I hadn’t realized how overwhelming my trip to Arizona had been until I came back and began to process it. The reality of a diagnoses and what that means to an individual are hard things to understand. The reality of being differently abled than what you are accustomed to is scary, even if the consequences of a diagnoses are minimized by the notion that it could be worse.
I went to Arizona with my Dad and Jason on Thursday to learn more about the famous Dr. Spetzler of the Barrow Neurological Center. Having heard so much about him I had anticipated the experience to unfold in a certain way. I had a vision of him in my mind, an expectation set up. I am not sure if the expectation was met but I do know that he will be my brain surgeon. You know when you hope if you say something enough times it will stop being scary? It doesn’t work. I have tried to wrap my head around the notion of brain surgeon and brain surgery so many times. I’ve tried to normalize it. It’s not easy. It doesn’t ever feel normal to say, “Hey you! Yea you, guy in the weird blue surgical bonnet… Come over here! Talk to me for a minute or two so I can decide if I trust you enough to let you cross all of my personal boundaries, cut open my skull and muck around in my brain! Nice white coat by the way!” And before you can even finish the sentence they are out the door. On to the next set of scans. Dehumanized masses waiting for cures, for treatments, for salvation. With 29 doctors operating out of the Barrow Center, the waiting room was just that. Huddled masses, the sick, obviously trying to conceal their nervousness or on the other side of the spectrum they sat, so adapted to “sickness” that their presence in a doctor’s waiting room was commonplace. Their supporters, helping with paper work, standing at attention when their names were called, holding hands, patting backs, helping their poor, sick counterparts navigate this system. It was all too much. The wheelchairs, the canes, the eye patches, the facial lags. How is this my life? How is this where I am? I mean, I just have headaches, there is just ringing in my ears. This place with these sick people, I can’t possibly belong here. Right? Or do I have to come to terms with the fact that I am only okay with notions of disability because I am able? What will happen if and when I am not? So step one was the waiting room and getting through that, especially since we were 2 hours early with no where to go, and it felt like a marathon.
Meeting with the doctor was strange, brief and somewhat mechanized. I had to meet the man I was going to allow to cut my head open. I couldn’t go into this without some insight into his humanity, his way of knowing, I had to use my intuition to know what was right. His fellow came in first, and with a somewhat patronizing tone discussed my symptoms with me. I gave him my ever growing list of symptoms. Instead of seeing me as a woman in tune with my body he dismissed even the most relevant symptoms as potentially caused by anything. To cause me to feel stupid and a bit infuriated that my hearing loss and vestibular disfunction, though potentially caused by anything, were not really being attributed to the GIANT TUMOR growing on those nerves. While I recognize the desire of medical professionals not to want to make promises, the notion that the symptoms that led me to discover Herbert could be anything and that they can’t tell me what surgery would do for them was just downright exhausting. And upsetting. I know I am not a doctor, but I am also not an idiot and I know my body. I know it well. I listen to it. Despite the condescending nature of the fellow, he seemed smart and probably quite capable. Dr. Spetzler was different. Very even keel, very confident. When asked if he was the best at what he does he mumbled a quiet yes. Yes. He is the best. Why would I walk away from that? His affect was good. He was decisive, he was clear. He didn’t seem in the least concerned. Though, when he identified what is already signs of facial weakness and I jumped up exasperated to look in the mirror on the wall, he couldn’t help but crack a smile. Oddly, the doctor mockingly laughing at my exasperation at potential facial weakness made me feel good. I was pissed when I saw what he saw though.
There are some adjustments to my overall expectations. I had hoped that the best guy in the world would say, “Hey Samira, seeing how awesome you are, we have an awesome result for you. We will take Herbert and massacre him, but don’t worry we will save your face and your hearing. You will be tumor free and go on to live your life on the path you always imagined. Go on! Return to your previous life devoted to the plight of others. No more of this confusion about what it all means! We will fix it!” But, um, he didn’t say that. He did give me hope to keep my hearing on my right side for longer than any other doctor had, and without the risk of radiating my brain. How you ask? Well he wants to leave Herbert in there. At least partially. He wants to take out the really scary parts of Herbert, what I am assuming is his fat ass, and leave the rest. This involves leaving the part on my hearing nerves and also involves the potential for the continuing presence of my symptoms. BUT, I will get to hear and smile and maybe Herbert will realize that once he gets his ass removed he won’t want to grow it back. It’s like free lipo. Who wouldn’t want that? I can tell you right now, Herbert is a shallow son of a bitch. That being said, I was glad to FINALLY have a doctor talk to me about hearing preservation. Dr. Spetzler was the only one to say that, even the doctors here that advocate debulking (aka ass-ectomy – the removal of a tumor ass) had told me to give up on hearing. Which was generally a bummer. Dr. Spetzler was different. He knew more. He seemed to have such a solid grasp and his fellow spit out some very promising statistics. With that in mind, I am hopeful about surgery but am also staying realistic. I am tempering my expectations with outcomes across populations. I am treating this whole thing like a science project. One that I am seeking to win a blue ribbon with.
So life goes on as normal. I am almost fully nocturnal now, I am perpetually naseous, so Zofran is my new BFF. I am contemplating a tattoo (to the dismay and confusion of my parents) that is another attempt to regain control of MY life, MY body, and MY identity as a woman living with a diagnoses. Given that surgery won’t eradicate my tumor, I have to live with Herbert for longer than I had hoped in some form or another. I have to be patient with him, my little uninvited guest. So I work, I workout and I try to maintain a baseline level of normal. I’ve done an okay job at it too. I think…. I hope, anyway.
I am also contemplating taking this blog public. While I originally started it to inform my loved ones, through joining the Acoustic Neuroma Associations support group and talking with other patients I have learned so much about myself, my diagnoses and how to cope. So maybe I can pay it forward with my story, in all of its gritty detail. Just a thought.
Peace and Love