Writing Exercise: 6

Prompt: Pick a word, any word. Now write a piece about that word and its influence in your life.

Word: diagnosis

I am five when my grandmother is diagnosed. Parkinson’s Disease. She retires shortly after she learns the news, but all I’m concerned with is the fact that Grandma will be home more, and she should be more willing to let me play dress-up with her clothes—she won’t be wearing them to work anymore, after all. It takes several weeks for Grandma to adapt to Grandpa’s schedule: sleeping in later in the morning, staying up later at night. I don’t see her before I go to school, but I see her when I get home. During the holidays, bake cookies on an unfixed schedule, and during school, she helps me with my homework. Her hands start shaking, but it’s not that bad. When asked why she retired, I tell people that she has Parkinson’s Disease, but I don’t know what this really means. It’s the reason she retired.

Diagnosis. Noun. The act of identifying a disease, illness, or problem by examining someone or something. A statement or conclusion that describes the reason for a disease, illness, or problem. From Latin, diagnōsis, from Ancient Greek, diagignóskein, “to discern” and gnosis “to learn.” Doctors have been doing it for as long as medicinal studies have existed, beginning somewhere back in the ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and Babylonia. Even then, people knew health could go awry, and hoped to understand how the body failed and why. And everyone’s body ultimately fails in the end, doesn’t it?

I am ten when my grandfather is diagnosed. Pancreatic Cancer. He’s been caring for my steadily declining grandmother for five years, helping her to the bathroom because she can no longer do it on her own, helping her walk. Her body doesn’t listen to her brain, and her hands shake shake shake shake all the time. The smokers are regulated to smoking outside—something they haughtily had never thought they’d be subjected to, despite the obvious risks of second-hand smoke—because Grandma is on oxygen. Grandpa’s has stopped using the bathroom and his stomach has started to swell. At first, the doctors say it’s related to the poor circulation in his legs, but even at ten, I know that’s a strange and stretched medical connection. It’s weeks before he’s told he has cancer, and immediately declined chemotherapy. He is admitted into the hospital for chemo because Grandma begs him to. “Grandpa will be home soon,” I’m told. “Yeah, in a pine box,” I reply, because no one wants to address the possibility of him not coming home. Grandpa never came home.

The diagnostic procedure is a close cousin to the scientific method, including empiricism, logic, rationality, observation. Process of elimination, in some cases. In medicine, diagnosis is a cognitive process on the part of the clinician who uses several sources of data to make a diagnostic impression. Blood work, various scans, observation and speaking with the patient are some of the first, initial steps which can categorize a patient’s symptoms into broad spectrums of ailment. After the initial diagnostic impression is formed, the clinician obtains follow up tests and procedures to further narrow down the possible cause of the affliction. The thing about diagnoses, though, is you have to actually see a professional in order to obtain one.

I am twenty-one when my mother is diagnosed. Bipolar II Disorder. It explains a lot. I’ve been telling her since I was about twelve, shortly after Grandma died, that she was insane, that she was unstable, that she was fucking dangerous. “You’re fucking bipolar!” She’s beaten me, threatened me, been an all-around terror since Grandpa had died, and she wonders why her lover left her. At twelve, she dismisses me because I am twelve, what do I know? At sixteen, when I am specializing in psychology in the International Baccalaureate Program, she dismisses me because I’m only in high school, what do I know? At twenty, she dismisses me, because I’m only studying psychology in college; I don’t have a degree, what do I know? At twenty-one, I’m not sure what drives her to finally see a professional, but she’s diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder, and what did I know? That I was right. “I told you so.” And I’m not ashamed to gloat, because my family is so disconnected from reality that they cannot face the real possibility of horrible things happening. But after being subjected to my mother for several years, after being subjected to my also-emotionally-and-mentally-disturbed father for several years, horrible things are an integral part of my life. They injected the horrible into my life that they couldn’t accept in their own. But I was right. I’m always right.