Okay, first — I don’t have a brain tumor. I’m just saying that right up front to shed any drama from the rest of the post. No tumor, no cyst, no alien symbiot, ain’t nothing growing in my head. Just wanted to get that out of the way. Now, the story about not having a brain tumor.
A few years ago I began to notice my left ear felt…okay, here’s a problem. How do you describe something wonky with your hearing? I’ve been going through this with doctors for about a year or so, and I still can’t get it right. The thing is, sounds in my left ear are muted a bit, but with an intermittent sort of hollow echo-ish thing. It’s sort of like having water in your ear, or that air pressure thing you experience when flying — only it’s not constant. It’s like a filter that instantly creates a weird doppler-like effect then just as suddenly stops.
Confusing, right? Anyway, I first noticed it when I was living alone in an old farmhouse in the hills of rural Pennsylvania, trying to be a writer. The thing about living alone in the hills trying to be a writer is that you can go days without seeing or talking to anybody. That isolation is great for writing, but it also means you don’t really notice that your hearing in one ear has become sporadically fucked up. When you do notice it, it’s just a minor annoyance, and since you have no health insurance, you just ignore it and assume it will clear itself up or just go away.
It didn’t. But I’d gotten used to it and by the time I came to my senses and moved back into the world of people, I was used to it. It meant occasionally asking folks sitting to my left to repeat stuff. Not a big deal. It’s especially not a big deal when those folks know you to be the sort of person who spends a lot of time just thinking about stuff. If I miss what other folks are saying, they tend find excuses for it. They assume I’m distracted (and I often am) or just not paying attention to them (usually, though not always, wrong) or that they’ve just said something I find particularly interesting and I want them to repeat it (sometimes true).
So that’s been the situation. I’m accustomed to not quite hearing or understanding what folks say, and they’re accustomed to me asking them to repeat themselves. You know, ‘That’s just Greg — he’s probably thinking about the Norman Conquest or turtles or the origin of the word ‘omelet’ or what he’s going to cook for supper.’ Like that.
Then about a year ago my ex said something to this effect: “Dude, you really need to get your hearing checked.” And I realized she was right. So I did. Not immediately, but when I had my next check-up I mentioned it.
The doctor poked and prodded, did some interesting stuff with a tuning fork, and said, “All them little bones in your ear? Ain’t nothing wrong with them. Probably your eustachian tubes might be fucked up. Try some Flonase for a month, probably clear it right up.” (Not a direct quote).
It didn’t clear up. So he scheduled an exam with an audiologist. This is where things started to get weird. I had the exam a couple of weeks ago. They gave me some hearing tests. The first was just a series of beeping sounds — some loud, some soft, some low-pitched, some high. I assumed I heard fine out if my right ear and missed some beeps in my left. The next test involved words. I’m my right ear I’d hear, “Say the word ‘hard.’ Say the word ‘bell’.” Nothing to it. But in my left ear I’d hear, “Say the word ‘blargh.’ Say the word ‘dog.’ Say the word ‘froon.’”
Turns out I could hear equally well in both ears, but I couldn’t correctly identify a third of the words I heard in my left ear. The doctor said, “Dude, you need an MRI of your whole damn head. Something’s fucked up in there. Might be nerve damage, might be something growing in your head is pressing on a nerve. A cyst maybe, maybe a tumor, I dunno. Something.” (Not a direct quote.)
Leaving the doctor’s office after the Possible Alien Symbiot diagnosis.
Afterwards I sat in the car and had the following thoughts:
- Well, that explains a lot.
- I guess I’ll have to tell my ex and my brother I might have an alien symbiot growing inside my skull. They’ll be concerned.
- I probably ought to be concerned too.
But I wasn’t. I mean, nothing had changed. If a symbiot was growing in my skull, it had been growing for a while. It was either there or it wasn’t. No point in fretting about it.
So I told them with as little fuss as possible. “Yeah, saw the doctor, might be something in my head, got an MRI scheduled next week, how about those Red Sox?” And they accepted it with minimal fuss, which I appreciated. Then (aside from occasional desire to exclaim “It’s NOT a toomah!“) I basically forgot about it.
Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I didn’t think about the symbiot or what it might mean for…well, my life, or how they’d eventually deal with it. But I did think about the MRI. I’ve never had one before, so I was curious about it. When I talked to the MRI Johnnies about scheduling I’d told them I was mildly claustrophobic. They said not to worry, they had a new shiny large imaging unit for folks who didn’t like tight enclosed spaces.
I showed up as scheduled only to find there was another patient — an absolutely enormous guy. I’m guessing close to three hundred pounds. I was told I could either wait, reschedule, or have the MRI in the older narrow unit. They showed me the older unit. It was pretty massive, but the patient-tube sleeve (probably not what it’s actually called) was…well, small. Teensy.
“How long will it take?” I asked. The tech said, “Thirty, thirty-five minutes.” I thought, Well, how bad could it be? All I have to do is lie still for half an hour. So I said okay. The tech said, “Then we’ll pull your ass out, inject some dye into your arm, and slam you back inside that sausage tube for another fifteen or twenty minutes.” (Not a direct quote.)
I almost said I’d wait. But I didn’t. I said, “Fuck it, let’s go.” (Not a direct quote.)
It was unpleasant. First, you insert expandable foam plugs in your ears to mute the noise. Then there are — I don’t know what you’d call them. Firm cushiony things placed around your head to keep you from moving it. Then they slide a sort of plastic ‘Man in the Iron Mask’ thing over your face. After that, a conveyor belt slides you inside the tube, which is so narrow your shoulders are pressed up against the sides. The tech speaks to you over some sort of intercom, which is absolutely useless since you’re in a tube and you’re wearing ear plugs and you’re there because your hearing is already fucked up. So you’ve no idea whether she’s saying “Okay, everything is fine, here we go” or “Oh my god you’ve got a fucking symbiot growing inside your head.”
Then the noise begins. Weird mechanical noises. Banging, whirring, grinding. I was lying there thinking that this wasn’t the least bit amusing or interesting, when I had a moment of…well, let’s call it a sort of enlightenment. Dye. They were going to inject dye into my arm to give them a better image of my brain. Because there might be a symbiot growing in there. And I had the following thoughts:
- These folks are seriously testing my brain for symbiots.
- They’re more concerned about these possible symbiotic motherfuckers than I am.
- I should be more concerned about brain symbiots.
And for a moment, I was. Then I realized that nothing had changed. If a symbiot was growing in my skull, it had been growing for a while. It was either there or it wasn’t. And there wasn’t a damned thing I could do about it while I was packed inside a torpedo tube. Just focus on your breathing and let it all go.
So I did. All in all, I was packed in that tube for about 50 minutes. When it was over, I was given two scheduling options for an appointment to review the results. Wednesday the 11th at 8:00 AM or Friday the 13th at 1:00 PM. I figured if there was a symbiot growing in my skull, it had been growing there for a while — so there’s no point in getting up early to find out. It would still be there Friday afternoon.
Then I basically forgot about it again. Until yesterday morning, when I was showering and shaving to go to my appointment. And I had the following thoughts:
- In a couple of hours I’m going to find out if there’s something alien growing inside my skull.
- I should probably be more concerned about this; something alien growing inside your skull just ain’t right.
- Maybe the alien symbiot that might be growing inside your skull is fucking up my thinking, which is why I’m not as concerned about it as I should be.
- Oh well, I guess I’ll find out.
And I did. There’s no drama here, remember? I told you right at the beginning. No tumor, no cyst, no alien symbiot. I went to the doctor’s office, they put me in an exam room, and a few minutes later the doctor came in and said, “Dude, no tumor. Your entire brain is shiny as a peach. Probably you had some sort of virus thingy that fucked up a nerve. That’s what we tell folks when we don’t really know why their hearing in one ear is fucked up. Anyway, your hearing IS fucked up and almost certainly won’t get any better, but hey…no tumor, right? So go now and be happy.” (Not a direct quote.)
So I did. I left and I was happy. I told my ex and my brother that the MRI showed my brain was perfectly normal. My ex was happy; the brother suggested I get a second opinion.
I don’t normally spend much time thinking about how I feel about things. I mean, I’ve known myself my whole life — there aren’t many surprises there. But for a moment this morning I had this odd sense that I should have felt something more when I learned my brain was being slowly gnawed away. Something big, something dramatic. But I was basically happy before all this began, and I’m still happy now. So nothing changed.
However, there was a moment — that moment right after the doctor said there was no tumor — that I felt something. Not big, not dramatic. It wasn’t relief or a release of tension. Or if it was, I wasn’t really aware of the tension to begin with.
It was something more like apricity.
The appreciation of experiencing the warmth of the sun on a winter day.
Do you know that word? It’s an obscure word for a common feeling. It was first included in Henry Cockeram’s English Language Dictionary, published in 1623. This, by the way, was only the third known book to serve the function of an English dictionary, but it was the first to actually be called a dictionary. All of which is beside the point, although this tangent probably helps explain why folks often thought I was just distracted when I asked them to repeat stuff they’d said to me.
Anyway, apricity. That’s what I felt when the doctor said I was symbiot-free. It refers to an appreciation of experiencing the warmth of the sun in winter.
Apricity. Yesterday was a perfectly lovely end-of-summer day. Sunshine, 78 degrees, light breeze. But sitting on an exam table in a doctor’s office, I felt something like the warmth of the sun coming out from behind the clouds on a wintery day.
“No tumor,” he said. And I said, “Cool.” (That’s a direct quote.)