Sit Down Before Reading: A Memoir by Dave Bexfield
One paragraph. Really, just one sentence. There was one sentence in my Hail Mary letter to my doctors that unlocked the mystery that had been plaguing me for the past 17 years. Correction: not just me, Laura. Her life has been irrevocably changed because of my multiple sclerosis diagnosis. She has been my unwavering caregiver, my fiercest supporter, and my best friend through it all. Sorry it’s taken this long, but you absolutely need to meet her.
Laura Miles Bexfield. Tall but not quite model tall, brown hair that’s always too flat for her liking, unbelievably fit but, according to her, never fit enough. She’s a scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey, or at least that’s how I typically introduce her. And then she amends me because she is a scientist, er, hydrologist. Laura likes numbers, specific numbers. If we’ve exercised for about an hour, I am corrected—56 minutes. She bakes—two tablespoons of this, a quarter teaspoon of that, with the oven set exactly at 375 and the timer at 40 minutes. Cooking? For years it was too fuzzy for her, too much winging it. And I was good at it. But she adapted for us—she had to—as my talents in the kitchen went to such hell that Gordon Ramsey would’ve been asking for my chef’s jacket before I had a chance to put it on.
She rarely answers the phone or switches to call waiting. She loads the dishwasher all wrong. Oh, and she doesn’t like spiders, and really doesn’t like roaches, alive or dead. That’s kind of a problem. Household bug-disposal duties, among many others, are now all on her after I split my head open and ended up with stiches stapled into my skull the last time I tried clean up eight-legged detritus. You also need to know that she is brilliant, the smartest person I’ve ever met. And I know some really smart people. That’s perhaps one reason we rarely argue. I would so totally lose.
We met, as you might expect in a shark-jumping story, in a horribly romantic way. Days after my 20th birthday I strolled into a greeting card store and there she was. Laura, her hair permed and frizzy (it was the ‘80s after all), her skin ivory, and her sundress pink, was behind the counter reading a book.
Like a straight-to-DVD rom-com, right then I knew I was going to marry that woman. There were just a couple minor problems with that optimistic scenario. First, for this to be destiny, she couldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) be already married. Two, I still technically needed to ask her out on a date. Ergo, I immediately asked the pressing question.
“So, are you married?” The art of subtlety has never been my strong suit. I got that from Mom who for years drove around in a car with a bumper sticker that read VIRGINITY IS CURABLE. The conversation with my future wife paused for another glacier to melt.
“Uh, no. I just turned 17. I’m going to be a senior in high school.”
My lack of subtlety is trumped only by my complete inability to estimate ages or, for that matter, guess someone’s weight. I would have made a poor carny.
I proceeded for the next hour to small-talk my way around in a store that was little bigger than the average restroom at a Burger King. I read every birthday card, get-well-soon card, anniversary card, sympathy card, and thank you card working up the courage to ask her out. I was running out of cards. And then I found the one.
I handed the girl behind the counter my purchase, a single greeting card that screamed “HEY YOU!” in huge letters. Inside read “What’s happening?” But I had quickly scribbled one more question: “And what would you say if I asked you out?”
“Will that be all?” she smiled, handing me back the card.
“Actually, the card is for you.”
We’ve been married now for over a quarter century, moving from the DC area to New Mexico months after we wed. Crazy, she still laughs, or at least sighs loudly, at all of my jokes. All of them. We have pet names for each other. I’m usually honey or babe, but her nickname changes pretty much daily. Some are food-based, often vegetarian (Pomegranate, Broccolini, Asparagus), some bizarre (Scootchy, Roonskie, Squeeker). And there are names that I regret the moment they leave my mouth. Babesquatch comes to mind.
The other day, friends of mine all agreed that a monument for her was in order. For putting up with me. I can’t argue with that. The only thing up for debate is the statue itself. Bronze? Marble? On a rearing horse? After what I’ve dragged her through, though, the right question to ask might not be what kind of monument, but how many.
Fate Intervenes, Of Course
Fate, destiny, whatever you want to call it, has always swirled around our lives together like a Pig-Pen’s dust cloud for two. (And for those keeping score, that’s two Peanuts references thus far, so only three more for bingo.) Ever since that serendipitous first meeting in the card shop in 1988, we’ve choked too many times on coincidences, karma. It’s become so common that we didn’t even raise an eyebrow when we found out our disheveled Better Call Saul lawyer (remember him from Chapter 3: Operation Overturn?) had gone to our same high school… 2,000 miles away. The same high school featured in Denzel Washington’s Remember the Titans. Together we proudly sang our high school fight song “TC-Titans-express—all aboard!” in his cluttered office. Because of course we did.
Our Sunday mornings unfold the same as they have unfolded since our time in Houston for the stem cell transplant: lazily, with coffee and The New York Times, with breakfast whenever our stomachs collectively rise up and demand it. We started reading the national newspaper after our temporary move, and the consumer column The Haggler by David Segal was always a favorite as it righted wrongs. Since we owed Mr. Haggler a debt of gratitude worthy of a half million thank yous for his work on my 2014 health insurer case, we’ve kept our habit going long after his column was discontinued.
The morning of October 24, 2021 was unremarkable, other than the remarkable stuff: I was still grossly disabled, still tired from another restless night, and still certifiably crazy. But at least now my inner loony bin had a most unanticipated of silver linings: the answer to all my health problems.
Did you catch it, the sentence? The one in neon as tall as skyscrapers? It was when I was discussing the effect antibiotics routinely had on my symptoms, particularly the noticeable improvements. “Indeed, it is dramatic: it’s as if my MS bladder issues all cease, with me urinating normally every few hours.”
All cease. Normal. Not return to my “normal” pre-UTI MS bladder, the one that is typically urgent, leaky, and barks every couple hours to visit the toilet. Not the MS normal-for-over-a-decade bladder that requires Depends and an active bathroom radar whenever leaving the safety of home. Normal, normal. The behaving bladder I had before being diagnosed for cross-country road trips, three-hour movies, and jam-packed beer fests without enough portable toilets. That bladder.
That’s not the way antibiotics work in multiple sclerosis. They fix the thorny urinary tract infections that are common with the autoimmune disease, but antibiotics should have no effect on MS itself or its symptoms. No effect. That meant my Sunday was going to be spent sleuthing for the confounding bacterial nemesis that does get beaten back by these infection-busting drugs. And Monday. And Tuesday. And however many days it was going to take. I was going to find it. But first, our Sunday routine.
Coffee. Times. Breakfast. Until noon, if that’s what it took. A sense of normalcy, for one morning on one day of the week.
At 9:27 a.m. I put my coffee down to reread a sentence in the day's newspaper. One of their columnists was writing about his experience with an unexplained illness.
“[Antibiotics] seemed to stabilize me — something confirmed whenever I went off them and the disintegrating feelings swiftly returned.” Then I reread the paragraph. Then the article. Then I went to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research his disease. No, it couldn’t also be my disease—I tested negative not once, but three times. Then I pulled out my journals from 2004, 2005, 2006. Then I went to the detailed notes I recorded when I was getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis—the notes I gave to every doctor who reviewed my case. Every doctor.
Check. Check. Check. Check. Fuck.
My coffee was cold. “Laura!”
No herbaceous substitute, no babe-zooka flattery, only her given first name. She knew it was serious. I grabbed both her hands.
“I’m still crazy, I know that. And what I’m about to tell you is going to sound crazy, I know that. But you need to hear what I have to say. And you need to believe me.” My voice cracked as my eyes betrayed my discovery.
“I don’t have MS. I have Lyme disease.”