I don’t realize how out of it I am after an operation until looking back a month later. There I was, the morning after the surgery. “Morning after” seems apt because it’s like a hangover, except without the really bad headache but with no prospect of getting over it.
A staff member in civilian clothes came through the door without so much as a knock. “How are we doing, Mr. Logan?” she said.
“Okay.” Well, I wasn’t dead. Then again, I didn’t exactly feel alive.
She stood at the foot of my bed. “What is your full name?”
“My full name? Isn’t it on your chart?”
“I’d like to hear it from you.”
I was reminded how everyone in this hospital asked me not only to state my name, but also my birthdate. No doubt it was to ensure they didn’t cut off my leg when what they were supposed to fix was a hernia. Still, it had annoyed me, and the annoyance returned.
“Horace Algernon, um, I forget the last part.”
Silence. She looked at me, clearly puzzled about what to do or say next.
“Oh, I remember,” I said, deciding I shouldn’t make things harder for either of us, “it’s Peter Manfred Logan.”
“And your birthdate?
I told her, then said, “and what’s yours?” After all, if she was going to extract private details from me, she should be equally forthcoming. But she shrugged off my question.
“Now, Mr. Logan, tell me where you were born.”
“I have no clear recollection of that day. They tell me my memory cells hadn’t yet been activated.”
“Sure, but you were told, weren’t you?”
“I have reasons to distrust what my parents told me.”
“Ever seen your birth certificate?”
“They say it was destroyed in a fire.”
“Did you apply for a replacement?”
“From where? If I don’t know where I was born, how would I know where to apply?”
“Come now, Mr. Logan.”
“What’s your name?” I said.
“That’s what they call me around here.”
“Well, Patty, I’ve got a lot on my plate just now, so figuring out how to obtain a replacement birth certificate isn’t top of the list.”
She took the chair at the side of my bed. “So, you really don’t know where you were born?”
Jousting with her was straining my beleaguered brain, so I gave in. “Okay, I was born in Lansing, Michigan. My dad was a politician. Now you know why I couldn’t trust him or my mom. Who’d marry a politician unless she’s a lying bitch herself.”
“Language, Mr. Logan.”
“English is my first and only language.”
“I meant watch your language. Now then, what is your highest education level?”
“I’d say the lessons I took from flipping burgers at McDonald’s.”
“So you don’t have a high school degree or GED?”
“Sure I do.”
“What about college?”
“I don’t think much of college. Debts are what you get out of it. McDonald’s was my education.”
“Someone told me you’re a lawyer.”
“So I am.”
“Don’t you need a college degree to go to law school?”
“And a law degree to practice law?”
“So that’s your highest education level.”
“If you say so.”
“Just writing this down. Okay, so where are we?”
“In a state of confusion. I’m wondering why you’re asking all these questions.”
“I mean what building are we in?”
“A lunatic asylum? It’s beginning to feel like that.”
“Where did you come to yesterday?”
“Some undistinguished building that looks like all other hospitals.”
“Ah, a hospital. That’s right. Remember the name, by any chance?”
“What was it? Dissention? Excitation? Oh, I remember, Ascension. Like Ascension to heaven.”
“Ascension Hospital, that’s right. And which floor are we on?”
“Does heaven have floors? I never thought of heaven being like an elevator building before.”
“Which floor, Mr. Logan.”
“No one told me.” This was true.
“Okay, we’ll let it go.”
“Let it go? Do you want to tell me?”
“Eleven. So again, Mr. Logan, do you know which state we’re in?”
“I thought I already answered that one. Confusion.”
“I mean the physical state.”
Should I answer “Arousal”? But it wouldn’t be true, and I didn’t want to go there with this woman.
I said, “I suppose if it’s Tuesday, it must be New Jersey.”
“Tuesday? Mr. Logan, you’re saying it’s Tuesday.”
“Figure of speech.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“You’re too young. An old movie—If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. Don’t bother watching. It was stupid.”
“Hmm,” she said, frowning. “I don’t suppose you know today’s date.”
“My wife. She’s coming in an hour or so.”
“I mean time of the month, you know.”
“Sorry, Patty, I’m not a woman. Maybe that isn’t obvious after I’ve had surgery.”
“I mean, would you say it’s, well, July?”
“If you want me to.”
“I don’t want you to say anything you don’t want to.”
“In that case, let’s skip this question. It’s the most boring yet.”
“Well. Um, what time would you say it is?”
“According to my watch—”
“Without looking at your watch.” She reached across and slapped my wrist before I could turn it around.
“Hey,” I said.
“Sorry, Mr. Logan, but I want your estimate of the time.”
“Somewhere between breakfast and lunch. That was an awful breakfast, by the way. I knew it would be a liquid affair, but it tasted like piss. Pardon my English.”
“Can you be more specific than between breakfast and lunch?”
“Oh, 9, 10, 11, maybe noon.”
I was getting the better of her. Pathetic how much satisfaction it was giving me.
“Okay,” she said, “who’s the president of the United States?”
I did what I often do when called on for a name. I blocked. “Um, the guy from Delaware. You know.”
She stared at me. Was that a glimmer of triumph in her face? Finally, she had me.
“Biden,” I yelled in semi-triumph.
I’d hesitated only for a second, but it was about something almost every American could answer without a thought.
“Now,” she said, “I want you to name as many animals as you can in thirty seconds.”
“Tell me when you’re ready. Get that stopwatch started.”
“Go,” she said, sharp as a pistol shot.
“Let’s see. Cat. Dog. Sloth. Adolf Hitler. Simba. Charles Manson. Lizard. Alex Jones. Snake. Vladimir Putin. Peacock. Elizabeth Hurley—now there’s an animal! Our mayor, what’s-his-name. The grim reaper who brought me that so-called breakfast.”
“Thirty seconds are up,” she barked. “Mr. Logan, you do know, don’t you, that some of those names aren’t really animals.”
“They’re all animals. I’m an animal. You’re an animal, if you don’t mind my pointing it out.”
“That isn’t what the question asks for.”
“You just said ‘animals.’ Correct me if I’m wrong.”
“I think you know exactly what was meant.”
I fell back on my pillow, to the extent I could fall back when already lying on it. “You know what, Patty—that is your name, right, Patty?”
“I could tell from the first question that you came in here to give me a cognitive test. I’m sixty-eight, so you figure I’ve lost my marbles. I find that really presumptuous.”
“This is the standard test. Out of Stanford. Mr. Logan, we must make sure you can make informed decisions. Just two more questions to go.”
“No, Ms. Patty. The answer is no. If you can’t tell from the way I parried your questions that my brain is functioning just fine, consider whether you’re the one who needs testing.”
Note: The questions cited here, along with two others, appear on Stanford’s Palo Alto VA Cognitive Questionnaire: https://www.google.com/search?q=Palo+Alto+VA+COGNITIVE+QUESTIONNAIRE+(PAVA-CQ)+(stanford.edu)&oq=Palo+Alto+VA+COGNITIVE+QUESTIONNAIRE+(PAVA-CQ)+(stanford.edu)&aqs=chrome..69i57.459j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8