AT THE NEUROLOGIST
“So, let’s summarize,” says the neurologist.
“Yes, summarize,” echo the two, quietly.
“The complaints aren’t imaginary. There is atrophy in the frontal lobe that indicates mild degeneration.”
“Here, in the cerebral cortex.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t see anything.”
His wife leans toward the scan.
“Yes, there’s a dark spot here,” she acknowledges, “but tiny.”
“Yes, tiny,” confirms the neurologist, “but it could grow larger.”
“Could,” asks the husband, voice trembling, “or likely will?”
“Could, and likely will.”
“There are no firm rules for pathological development, certainly not in this part of the brain. The pace also depends on you.”
“On me? How?”
“On your attitude. In other words, how you fight back.”
“Fight against my brain? How?”
“The spirit versus the brain.”
“I always thought they were one and the same.”
“Not at all, not at all,” declares the neurologist. “How old are you, sir?”
“Not yet,” his wife corrects him, “he’s always pushing it .?.?. closer to the end .?.?.”
“That’s not good,” mutters the neurologist.
Only now does the patient notice that tucked among the doctor’s curls is a small knitted kippah, which he apparently removed when Luria lay on the examination table, lest it fall on his face.
“So take, for example, the names that escape you.”
“Mostly first names,” the patient is quick to specify, “last names come easier, but first names fade away when I reach out to touch them.”
“So here’s a little battleground. Don’t settle for last names, don’t give up on first names.”
“I’m not giving up, but when I try hard to remember them, she always jumps in and beats me to it.”
“That’s not good,” the neurologist scolds his wife, “you’re not helping.”
“True,” she says, accepting blame, “but sometimes it takes him so long to remember a first name that he forgets why he wanted to know.”
“Still, you have to let him fight for his memory on his own, that’s the only way you can help him.”
“You’re right, Doctor, I promise.”
“Tell me, are you still working?”
“Not anymore,” says the patient. “I retired five years ago.”
“Retired from what, may I ask?”
“The Israel Roads Authority.”
“What is that exactly?”
“It used to be called the Public Works Department of the Ministry of Transportation. I worked there forty years, planning roads and highways.”
“Roads and highways.” The neurologist finds this vaguely amusing. “Where? In the North or the South?”
As he considers the proper answer, his wife intervenes:
“In the North. Sitting before you, Doctor, is the engineer who planned the two tunnels in the Trans-Israel Highway, Route Six.”
Why the tunnels? wonders the husband, these are not his most important achievements. But the neurologist is intrigued. And why not? He’s in no hurry. It’s his last patient of the day, the receptionist has collected the doctor’s fee and gone home, and his apartment is located above the clinic.
“I haven’t noticed tunnels on Route Six.”
“Because they’re not so long, maybe a couple of hundred meters each.”
“Still, I should pay attention, not daydream on the road,” the doctor reprimands himself. “You never know, other road engineers might come to see me.”
“They’ll only come if they can’t hide their dementia under the overpass,” says the patient, attempting a joke.
The neurologist objects: “Please, why dementia? We’re not there yet. Don’t rush to claim something you don’t understand, and don’t raise unnecessary fears, and above all, don’t get addicted to passivity and fatalism. Retirement is not the end of the road, and so you need to find work in your field, even part-time, private work.”
“There is no private work, Doctor. Private individuals don’t build highways or plan roads. Highways are a public affair, and there are others out there now, younger people.”
“So how do you spend your time?”
“Officially I sit at home. But I also take walks, all over the place. And we go out a lot, theater, music, opera, sometimes lectures. And of course, helping my children, mostly with the grandchildren, I take them around, pick them up, bring them back. And I also do some housework, errands, shopping at the supermarket, the produce market, and sometimes ?—”
“He loves going to the produce market,” says his wife, eager to end the recitation.
“The market?” The neurologist is taken aback.
“By all means, if you know your way around, it’s fine.”
“Because I cook.”
“Aha, you also cook!”
“Actually I mostly chop, mix, reheat leftovers. I’m in charge of making lunch before she gets back from her clinic.”
“I’m a pediatrician,” his wife says softly.
“Great,” says the doctor, relieved. “In that case, I have a partner.”