Brainstorm: A Memoir of Love, Devotion, and a Cerebral Aneurysm

Brainstorm: A Memoir of Love, Devotion, and a Cerebral Aneurysm

by Robert Wintner

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Overview

The Pulitzer Prize–nominated author chronicles navigating the traditional western medical system during his wife’s battle with a brain aneurysm.
 
Brainstorm is the candid and powerful memoir of a couple’s harrowing experience of an aneurysm and their road to recovery. It is a journey of love, devotion, and a clash of medical beliefs and countercultures. The fierce resolve of the author and his wife is extraordinary, inspiring, and matched only by the tremendous competence and care of the medical system—one to which the author initially stands in opposition, but that he later learns to admire and respect.
 
This book is for anyone who has experienced the fear and difficulties of a major illness. The themes, truths, and above all, the compassion that this book shares will be familiar not just to the nine million Americans affected by aneurysms, but to anyone whose family has been touched by a medical trauma. Filled with raw emotion, Brainstorm affords quiet but powerful support to those suffering similar circumstances and strives to tell them that they are not alone.
 
“Raw and honest. His writing is . . . poetic, cynical, humorous and above all candid. He openly acknowledges his sense of helplessness, his pain in seeing his wife suffer, and the inappropriate actions brought on by his mental anguish and rebelliousness.” —Library of Clean Reads

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631580246
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Publication date: 02/10/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 200
Sales rank: 829,762
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Robert Wintner has written twelve novels, including In a Sweet Magnolia Time, which was nominated for both a Pulitzer Prize and a PEN/Faulkner Award. He is an avid snorkeler, diver, and marine photographer, and is the founder of Snorkel Bob’s Hawaii. He resides with his wife in Hawaii.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Before Love Came to Town

We met at the dog pound on Maui, Rachel and I, on a warm, sunny day. With my new house finally finished, the debris hauled off and the grass cut, a dog or two seemed in order. After all, it was a farm in the tropics; it needed some good dogs. I had many things to do that day, but then coming around the last curve out of town on the way home, the dog pound stood out like an idea with right timing. If not now, when? On impulse I pulled in.

Two women worked the place with oddly differing airs about them. The front counter woman had enhanced her womanly wares till they resounded with sexuality, visibility, cleavability, availability and, just like two rolls of plump, fresh Charmin, squeezability. Of course I dasn't, but the presentation was compelling, immobilizing me in the decision-making process. But I did decide in a blink, after all, because a man knows that a stupendous rack will not endure like true love. But I get ahead of myself; love was not yet on the table. I savored the dazzling display like a chocoholic scanning a sampler, wondering what would be better, the creamy nougat center or the crushed nuts.

Supremely suggestive, her form-fit denim presented a leggy foundation on a perfect ass with excellent lift and spread, leading up to an incredible front framed in lace and loosely covered by a man's shirt tied at the waist but straining at the braces and yearning to be free. I could have pulled the slipknot one-handed. But she glared as if at a man-dog in need of a muzzle. That glare also felt practiced and formidable. I wasn't her type. Or maybe she wanted a pursuit. Her lustrous dark hair starkly contrasted with her pale, chiseled face, like the frustrated queen in Snow White. She knew that any mirror would tell her what all men have in mind. Her waist was narrow as the evil queen's, her curvature more inspirational, beyond Disney into Crumb. I asked how things were going today at the dog pound.

"This isn't a dog pound!" she said. "We don't like that kind of talk. It's an animal shelter."

"My mistake." She returned to her work, ignoring me.

She was not Rachel. But there on the steps to the side stood a woman of more soothing profile, who was. Her natural features allured like an oasis on a tundra. She asked, "Are you looking for a companion today?" Long blonde hair framed her sparkling green eyes.

"Yes. I am." She brightened, assuring me that we could get through this with patience and understanding, and then everyone would be better off, especially the lucky pooch. "Two companions, in fact. Dogs. I have a cat."

"Two dogs? You want two?"

"I travel sometimes. They're not like cats, you know. They get depressed. If I have two, they can keep each other company when I'm gone. Can't they?"

"Well. Yes. Maybe you could get one today and see how that works out."

"Nah. I'm busy. And I'm good with dogs and cats. Don't worry. I spoil 'em rotten. I treat them like people. Well, better, actually." She smiled at my sophistry and led the way. I thought I'd done well. She told me for years afterward that I made a bigger impression than any man at the dog pound in a long time, because I wanted two. She knew then that I was special. What a woman. She showed me the old dogs, the young and middle-aged dogs. I picked two and took them home.

She seemed nice enough but hardly for me; too nice and conventional in a married sort of way. Her subtle anxiety may have been nothing but high energy, but it still felt contagious and different from my usual composure. She infused the scene with tension, like it was a pictorial from House and Garden, with chitchat and niceties between a single-minded bachelor and a woman wallowing in disappointment. It wasn't for me. Neither was the hard body up front, who seemed more like a centerfold from Soldier of Fortune.

A month later we met by chance in the grocery, Rachel and I. We recognized each other immediately, and she asked how the dogs were doing. They were doing fine, naturally. We talked dogs for a while, until I thought, singularly, why not? So I asked, "Hey. Do you want to get together for a bottle of wine?"

"A bottle?" Maybe I pressed, but I wanted to drink a bottle of wine with her so we could get decently buzzed and then screw. Is that unreasonable? No, but she faltered.

So I said, "Next week, maybe. I'll talk to you then." It seemed perfunctory and dismissive, like it would never happen. But then it did, the puzzle parts sliding into place when least expected.

For starters, she was married — not truly married but legally married, not yet divorced. I read her well enough; her guileless uncertainty gave her away. Then again, she likely read me too and wanted some wiggle room in proximity to the wolverine hunger before her. She looked away and blushed with her own mumble that maybe, I suppose, sometime, I guess, sure. I let it go. If she knocked on my door I'd offer the wine.

Another two weeks went by till I rang her up one empty afternoon to see if she wanted to take in an early movie. Well, I guess, okay, she said. I don't know why people go to movies on dates when all you do is sit in the dark for two hours beside someone you don't know any better when the credits come up. I took her home, her home, and pulled up so she could get out, because I knew she wouldn't come home with me, not on a first date. She was too classy, with a dress and lipstick and shoes and a cashmere sweater. Besides, I was too tired for the talking and feigned interest and more drinks way past cocktail hour. So I said good night; I had a great time and maybe again soon or something or other. She agreed and leaned over like it was 1962, and we kissed for a few seconds there on the front seat, and my skin went tight and my pulse kicked up, and I wondered where the hell that came from.

We went out the following week to dinner. She wore another dress, a warm-weather number in red-orange with shoulder straps and snug hips. Afterward, outside the restaurant, we stood talking to a parrot on a perch. Her thigh brushed mine, and it happened again, the electricity out of nowhere. We didn't screw for another two months simply because I knew she wouldn't. Her? Screw me? Get outta here. But then of course we did, because you must, unless you're in a monastery, where it can often take longer.

She didn't come out and tell me she was married, but I knew it from the real house and real furniture and grown-up things and the way she prepared dinner and her presentation of everything. She reeked of stability then stumbled with its opposite. Her marriage had failed but not her faith in all good things. Still she saw herself as a woman whose marriage had failed and lugged that baggage with guilt, compensating for her deficiencies, as if they were proven and must be balanced. She loved her job at the dog pound more than anything she'd ever done, because she could save cats and dogs daily by simply taking the time to find an owner or a new home for another soul so eminently adoptable. I sensed that the dogs and cats were a blessed object of her giving, her penance. I came to learn that the giving would remain compulsive, part of her character. Beyond that, the animals returned her love, which she'd been a long time without.

She rarely failed the cats and dogs and broke the rules on maximum stay at the dog pound, many times drawing the line against the time that those animals most lovable would have been led down the one-way hall to the long sleep. She would not allow them to be put down. When the kennels overflowed, she brought them home, sometimes three or five of them, old or young ones or any who asked for a break, just this once. She got them out of the pound to gain more time to find them homes. But her halfway house efforts went past compensation for anything and required no return; this was pure love. In the meantime the orphans she brought home got along more or less with her three dogs. The problem, she confided, was that she could not stay on at the dog pound indefinitely, because of the shortfall, about a grand a month between expenses and income. We had popcorn and beer in her kitchen on another evening a few months into our liaison. She seemed pleased that I took the time and effort to come over, and she didn't mind that it was ten-fifteen, after Aikido class, which had been my libido transfer for years. Now I got to transfer and eat it too, with popcorn and beer.

I remember that particular evening, because she revealed doubts on the future. I admired her by then, because many residents in a resort community wait tables or clean rooms or bell hop or sell real estate or otherwise serve the guests. No matter how much you might appreciate good service, none of it warms the heart and soul like service to the animals. Here was a woman worth pondering; saving those I loved the most.

Our dialogue then was like that first kiss. I stood back, out-of-body as it were, scenes of naked abandon only minutes away in my mind, and I heard myself say, "Yes, well, don't you worry. Now you have me to take care of you." I won't call it a psychedelic experience, but I watched the words flow out as if spoken by another self. I didn't believe them, didn't want to take care of her or anyone. I wanted sex and fun. Caring for another seemed marginally possible but hardly likely for me. Still, it seemed the thing to say because she was, after all, quite a date.

Such base assessment may seem harsh, but the truth often is, and I don't recall these drives — the lust and the nurture — as opposing. What romp is ever better than with one who cares? I have nice manners when I'm not hostile. Nor do I judge myself or seek judgment. I record what happened to more clearly understand what happened next. Which wasn't much, except for the romps and more fun than most people could ever anticipate. We went to Thailand and Malaysia, Mexico and Europe, San Francisco and Seattle. We rode the train to Vancouver and smoked hash in Amsterdam and rode another train through the Alps and walked past Chris Columbus's house in Genoa. We hiked fifteen miles across the volcanic crater at the top of Haleakala and slept there under the stars with a decent zinfandel.

We camped in the wilderness by a trout stream in Idaho. We went to the beach at Hookipa near home late afternoon on Sunday when the crowd goes away. We watched sunset, smoked a joint, drank more beer and built a fire in a ring of stones. Around the coals we set corn and potatoes wrapped in foil, and we grilled fish along with sliced eggplant that had been soaked in olive oil. We watched the big yellow moon rise and screwed in the sand and then cleared out for home in time for Masterpiece Theater.

Like icing on cake she shared my love for the little fish of garish color and keen curiosity, and she swam like one, graceful in free dive as a dancer. She could get thirty feet and cruise for a minute on a single breath. We snorkeled many reefs in Hawaii and a dozen more in the Windward Islands of the Caribbean and a dozen more off Yucatan. We hiked for miles on deserted beaches stark naked and snorkeled again with our friends, the turtles and eels, the groupers and sharks. We achieved the bliss of Never Never, until four years in, when she told me one night after dinner that she got a call that day from the doctor about yesterday's mammogram. It showed three tiny dots, micro-calcifications that appeared acutely suspicious to the pathologist.

"I'm having a biopsy tomorrow, to be sure."

The biopsy was to remove a narrow slice of breast tissue for scrutiny under the microscope. The three dots warranted this further analysis. "Then you really don't know yet if they're tumors."

"No. But the pathologist thinks they're tumors."

"Why?"

"I don't know."

"Do you want me to go with you?"

"Would you?"

"Why wouldn't I?"

"You're busy."

"Busy with what?"

"Please don't do that."

"Okay. I'm going with you."

We watched TV, thinking inevitable thoughts. We turned in. We slept fitfully. We went in the next morning for the biopsy, and she slept off the anesthetic until after noon.

Rachel was then forty-one. She would proceed to show me the meaning of faith, initiative and courage disguised as good manners. But I recall a single moment on the second evening of our knowing; it was not another out-of-body expression but did again affirm what was to be, out of the blue, from the ether. On the phone with the pathologist, who confirmed that the three dots were tumors, she spoke evenly and wrote things down. I was taken by the calmness on the surface of her pond, and I knew this intrusion was ours to share. With nary a ripple she proceeded with life. I wanted to learn how she did that, and I knew that the trouble upon us would map our next trip together. The moment was a milestone. She hung up, smiled resolutely and said, "I have breast cancer."

I asked what she wanted to do. She didn't yet know. She would go along for now with the standard regimen of the diagnostic facility, keeping her appointments to discuss her "options." She wanted to see what they had to offer and was scheduled for next week in Honolulu to meet with the oncologist, who would explain and plan.

I foolishly asked, "Do you want me there?"

She wisely said, "Yes."

We sat and thought. Rachel has a college degree in nutrition. She owned a health-food restaurant once and remained intrigued by immune system support. Still, she stepped boldly where so many fear to tread.

The oncologist in Honolulu was an egregiously friendly fellow with a how-do-you-do and handshake for each of us. Then came polite questions on who is whom and who does what. Defaulting to grim resolve, he put a smiley face on a difficult situation, which seemed an attempt to frame our reality in black and white. On a legal pad he made line drawings of breasts and tumors, assuring Rachel that prospects for a complete cure were darn near a hundred percent. He spoke to her and only her. I was the boyfriend, an unrelated observer, more or less. Yet he seemed to sense more than indifference in my presence, perhaps ignoring the aggressor in the woodpile. I allowed for the possibility that he addressed only her in deference to legality, since boyfriends have no legal say in critical healthcare decisions, yet the exclusion felt obtuse. Maybe I observed too keenly. I remained silent with visible difficulty. Maybe he sensed my distrust.

"First, we'll have major mastectomy. This is standard procedure now. Many, many women are doing this with wonderful results. By removing the breast entirely, we can eliminate what you might call habitat for these tumors and any others." The happy face dissolved to scientific certainty.

"Why not remove both breasts?" I asked, perhaps challenging his case, in fact pressing for insight on the complete picture. "I mean, if habitat removal is the best course."

With a happy face again, he nodded approval. "Well, in fact, many women do have both breasts removed, to be sure." He smiled most warmly here. "Yes. We can do that. It's okay." He seemed oddly gratified that the question had been asked, and he'd had the right answer ready, apparently oblivious to my cynical sense of irony. Or maybe he chose to ignore the sarcastic side of the question. I was a subtle smart ass with chronic symptoms, to be sure, but in this case my pre-rational nuance was a source of effective realization.

Rachel and I shared the quizzical response.

"Secondly, we'll put you up for three days a week for twelve weeks at a very nice place just down the road here so you can be all comfy cozy during your radiation treatments. And I'm going to tell you right now" — he touched her gently, a smarmy, learned technique in vogue then with an obscure name, something like neuro-transmittal response. It should have been called operant conditioning with cheese — "don't you worry about a thing. This is all covered by your insurance. We'll start with small doses and then we'll build you up."

"Build her up? With radiation? Don't you mean you increase the dosage?"

"Do you mind? Can I finish here?"

"Sorry."

"Then, just to be sure, we'll have some chemotherapy. You won't feel so good during that one. Do you have someone who can take care of you?"

Well, I deserved a set-up like that. I was the fool nobody could see, and I laughed. But Rachel didn't need a pissing contest. She interjected quickly, softly and to the point. "Don't radiation and chemotherapy destroy my natural immunity?"

"No. We don't know that."

"We don't know that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer either, do we?" This widely broadcast corollary came from me, to sustain clarity on what we know of predisposition in the medical industry. I am inclined to disbelieve many if not most claims or contentions or, worst of all, mere suggestions of the medical industry, compromised and challenged as it is by the legal industry. I didn't mean to indicate that the oncologist was a chump; it just came out that way, and this exchange only heightened my prejudice.

"We need to schedule you right away, to be sure." He again ignored my foolish question and me.

"I'm not having surgery," Rachel said.

"What do you mean, you're not having surgery?"

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Brainstorm"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Robert Wintner.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Author's Note ix

Prologue: Comfort Can Fool You xi

1 Before Love Came to Town 01

2 Happily Ever After 17

3 Will You Get Away From Me? Just Get the Fuck Away! 27

4 Doogie Howser 47

5 An Exercise in Faith 59

6 You're Doing So Many Things to Upset Us 81

7 The Gift of the Ages 113

8 The Angels Sing 129

9 Time for Service! 143

10 Stuck in the Valley 165

11 Free at Last 181

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