All In My Head
By Nicole Freire
I once heard that the key to living a happy life was to drive a Peugeot. Because those quaint French cars are notoriously badly built, awful to maintain, and break down constantly. So if you're always dealing with a crappy car, the rest of your life seems smooth and trouble free by comparison.
Apparently I am a French sedan.
I have spent my life seemingly lurching from one health crisis to another. Braces on the feet. Braces on the teeth. Enough x-rays of my spine throughout childhood that I'm pretty sure that I glow under a black light. Braces on my back. Allergic to walnuts, some antibiotics, and just for fun, peach skin. (I rubbed a peach under my chin once as a child, because they're so soft and also, make me stop breathing - temporarily.) Surgeries on my back. Surgeries on my mouth. Surgeries on my face. A week here in the hospital, another week there. Close to death following surgery at 12? Check. Another close call at 28? Check. Casts? Yes. Braces? Yes, yes, and yes. Medication? You betcha. In fact, let's throw in migraines just as a bonus. You know, for being a valued customer.
And we're only talking about my physical health. My mental health? Oh boy, that's a whole other column.
Doctors, hospitals, waiting rooms, labs, pharmacies, nurses - these are my people, these are my places.
My sister (who Is a doctor! So I'd just like to say to all the armchair therapists out there, try and analyze that while I go on.) likes to make a little joke that I think of hospitals as hotels. Which isn't entirely true - but not entirely wrong. Hospitals don't scare me.
I have been there and done that. Repeatedly. I don't flinch. I can usually take what my body chooses to dish out.
Check out that picture! Impressive, isn't it?
That's my brain. And that little arrow? The one pointing to the CENTER OF MY BRAIN? It's showing off the newest addition to the team roster. It's a cyst. About the size of my thumb.
We've been measuring it for about a year and a half. Every three months, I go in for an MRI. And no, I'm not claustrophobic. But yes, I would like a blanket and some earplugs. (They're cold and they're loud.) By all means, take me out halfway through the MRI and inject me with dye! In my arm! Metallic taste in the back of your mouth? Means its working! Put me back in. Leave me in there. Take me out. Send me home.
Consult with radiologist. Consult with neurologist. Look at the x-rays. Hold up thumb, say to self, "Really? In my head?"
Rinse, lather, repeat.
Do not freak out. Well, freak out just a little when you realize that if it gets bigger? The only way they can get to it? Is to drill THROUGH the brain.
Keep doing it. Once is just for a baseline. Twice is to check. Three times makes it graphable. (is that a real word?) How about chartable? Four times means, well, we've done it every season. And so far, we've stayed the same. Well, the cyst stays the same.
I'm lucky. This weird little growth is 'fairly unremarkable'. Unchanging so far in uniform shape, circumference, girth, not pressing too hard on any blood vessels, just hanging out here in the brain. Not life-threatening in any immediate clinical sense. We might measure it again in a year, just to make sure it's staying the same size. In my brain.
I have not had some great epiphany from this experience. I have not found God. I am not a nicer person because there is something in my head. It has not stopped me from drinking coffee or spending a good portion of my monthly income at Rite Aid.
But at some point during the most recent hullabaloo, the newest lurch from "let's x-ray those pesky sinuses" to "whoa, check THAT out", I just decided to stop worrying so much about my stupid French car.
I don't live my life differently with a growth in my head. I just live it a wee bit harder. And I mean that in a good way. Harder, in my case, just means a little more aware, just a little more MORE.
I used to hold myself a little apart from the world. Just enough to be able to sit calmly in the doctor's office. To keep it together for another round of pain, of injury, of whatever was coming.
And now I try harder to not seek that distance. To relax just a little bit. I'm still driving the Peugeot. I'm just not going to tear my hair out next time it decides to lose a tire.
Nicole Freire is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara.