Me and My Creepy, Cranial Tenants
This past week I went for my biannual check up on the tenants living in my head. These “guests” are two allegedly benign brain tumors I have named Bob the Second and Bobette, nestled in my pituitary gland. (Some people think naming brain tumors is weird but I think you should be on a first-name basis with things that live in your skull.)
I named them after an earlier cranial tenant who showed up 20 years ago and eventually had to be evicted. His name was Bob. Unlike Bob the Second and Bobette, Bob the First was a nasty squatter. Before I realize he’d moved in, he’d wrecked eight cranial nerves. He made my smile crooked, rang a tinny bell on and off in my right ear, and made my right eye twitch at the most inopportune times. And the creep had the nerve to eat so much of my balance nerve I could barely stand up, turning me, a former dancer, into a klutz.
I had no idea he was squatting in my head until the morning he started banging inside with a tiny sledgehammer. My doctor sent me to a neurologist, who sent me for an MRI brain scan. Then, a few days later, I got a telephone call.
“Hold for the doctor,” the receptionist said. I held, listening to Muzak through my good ear until the good doctor came on the line.
“Well, congratulations! You have a brain tumor,” he said sounding like he was announcing the sex of a newborn child.
(Note to doctors: there is only one Ken Jeong.)
Then I got his punchline.
“But, if you have a brain tumor, you’ve got the best type possible, all things considered. It’s an acoustic neuroma and I can tell you these things are almost never malignant.”
The next week, a still headachy, dazed and confused me arrived at a downtown teaching hospital to see a neurosurgeon. I liked his sage and fatherly demeanor right off as he tapped the dark blob on my brain scan.
“It’s not, as we originally thought, an acoustic neuroma,” he said. “But if you want to have a brain tumor (as if anyone would), you’ve got the best type possible, all things considered.”
I started to like him less, suspecting I’d received the “brain-tumor patient icebreaker” spiel — a line all doctors must use to tell a terrified patient a nasty thing’s growing in their head.
“ Then what is it?” I asked, hoping to hear, “an inconsequential shadow,” or “an image malfunction.”
“It’s a meningioma,” he said and smiled. “And they are almost never malignant.”
Again with the “almost never.” I also hated the tumor’s moniker, so that’s when I decided to call it Bob. Weeks of scans and tests followed, ranging from the simple to the bizarre.
I could deal with, ‘Now, Avalina, touch your finger to your nose with your eyes closed,’ or ‘okay, hop backward on one foot.’ But one day they plunked me in what looked like a huge dentist’s chair, tipped back 120-odd degrees, and stuck a hose in each ear. Then they hooked the hoses to a machine that looked like it came out of a science fiction film, put a visor on me and told me to watch the flashing lights soon to appear. They also said I might feel a bit dizzy or nauseous.
Then they squirted water through the hoses into my head. An array of flashing lights appeared. The water in my right ear just felt cold. But when it flooded my left ear, I was riding an amusement-park Tilt-A-Whirl and nearly threw up.
However, the capper was the last test in front of a circle of residents. The doctors-in-training leaned in really close. Then their leader told me to open my eyes and look straight ahead. Next thing I knew, he poked me in my left eye with a thingy that looked like a Q-Tip.
“Ow,” I said. “Why’d you do that?”
“Please cooperate, ma’am,” was his icy reply. Again, he told me to look straight ahead. Then the idiot poked me in my right eye. But this time, I felt nothing.
“Aha!” he said, while all the residents shook their heads, murmured and took notes.
You can’t imagine how it feels when a “poke-her-in-the-eye-with-a-Q-Tip” test evokes such an enthusiastic response from your medical team. Why, in the name of Gawd, if this was the answer, did I endure round after round of hi-tech scans, ear buzzing machines, and give up so many vials of blood I saw vampire teeth on every lab technician.
At last, the tests complete, we had to decide what to do about Bob the First. I chose surgery. I never forgot that “almost never” malignant phrase. And I just wanted him out of my head.
It took twelve and a half hours, two doctors, a team of nurses, technicians and observant medical students to evict Bob. After he was gone (for good, I hoped) I had a titanium plate and screws in my head.
Even so, I had to get periodic scans to make sure Bob The First did not sneak back in. That’s how, years later, a scan confirmed Bob the First might have smuggled in some relatives before he left, I named Bob the Second and Bobette. They can’t be evicted. Since the cozy couple flanks my optic nerve, nuking or knifing them would blind me.
So for now, we coexist. And because brain tumors don’t give damage deposits, every so often, I get tests and scans to ensure they’re not getting too big for their brain-tumor britches and damaging the property.
This, I can live with. But what I really want to know is, why did they move in in the first place? Perhaps I’m listed on a “head-for-rent” Craigslist for wayward brain tumors? If so, take me off, please. There was already enough crazy junk floating around in my head before all this started.