My new student has suffered frequent seizures so her parents had a vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) surgically implanted in her upper left chest, below the clavicle. The device is a battery-powered generator that sends programmed electrical impulses through the vagus nerve, the longest of the cranial nerves. The idea is to restore regularity to her brain’s impulses and thus reduce the severity and frequency of seizures.
Her mother said she’s down to one seizure every seven to 10 days but I still carry a magnet on a lanyard around my neck. When she seizes, I’m to hold the magnet over the device for five seconds, sending a jolt to the electrode attached to her vagus nerve. In theory, that will stop the seizure.
“Vagus” has the unfortunate homonym “Vegas,” though wearing a VNS is a sort of gamble. The word is from the Latin vagus, meaning “wandering, rambling, vacillating.” The nerve earns its name by wandering from the brain stem throughout the neck, thorax and abdomen. Related English words include vague, vagabond, vagrant and my favorite, vagary. Today, the last refers to a capricious or unexpected act, though it once meant an aimless digression – not always a bad thing, as in Burton, Sterne and Lamb.
When young I vaguely surmised “vagary” meant vagueness, which it does at several removes. Let Sterne turn the vagary of his medium into his vagabond message. This is from Book One, Chapter XXI, of Tristram Shandy:
“I was just going, for example, to have given you the great out-lines of my uncle Toby’s most whimsical character;—when my aunt Dinah and the coachman came across us, and led us a vagary some millions of miles into the very heart of the planetary system…”