Diagnosis at the Pool Hall

A doctor resorts to unconventional methods to find out what's wrong with her stumbling but sober friend.

By Jenny Blair|Thursday, October 10, 2013
RELATED TAGS: PERSONAL HEALTH

Joseph and I were introduced by our mutual friend Tom at a Texas pub. My husband and I had cycled through the July heat to meet the two of them that Saturday afternoon, arriving a little early. Hustling inside to the A/C, we ordered beers and racked the pool balls for a game. We were well into both by the time Joseph and Tom arrived.

Joseph was a trim, middle-aged white man whose hair, eyebrows and soul patch were fairer than his skin, giving him a crisp and youthful look. He was a stone carver by trade, and he wore work boots and a plaid shirt. And he lurched. It was dark in the pub, but his seesaw gait was hard to miss.

As Tom introduced everyone, Joseph said something offhand about his feet hurting, then he changed the subject. We hit it off fast — Joseph was friendly and had a dry wit. But his movements were off. Even though he was sober, he had trouble grasping his drink, and he had to hold on to Tom whenever he moved from his stool to the pool table or bar. He wisecracked about it, but something was wrong.

I ventured a few questions.

The problem started two days before, when Joseph noticed his feet were tingling. Thinking his pneumatic tools might be affecting his circulation, he loosened his boots. But his hands, too, felt tingly and numb. The next day his legs felt rubbery, and he began to stagger. “I was losing my sense of contact with the ground,” he told me. 

At the time, Joseph was working on an 11-by-6½-foot panel of Texas limestone featuring two rearing lions. (It would grace the entrance to the client’s Ferrari garage, which he would showcase to guests during Austin’s Formula One races that fall.) The weakness in his legs made it difficult to carve. “When I got down on my knees to work, I had a little bit of trouble standing up,” he said. “I had to climb up the lions with my arms.” As he made his way around the sculpture studio by holding on to worktables and stone blocks for support, his fellow carvers thought he was joking.

DSCMayCover

The full text of this article is available to Discover Magazine subscribers only.

Subscribe and get 10 issues packed with:
  • The latest news, theories and developments in the world of science
  • Compelling stories and breakthroughs in health, medicine and the mind
  • Environmental issues and their relevance to daily life
  • Cutting-edge technology and its impact on our future
Already a subscriber? Register now!
Registration is FREE and takes only a few seconds to complete. If you are already registered on DiscoverMagazine.com, please log in.
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
DSCMayCover
+

Log in to your account

X
Email address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it emailed to you.

Not registered yet?

Register now for FREE. It takes only a few seconds to complete. Register now »