Speak, Memory: Part 9 in the Series "My Right Eye: A Blogger's Journey Through Cancer"


Speak, Memory
I heard back from the Akron law firm in the fall of 1996. They required that I do two things before they could consider adding me to their list of plaintiffs in the proposed DES class-action lawsuit. First, I was to obtain my medical records covering the period leading up to and including my surgery (the technical term for which is oophorectomy). Next, I was to provide answers to a questionnaire they had enclosed—a “Uniform Preliminary Request for Information"—which ran to about 12 pages. I was to return the completed questionnaire to them along with copies of my medical records. My heart sank. This was going to be a huge, unpleasant undertaking.

I resigned myself to the task, and proceeded to gather as much information as I could, racking my brain for details to include in my account. My mother had questions and medical records to research as well.

In the end, we needn't have bothered.

As compelling as my mother’s story of her near-miscarriage was, it did not meet the exacting standards of proof that the attorneys building the case required. What they needed, and what my mother could not provide more than 40 years after the fact, was evidence as to exactly what medication she took while she was pregnant with me. In short, they needed either her physician's medical records, the bottle of medicine itself with the label, or the label from the bottle. If none of those were available, a receipt from the pharmacy might be considered, but any of the former were preferable. This evidence was the linchpin on which everything would turn.

My mother's recollection that "it was a bottle with a brown liquid," would not suffice. Dr. O's office had closed up long ago, after his death. Intrepid detective that she was, my mother phoned the late doctor's son but hit a dead end when he told her that his father's records had been destroyed in a fire. The pharmacy had changed owners several times since 1956, and receipts from purchases made decades ago would not have been retained.

"Did my mother perhaps have the bottle?" we were asked. Who holds on to such things? Hoarder though she was, not even my mother (at least in those days) kept seemingly insignificant artifacts from her life. Who can tell what will someday become important? Should one save everything? (She ultimately would indeed save everything—and perhaps this is the reason why—but that's another story.)

We gave up the chase.

These events took place nearly 16 years ago. As I think back, I'm struck by how painful this process was. Even now, sifting through my recollections and revisiting, like Vladimir Nabokov in Speak, Memory, the "ghost of my past" so that I might finally write this account, I'm dispirited and exhausted—especially when I think of my mother's naive faith that there might be some recompense, if not justice, for us all.

Three years later, in 1999, she began to show the unmistakable signs of dementia. I tried to write about that experience, and in fact Part 1 of her own story can be found on this blog. But these memories, and so many others—so many—are painful. I had to leave it be for a while. I will return to it, perhaps when I'm finishing up my own memoir. As with all mothers and daughters, our stories are closely entwined.

Seven years later, in 2003, going through my divorce and packing up the artifacts from my own past, I destroyed the contents of the banker's box that contained all of the records from the class-action lawsuit research. It would have been helpful to have them now, of course. And to my great surprise, I did find a draft of a letter to the firm on my hard drive. But the questionnaire and the medical records, if they were kept at all, are likely stored in the firm's archives. I've left a message for them, but as of this writing I've not heard back.

Why did I destroy the records? Because I could not bear to bring them with me—I already carried so much baggage. I wanted to travel lightly and softly into my future.

That future, as you now know, would include a cancer diagnosis. Whether or not my medical history as related here would be relevant to that diagnosis is for doctors to say, not me.

This digression began in Part 5 of the series. It's time now to pick up the thread of the narrative that I left unwoven—the thread where I discovered the lump at the base of my throat.

To be continued …

Part 1: The Baby's Nightmare
Part 2: The Nightmare Returns
Part 3: Room 101 and the Masquerading Marauder
Part 4: The Eye as Metaphor
Part 5: The Back Story
Part 6: It's Nature's Way
Part 7: Help From the Man on the Street
Part 8: A DES Daughter?

Marci Rich
Richmond, Virginia
The Midlife Second Wife