Dear ent doctor,
Wednesday the 14th of December, 2016, I found myself in a radiologist’s practice for a scheduled MRI. I personally had no idea why other than the fact that I had been suffering from significant hearing los on my left side. I had spent the entire year struggling as a floor writer for a TV medical, finally had had my first professional victory in doing a rewrite that was not shitty and this appointment was, honestly, an afterthought. On WhatsApp, I kept cracking jokes to my colleagues about it being a great chance to research one of the many medical devices we didn’t have at our studio because it was too expensive, proofread some scenes that were due tomorrow and then I was called in. The nurse gave me headphones, shoved me into that tunnel and for 20 minutes, I ignored the metallic banging by listening to Mariah Carrey’s “All I want for Christmas”. Afterwards, I wished the nurse a merry Christmas and figured I was going to meet some colleagues in town to celebrate a birthday party. But as I was putting on my coat, the radiologist came to me in the dressing room. The words that came out of his mouth were so stupid and absurd I will take them to my grave:
“Well, the good news is it’s not cancer, but you might wanna visit a neurosurgeon sooner rather than later.”
I asked him what it was I had. He said he was not at liberty to say, but he would inform my doctor and they would give me call with further info. “Before Christmas?” I asked, he didn’t answer, gave me the pictures on a CD and left. I went home and started researching. The ent doctor’s (yours, dear doctor!) referral had said “suspected diagnosis ANVS”, so I googled that, and it spat out acoustic neuroma / vestibular schwannoma. My heart sank as I read Wikipedia:
“A vestibular schwannoma (VS), also called acoustic neuroma, is a benign tumor that develops on the vestibulocochlear nerve that passes from the inner ear to the brain. “
I cracked open the first of many beers and thought – “Fuck me, I have a brain tumor”. Six weeks of night terrors later, on the 1st of February, 2017, I would sit in front of a renowned neurosurgeon, my quite pregnant wife sitting next to me, discussing the planned operation and he would correct me: “Technically it’s not a brain tumor, but a nerve tumor. It’s brain-adjacent.” I swore internally – of all the diagnoses in the world, brain tumor was definitely the cooler sounding one. And if you’ve been to high school, you know one thing: You can’t be cool-adjacent. You either are or you’re not.
So the tumor was benign, but it had to be operated. The operation would probably damage the hearing, facial and balance nerve in my inner ear. I looked at my wife’s pregnant belly. Four weeks later, on Monday the 27th of February, the neurosurgeon opened op the side of my skull and over the course of three hours in which he probably bored his assistants with stories about his weekend skiing in Switzerland, removed a 1.2 by 6mm mass on the left side of my hearing canal. I woke up with a thousand cables stuck to my arms, one going up my urethra, and three IV accesses: one of my left hand, one on my right, and a particularly annoying one between the toes of my right foot that everyone in the hospital would forget about for my two-week hospital stay.
I woke up from the operation at around seven, head partially shaved, bandaged at a twelve centimeter long scar behind my ear, and found my wife sitting next to me. I remember being ecstatic: sure, up was down and down was up, balance-wise, but as long as I closed my eyes it was okay. There was still some hearing left in my left ear. And lastly and back then most importantly, my face seemed completely normal. Of all the possible side effects of the operation, Bell’s Pallsy had been on the top of the list. My wife spoon-fed me a yogurt and took a picture of me as she wished me goodnight. It was the last picture of me with a symmetrical face and to this day, I can’t look at it.
The night was grueling. By midnight, I had used up my IV medicine so I could only take sips of whatever that clear foul-tasting flued the nurses gave me was, probably vodka. I tried to get some sleep, but every 30 or so minutes I would wake up in pain. Every time I came to my senses, I could feel the left side of my face slowly sliding further down. By morning, it was gone. My lip hung down, drool dropped from the left side of my mouth. My left eye wouldn’t even close anymore.
I’ll stop writing here, but I could go on. About suddenly having to live with being hard of hearing. About fighting with you to get a logopedist to work on my face. About trying to ride a bike again. About fighting to go back to work. About my wife being scared for the birth of our first child, not for herself, but for the stress it would cause me. And about, five years post-operation, being in a completely unrelated therapy session and coming to terms with the fact that what happened was a trauma I had completely blocked from my thoughts. So, dear ent doctor, I hope you understand what it means when I come to you to get my doctor’s referral for my next MRI appointment, and I tell you I’m scared. I hope next time you take a minute to talk empathetically to me, instead of getting angry, berating and belittling me to the point of making me cry.
I wasn’t like this when I came to you in October 2016 and you saved my life by suspecting I had this one-in-a-million brain-adjacent speck in my head. But I am now, and I’m trying the best I can. So please, for the love of God, I wish you’d try to stop being a dick.
Looking forward to your call with what I hope are positive MRI results,