Last Summer on a warm, but not balmy, evening without wind, I was cycling along the stately Keizersgracht on my way to the 24hrs pharmacy on the Leidsestraat in order to buy aspirin. The Prinsengracht would have been a more direct route, of course, but the Keizersgracht attracts less tourists. I was enjoying the Sun, when I recalled a hotter Summer's day at Tufts, Medford, MA. It must have been 1995, or 1996.[+] The philosophy department had already moved to Miner Hall. I had come to work on a paper with George Smith, but first I went to see Dan Dennett, of course, on the ground floor. European friends have expressed regret to me that Dan sails, because they would otherwise insist he is Santa Claus (the beard, the jolly demeanor, his height, etc.).
To my surprise, Dan was visibly shaken. (I associate Dan with can-do-American-optimism-with-unbounded-faith-in-truth-and-technology.*) He had just learned about his heart condition--we had a brief conversation; I came away with a sense of the fragility of life, and I was touched he would allow me to see his anxiety. Later, after his procedure, he had regained his optimistic, ebullient self, and he excitedly shared with me insights on all the marvelous technology used during the procedure. While paying attention to traffic, I wondered if I seemed frazzled.
By the time Sarit -- a retinal surgeon -- had returned to the kitchen, I could see again. So, I told her I thought I had a detachment. She asked for my symptoms, and when I recounted my experience, she went ashen, her eyes told me she was suppressing a panic attack. (She does not panic easily; she has climbed Mont Blanc and happily jumps out of a helicopter to go off-piste skiing.) After a few seconds of uncanny silence, she said decisively 'that's not a detachment, that's probably a TIA.'* She sprung into action and called her hospital, informed the operator that she was on staff, and asked to speak to the neurologist on call. I decided to save the work on the laptop and close it. They conferred, and he said he would call back in thirty to offer instructions. She then sent me out the door to the pharmacist to get some aspirin.
At the pharmacy, I bought a pack of asperin and a bottle of still water. After I paid, I opened the pack, and downed a 500mg pill. I was about to head home; I unshackled my bicycle from the bridge at the corner of the Leidsestraat/Prinsengracht. Two tourists approached me to ask if I was willing to take a picture of them. I said, 'sure,' and asked the young women where they were from. 'Turkey,' they said. You're not at Taksim? I asked While she gave me their camera, one of them said, they had needed a break from the tear gas, and had bought a cheap ticket to Amsterdam. I nodded sagely. I maneuvered them onto the bridge with the sun on the horizon (I noticed with reget that I couldn't see the tower of the Westerkerk in the frame). I deliberately used my left eye to ensure myself that it was working fine.
When I asked them to say, 'cheese,' I wondered with surprise at the steadiness of my hand. (When I get nervous or angry my hands shake and the pitch of my voice rises.) I seemed calmer than I should. On the way to the pharmacy I had asked myself if I regretted anything about my life. Despite the city noise emanating from Leidseplein, I was enchanted with the two smiling women frozen inside the camera; I wanted to hold on to the image in the manner after I had completed the final sentence of a novel in which I had been immersed.
*One of the first term papers I wrote in graduate school for Bill Wimsatt's philosophy of biology course was an immant critique of Dan's faith in truth using his own Nietzschean and Darwinian commitments in Elbow Room (and some of Stich's insights [Plantinga was not on my radar screen in the mid 90s]) against him. It was accepted for a conference in Canada in honor of Dan, but I lacked travel money and did not go.
**TIA=transient ischemic attack, or a mini-stroke. While eye-surgeons are not the ones that make the final diagnosis on these (that's for a neurologist or a cardiologist to decide), they get to see a lot of patients who might have had a TIA in order to rule out other, eye-related diseases.
[+] After conversation with Dennett, I now think this must have been late Spring 1999. [This was added on Jan. 17.--ES]