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December 30, 2005

"How the @#$% did I wind up here again?"

I have a scar on my head. I've made it the subject of a lot of jokes. I tell people it's my haircut indicator and when I can't see it anymore it's time for a haircut. I've referred to it as proof that the common sense portion of my brain was removed a long time ago. The jokes are a defense mechanism and I am very cognizant of that. The jokes change but the scar remains, not as livid as it once was, but still the scar remains.

I got to my appointment with the ear nose and throat doctor this morning. When he walked in he said “Back again!” with a fairly cheerful manner. I managed to croak out that he should be offended but I had sincerely hoped to never have to see him again in any sort of professional capacity which got a chuckle. As the exam went along he tied off my tongue, gave it a yank, looked down my throat and began probing around.

Every morning, when I’m in the shower, I have another reminder of the surgery that left me with the scar on the side of my head. The inside of my nasal passages, while mostly healed from the repair work, have an odd shape that causes dirt to accumulate in my right nostril. As steam from the scalding shower works its way through my respiratory system this unsightly and fairly disgusting mass will usually work its way free. (Imagine the worst nose goblin of your life on steroids.) If I was in 3rd grade this is the sort of gross thing that would make me a legend among my peers. It’s present every day.

The exam was pretty thorough. He felt my neck and had me show him where the pain was, where it originated and how it increased based on my movements or actions. We discussed the timeline of the injury, the resulting infection and loss of voice. The strain of the muscles and the additional damage the sneeze seemed to cause the other night. For the short term he prescribed a large dose of ibuprofen and some steroids to try to encourage the repair of the muscle tissue that seems damaged.

I was 30 when I had the surgery. Another joke I now make is that no one ever tells you that the warranty runs out when you turn 30. At 28 it’s last call at the singles bar and you seem to be stuck with the bill. With me, less than 3 months after my 30th birthday, I was having surgery to remove a tumor in my head. The path the surgeon took was to remove it via my nasal passages. Once it's removal was accomplished they then took tissue from behind my right ear and used that in reconstruction and re-alignment of my septum. My scar is the only external evidence that the surgery took place,

May 26th, 1998: “I don’t like the frequency of the headaches, where you’re experiencing the pain or how long this has been going on. The medicine doesn't seem to be working so I’m scheduling you for an MRI and CAT scan tomorrow.”

December 29th, 2005: “I don’t know what the underlying cause of the damage is. I’m concerned that it’s in the soft tissues of your throat and that it’s happened twice in less than 6 months. I don't know if there are abnormalities in the structure of your musculature or if there's something else present. I’m scheduling you for an MRI, today if possible, and a blood screen as well.”

If there were words I could have gone the rest of my life without hearing again it’s that there’s an unknown factor in my life requiring me to climb into an MRI machine.

Logically my mind knows that there’s nothing to panic or be melodramatic about. It’s my throat and the odds are I’ve strained something or pulled a muscle. I'm 99.999% convinced that it’s not another tumor and I am not going to require surgery. The odds favor it being nothing. The problem is that the odds favored there nothing in my head 7 years ago either.

Before driving from the doctor to the MRI clinic I sat in the car for about 5 minutes trying to calm down. A lot’s changed since 1998. At the time I was single and went through the surgery alone with just a little help here and there and very few visitors. All I could think about today was that if something was seriously wrong now the stakes are so much higher now: Jack and Fabulous Babe. I can’t really call if fear because that’s not the emotion that was appropriate or present. Anxiety? Annoyance? I can’t really say I was angry just bewildered that it seemed to be happening all over again.

The drive from Maplewood to Eagan went pretty quickly. I got there and as I sat in the waiting room filling out forms it was like going back in time answering the same questions from 7 years ago. “Do you have any sort of metal implant that will be ripped from you during the MRI scan?” “Should shrapnel from the metal objects leaving the body kill you is there anyone we should call?” “You’re sure you didn’t swallow any coins before coming to visit us today?” After pages of this you finally get to hand the clipboard back and sit back down to read a copy of Redbook, People or Field & Stream.

Finally they call me back to get undressed and into a gown. As I’m sitting there all I could think about was:


Thank God my socks match.

The MRI starts at 11:45. They start by “shooting” 4 sessions ranging from 6 minutes to 10+ minutes. The technology has changed some but not a lot. My head is clamped into a brace with an angled mirror that allows me to see the control room. It’s also as loud as I remember and just as tight a space as I recall. At this point I’m pretty numb.

After the first four shots they have to inject me with a dye for the next series of shots. The start with my right arm, hit a vein that doesn’t work, break the needle in the second vein and then go to my left arm. 4th time’s a charm and they get the necessary amount of dye into my system and its back into the machine.

When I’m done the technician comments that I didn’t move at all during any of the sessions and that it’s rare to see someone hold so still despite the noise and motion. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not but I assume as much and thank him for his work. I’m handed my hard copies of the scans to take with me and then head for my blood work.

The blood work is back at our local clinic. After filling up several vials of blood I head to the pharmacy and drop off the prescriptions. By the time I get home it’s almost 2:30. All I want to do is take my medicine, head to bed and try to get some sleep. (I don’t feel safe driving under the influence of the pain medicines. They work just a little too well.)

It’s this terrible limbo that is bothering me right now. I just want to know what I have to get to grips with and it’s that lack of knowledge that is most upsetting. I can't change anything but damned if I don't want the results now.

7 years ago after the MRI was done the technicians told me there was something in my skull and showed me the on the screens. They then pointed out that the blood work would confirm what it was and what the next course of action was so I shouldn’t get to upset. Sure it’s easy to hear, but accepting that is a lot harder. It was two days before the blood work came back with good news, benign, but those were a long two days.

At least today I didn’t have to go through what I did the last time. 7 years ago I returned to the office after the scans and blood screens and my supervisor at the time, Dead Freddy, irritated at having me interrupt his constant stream of text messages back and forth with his girlfriend said that if I needed to leave a little early that day he would let me due to the circumstances. Fortunately his boss, The Rhodesian Tiger, was much more sympathetic and assured me that if I needed anything I would have it. (He also apologized for Dead Freddy being a self centered twit.)

At one point today I was crying for a few moments in the car. It’s not at my being upset at my health because, at this point, there's nothing to be upset by. It's the thought of not being there for Jack or Fabulous Babe in some way when they might need me. Dying doesn't scare me. It's the unfinished work you leave behind that unsettles me and Jack is by far our greatest accomplishment in the making.

Posted by Jim at December 30, 2005 12:35 AM


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