birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


My uncle has been diagnosed with double hit lymphoma. Our new hire at work has been diagnosed with stage 4 endometrial cancer. My son has been diagnosed with a speech delay, a sensory integration disorder, epilepsy, and a brain tumor. One teacher thought he might be autistic, another thought he might have a hearing problem.

Medical diagnoses are hard to decipher. They are from another language, one I do not speak. I am not sure how to learn this language because it is not designed to communicate what I want to know. Medical talk tells physicians what they need to know about what is happening inside bodies. What I really want to know is all about risk and chances and predictions - who will live and die, who will flourish and who will perish.

Doctors do not seem to want to tell you this. I suspect that they can’t, but because they have a secret language that seems to carry so much weight and so much information I also suspect that they can.

I am afraid my uncle will die.

I am pretty confident my coworker will live. She may even be back to work soon.

My son can now speak quite well, his sensory issues are not a problem, and his brain tumor has been removed. He was not autistic, but he was in a speech class with other young children who probably were and rapidly figured out that in this particular group you did not interact, you wandered around the room and looked at things. He was socially adept enough to learn how to “do” autism enough to fit in. He also does not have a hearing problem, he just doesn’t listen. I could have told the teacher that, but I took him in for a test anyway.

He might be epileptic. I still don’t know quite what that means. I had a much better understanding of what the word meant before I needed to know what it would mean for my son. He still has seizures, they are partial simple seizures and, according to his neurologist, not harmful. I don’t quite understand what this will mean for him.

I feel like diagnoses have humbled me. I like to think of myself as someone who is good with words, but now I know what it’s like to be hearing but not really understanding, to not be getting from the words the sharp exact knowledge I need but a vague shape or suggestion that shifts and is difficult to follow. It makes me think I should be more patient with people who don’t understand things.

I Wish...

Stop Sniffing! (sniff)