Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the brain surgery that saved my life.
The tumor had damaged the facial and acoustic nerves on the right side of my brain, and the surgery to remove the tumor damaged them further. (By necessity, not accident — the tumor was a sticky, semisolid mass, and had to be carefully scraped away from the good brain matter, meaning that some amount of trauma to the brain was inevitable.) All in all, I was fortunate, and I came through the experience in better shape than many others have. But the surgery nevertheless left me with no hearing in my right ear, an impaired sense of balance, and the right side of my face paralyzed.
And recurring, excruciating headaches. They came on twice a day when I first came out of the hospital, then gradually lessened to once a day, once every other day, and so on. For a long time I never went anywhere without several Vicodin in a pillbox in my pocket.
The paralysis has abated to a large extent, but I still can’t raise my right eyebrow or the right side of my mouth much. My brain has learned to compensate to a remarkable extent for the lack of equilibrium information from my right inner ear and for the loss of stereophonic hearing. The bad headaches are down to maybe every other month, and they are not as bad as they used to be, though they can come on suddenly when the air pressure is changing, and I still carry a few Excedrin with me at all times. So it’s all still a challenge sometimes. Far, far less of one than it was in the first couple of years after the surgery, but still a challenge.
The approach of this anniversary usually sends me into a depression, in which I can’t seem to stop brooding on whether the quality of my life or anything I have accomplished since my surgery has been even remotely worth the enormous trouble that I caused friends, family, and the good people at Kaiser who expended such an extraordinary amount of money and expertise on saving my life. This year I don’t detect so much of a downward spiral in my mood, though I’m not altogether sure whether it’s because I’m handling the emotions in a more sensible way this year or because 2013 has been a very rough year for Dave and me both, and my funk from last winter never really altogether lifted. Probably some of both.
And probably also due to a number of writing projects — such as suddenly needing to finish The Bat Bites Back in a mad dash when The Lamplighters expressed interest in producing it much sooner than I had been imagining it would be done — that have kept me crazy busy and not allowed me much time for brooding. Writing is, among other things, a form of spiritual work for me, and it helps keep me moderately sane, or at least saner than I am when I’m not at work on something I feel good about. There is very little about myself that seems really worthwhile to me, but I do think my writing is very good, and it’s a great lift when there’s a production going up of one of my pieces and I can see how people are taking pleasure in it. (I haven’t posted much about this yet, but there’s a small production of Beatrice and Benedick in San Francisco in the works as well, and no sooner have I finished work on Bat than I need to get to work on some minor revisions for that.)
All in all, I seem to be doing OK today. Spirits not particularly high, but not particularly low, either. And there’s work to do.
I’m so glad you’re still here.
I feel strongly that the care of friends and loved ones and the care of doctors aren’t held in a balance somewhere against “accomplishments.” Everyone deserves care.