Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Two kinds of brain damage

by shamanic

I feel a little behind the curve these last couple of weeks because work has been very hectic. Next week I'm in Austin for the National Poetry Slam (tickets are on sale now if you're in the area) so I didn't get the full story on John Roberts' seizure until this morning.

I used to work in group homes, some of which catered to previously high-functioning adults who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. I've seen a family member's personality whither from alzheimers. I have a friend who once sustained a serious head injury when she slipped on ice during a snow storm, and though her intellect is entirely unimpaired, she talks about the experience as though it's the seed of a particular insecurity, as though the times when she misplaces keys or can't think of quite the right word is evidence of lasting neurological impact. And while I do those things too, there's no way of knowing if for her, it is. I've spent a lot of time pondering the brain as the seat of who we are, and as a suspect, or villain, in so many of the stories we end up living and telling about ourselves.

So when I heard that Chief Justice Roberts experienced a neurological event, my first thought was "How terrifying"--for him and for his family. I don't know if I can think of anything more chronically frightening than to live daily with the knowledge that your brain may revolt.

But it sounds like it certainly could be worse. Chronic vascular problems in the brain can be life threatening; while epilepsy (particularly a low-grade epilepsy, as I believe Roberts would be diagnosed with if he is diagnosed with epilepsy) seems much less so.

Then there's "Washington Brain Damage"--that amazing sense of entitlement that I think it's safe to say the entire Alaska delegation in Congress (and in Juneau) is suffering. The most recently diagnosed patient: Sen. Ted Stevens, whose house was raided by the FBI and--potentially an even more horrible fate--the IRS.

I hate to jump to conclusions based on hearsay, and obviously this story has not yet produced any blocks of cash in anyone's freezer (one of my favorite scandal details, courtesy of disgraceful Rep. William Jefferson), but it sounds like Stevens is being cutesy with English when he says,
"As a practical matter, I will tell you. We paid every bill that was given to us. Every bill that was sent to us has been paid, personally, with our own money, and that’s all there is to it. It’s our own money."
How many times, in four sentences, can Ted Stevens reiterate that bills they were provided with were paid?

I would like to know more about those bills. I know when I have work done on my house, I'm stuck with getting estimates from various companies to ensure I get the best deal at the best price. So I'm just curious what the going rate for doubling the size of your house in Alaska is if you're the most powerful political figure in the state. You know, based on the bills the friendly fellows doing the work bothered to send to you.

That's Washington Brain Damage, wherein greed and an enormous sense of entitlement allow you to rationalize skirting all the rules. It's much more serious, and much more troubling, than the neurological event that John Roberts suffered. Good luck to the Chief Justice on getting great doctors, a clear diagnosis, and a straightforward treatment plan for whatever ails him. I have fewer good wishes for Sen. Stevens.

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