June 20th marks six months since I underwent a craniotomy to remove an egg-sized benign meningioma from the left side of my brain. The elapsed time has brought about improvement of some of my bothersome symptoms and the onset of others. Despite new disruptions and setbacks, a pattern of life has gradually emerged. I am still adapting to my disabilities – to the emotional duress of persistent physical ailments and the perpetual threat of depression – but I’m also discovering purpose and nobility in suffering. Exhausting though it is, chronic emotional trauma inculcates hypersensitivity to life’s sorrows and joys, a depth of feeling that both enlivens and threatens our wellbeing. We live in a culture intent on diverting our attention away from our usually mundane daily dramas. Bombarded by a stultifying salvo of media, we too often become inured to the anomalous intrusion of unforeseen events that might otherwise upset our complacency. This comfortable disengagement is costly, as it obscures what’s truly at stake in life’s gamble. Tragedy counteracts the sedation of indifference, but brings its own perils, not least of which is an almost crippling alertness to the minutia of life.
Since surgery, I find myself fixating on the past, on moments I count among the best days of my life. My time in Connecticut, though ultimately disastrous, was the setting for many wonderful memories. A period of intense learning, those years were the pinnacle of my academic aspirations, but also a rich time of fellowship with likeminded peers. My ex-wife, whom I loved intensely, was up until the demise of our marriage a steadfast supporter of my intellectual goals, and I treasure recollections of our shared pursuit of what we (or at least I) thought was our future together. Next month is the two-year anniversary of our divorce. In the wake of illness, I feel that loss more acutely. Acknowledging the impossibility of ever recovering an approximation of that happiness is devastating. Tragedy can distort your perception of reality, but it can also correct it. Sometimes the dismal assessment is the accurate one. I still love her, and that is a species of injustice I struggle to bear.
Now is as good of a time as any to mention the latest symptom afflicting me. It’s easily the most upsetting I’ve dealt with to date, and demands tremendous emotional energy to endure. Three weeks ago, while reading on my sofa, I experienced a sudden and dramatic worsening of my usually moderate tinnitus. For those who don’t know, tinnitus is a subjectively experienced sound – usually a ringing – that emanates from the brain, not the ear. While hearing loss is associated with tinnitus and the one usually accompanies the other, tinnitus can also result from neck and head injuries, TMJ disorders and depression. I’ve suffered from tinnitus for a decade, probably as the consequence of exposure to high sound pressure levels that damage the fine hairs in the ear and confuse the brain. It’s a common complaint of musicians. I long ago learned to cope with the ever-present ringing in both ears, and it rarely caused me distress. But this new tone, very high pitched (around 15 kHz, I believe) and probably twice the volume of the pre-existing tones, is extremely distressing. It never relinquishes, invading every moment of my life, day or night. I am struggling to focus on activities that once provided me great solace, such as reading and writing. There is no cure for tinnitus, and once initiated it almost never abates. The prospect of a future without silence – well, you can imagine. To those of you still blessedly capable, enjoy the silence.
An update on a previous complaint: my hand, which was partially crippled due to nerve damage caused by improper positioning during my 8-hour procedure, will require surgery. I received a steroid injection a month ago in hopes of avoiding more drastic intervention, but it proved ineffective. The surgery is the same as that indicated for carpal tunnel syndrome and involves severing a tendon to clear space for the inflamed median nerve. I’m not keen on more surgery, but I welcome the prospect of relief and greater dexterity. My prior comments notwithstanding, I miss playing the guitar. Being robbed of a primary mode of expression during so emotionally volatile a season of life has been more burdensome than I anticipated. I do hope to recover enough strength to play again.
I want to end by expressing my continual gratitude to my friends, family, and especially my co-workers who must daily endure my interminable complaints and sometimes mercurial moods. To them I owe what sanity I have remaining. Life is a daily choice. Without them, the decision would prove more difficult.