because I might have had trouble being so understanding, which would have done nobody any good.

Eventually my dad recovered, but he was a changed man. He became far more impulsive than ever before, and he did lose the ability to write or sign his name. Some complex concepts were no longer within his grasp, and we had to keep an eye on whether he might just up and decide to go somewhere and not tell anyone while he was out in a group.

But for me, those first several days were like watching a nightmare unfolding in real life.


I realize that the unrestrained Id is a kind of terrifying thing to behold; the Id just absorbs things, churns them around, tosses in pure volatility and emotion, and spews out words or thoughts without consideration of consequences. (Kind of like Twitter, only worse.) But we as functioning humans have control over our Id and keep it from carpet bombing everything with napalm. Maybe some have greater control than others, but the point is still the same: to function in society you have to rein in your worst impulses.

"There's a time and a place for certain discussions."

"Don't burn your bridges."

"No, you can't have that right now. Control yourself."

It's all well and good, until something happens and our control is lost.

Like a stroke.

Or Dementia.

And then suddenly all those thoughts that your mind says "That's bullshit --and you know it-- and you're not saying that," suddenly stand up and cheer and head for the nearest exit (your mouth).

THAT is what I'm terrified of.


When I had my "old man procedure" last year, I was put in a semi-comatose state while the stereotypical rectal probe checked me out. The docs may say I was semi-comatose, but for all intents and purposes I was out like a light. When I finally came to***, the nurse and my wife informed me that I was yammering on and on about checking the mail, and whether the mail had come this morning or not. 

I have absolutely no memory of this at all, and I don't know why my brain popped that particular thing out of my mouth.

My wife and the nurse were amused by my performance, but I wasn't.

I mean, what if I'd said something else, such as sharing intimate details of my dating or married life? Or what I thought of the attractive neighbor next door who had the personality of the Wicked Witch of the West? Or what I really thought about some of my ex-coworkers? Or details about private conversations among some of my closest friends online? Or.... You get the idea.

I'd like to think that somehow my brain would step in and keep things from getting out of hand, but I know better. Under the right circumstances the best thing for people standing nearby is to put on a raincoat and galoshes, because the shit will be flying fast and heavy.

Maybe it's about the image I project, or the face I put to the world. Losing all sense of control and just spewing whatever would be a nightmarish blow to my self image. I mean, I'm not egotistical about it, but I do take pride in doing the right thing and presenting an example for others. I know I'm not perfect --oh crap, do I know that-- but I believe in setting a good example for people to follow. I can't look my kids in the eye and tell them to do things the right way if I don't try to follow it myself. "Represent," is what I said to my kids when they wore clothing with their school name on it, "You are representing your school whether you like it or not, and people will judge others from your school based on your behavior."**** In the same way, people will judge me based on how I behave, so I try to keep myself under control as much as possible.

And that loss of control throws that concept out the window.


So there you have it. My greatest fear isn't even fear of heights, which I do happen to have, but something far more existential in nature. I'd have likely never even realized it were it not for my dad's experience with a brain tumor, but once unleashed that fear can never be quite compartmentalized as much as I'd prefer. 

It's like a Rogue in a battleground, always sneaking along out there and ready to strike when you least expect it.

*Yes, I still shudder at that part.

**It was benign, but rapidly growing, so it was very much a good thing that all of it was removed.

***Yes, everything checked out fine. The doc said "While I was down there, I figured I'd check your prostate too, and you're okay. See you in a decade." I could almost hear the snap of the latex gloves on his hands when he said "I checked your prostate" and shuddered.

****This is a reason why I prefer to not wear clothes with logos or drive a car with bumper stickers or whatnot on them. I like the anonymity, and I know how people judge others.

EtA: Fixed a grammatical quirk and a conjunction.

EtA: Fixed yet another grammatical error. Sheesh.


  1. Honestly, this is the reason I don't drink alcohol anymore. I did as a teenager and young adult, until one fateful night when I apparently got so drunk that I did all kinds of stupid stuff while staying at a friend's place that I could not remember at all. That complete loss of control and not even being able to remember any of it afterwards was so terrifying to me, I knew I never wanted to experience anything like it ever again.

    1. I had issues with loss of control when I was drunk on my 21st birthday, and I decided to not get so drunk I couldn't remember anything. I thought that problem was solved, but when I saw what the aftereffects of a stroke were... Well, it was quite eye opening having that happen to you and being unable to do anything about it.

  2. Is that unrestrained id/speed jive thing a common side-effect of a stroke? I've never heard of it before. I thought complete or partial loss of speech was much more likely. My grandfather had several strokes and he definitely didn't start talking nineteen to the dozen - he was hard to understand at all for months and he didn't try to say much.

    Also, as onetime afficionado of amphetamines, the main reason I preferred them to other drugs was because they left me in complete control. I always felt exactly like myself only more so. Yes, I talked a lot, but I always knew exactly what I was saying and never said anything I wouldn't have said when I was straight - I just said it a lot faster! Too much drink, on the other hand, had a very different effect. God only knows what kind of nonsense I talked when I'd had a few too many. The upside of that, though, is that everyone else would have been at least as drunk as I was, so no-one was going to remember any of it the next day!

    1. You're correct in that a variety of paralysis and/or loss of speech is far more common after a stroke. When my dad had a stroke as a side effect of his cancer in 2017 --his particular type of cancer was prone to blood clots, and one flowed up the arteries to the brain causing the stroke-- he had the classic partial paralysis and slurred speech.

      In this particular case, I believe the effect was due to the location of the tumor toward the front of the brain, which was where the stroke happened. I'm not a neurologist so I'm not going to speculate further than that, and the doc didn't go into a lot of detail about the hows and whys, as he was there to let us know what had happened, what the next steps were, and what to expect going forward.

      When I used to drink I became the stereotypical "happy drunk" in that I was in a constant state of "I love you man" to people. I guess I should be grateful I wasn't belligerent when buzzed, but that one time when I couldn't remember stuff kind of scared me off of drinking to excess.

  3. Scary stuff! You’ve hit upon a fear I also have, if my cancer popped back up, and in my brain, where I might start saying God knows what. Talk about no control. I also think of strokes as generally taking away the ability to communicate. Sorry you had to see your dad that way, and live now with the dread of it happening to you. Atheren

    1. Since that disruption is commonly the removal of the ability to communicate, we don't think about the other sorts of disruptions that a stroke can have. I know that until I saw it in action, I sure didn't. In this particular case, I'm not so worried about the cancer that caused the need for that type of surgery, because it is pretty rare and doesn't seem to be genetic in nature (so far, although as research progresses you never know). But still, our already strained relationship was done no favors by that stroke.

      Knowing some of the crap that sits in my head from some of my dreams, opening up your mouth and having some of the worst stuff imaginable popping out is a big fear of mine. People being too quick to judge, particularly in our day and age, only amplifies the problem.