My Own Particular Dilemma

Today we drove south past scorched hills and distant flames and headed for Los Angeles, where the air, by contrast, was surprisingly clear and fresh. We had coffee in a little place in Koreatown, walked across the street to admire the old Bullock’s Wilshire building–an Art Deco remnant of the days of grand department stores–and headed to a place called the House Ear Institute.  The doctor there projected a sequence of MRI pictures of my brain on his laptop, each taken about a year apart.

It’s strange to sit and look at pictures of your brain under any circumstances, but in addition to the normal shapes and shadings of mine, a little tumor is visible on the nerve that connects the brain with the inner ear, and with each successive image it’s looking slightly larger. The tumor is called an acoustic neuroma, and it’s benign, thank goodness, but it has already dramatically diminished the hearing in my left ear, and as it continues to grow it can put pressure on the brain and can cause facial paralysis, loss of balance, and other undesirable effects.  If simply ignored and left to keep growing,  its size and position  can even become “life-threatening”. That’s the actual term he used. I wrote it in my notebook.

How abruptly an abstract thing can become tangible! I have known about this tumor in my head for a couple of years now, and apart from monitoring its growth with MRIs, I’ve been staunchly committed to the “pretend-it-isn’t-there” approach. I simply decided that I was going to coexist with the thing for the rest of my life and that was that.  I just wouldn’t hear very well. Lots of people lose hearing as they get older.

But no, as it turns out, that was not that.  I need to take action on this sooner, rather than later. And the available options, now that my beloved “pretend-it-isn’t-there” strategy has been taken away from me, are radiation or surgery. The surgery is scary and debilitating, but also unequivocal; the radiation is far less painful and intrusive but somewhat ambiguous. Now I have a decision to make, and I’m telling myself it isn’t a big deal, but actually it is. I wonder what I’ll do.

Then we drove back north past the scorched hills and into the hazy, smoky air, and past a row of tall old palm trees looking like sticks, blackened and shorn of their tops, while on the radio was the latest barrage of appalling ways our current government has demonstrated it does not represent us. We made stops along the way in Ventura and Santa Barbara, where there were hand-lettered signs thanking firefighters, and everyone was walking around in face masks, and feeling frazzled, and being extra kind. It’s almost Christmas, and it’s snowing ash.

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