I have written about my ridiculously lucky life both here and on other sites. I have had 66 years of unearned health, happiness, serendipity, and joy.
Given all of that, I don’t really complain much. I mean, how could I?
But the past few months have taught me some lessons about adjusting to those moments in life when the crazy luck fades away a bit.
Last August I had 12 hours of brain surgery to remove an acoustic neuroma that was wrapping itself around a couple of my cranial nerves. It was completely benign, and my recovery was absolutely uncomplicated. That luck was on my side! The tumor was mostly removed, and I didn’t suffer from the facial paralysis that often follows this surgery.
Three weeks ago I went back to the neurosurgeons to have a one-time radiation treatment that they call “Gamma Knife surgery.” The good doctors screwed a titanium frame onto my skill, as you can see above. Then they zapped the remaining tumor with gamma rays so it is less likely to come back in the future.
So I’m theoretically all done with treatment for this thing and am ready to put it behind me. Hurray, hoorah, yippee kai-ai-ay.
And that’s why it strikes me as odd that I am feeling a little discouraged about the whole thing. I have made it a choice to keep focusing on the good parts of all of this. My taste has returned. My right eye is no longer painfully dry. The tingles that ran across the right side of my face for six months have mostly disappeared and walking outside in the sunlight is no longer too much for my addled vestibular system to handle.
But I’m totally, completely, irrevocably deaf in my right ear. Like most people my age, I have also lost a bit of hearing in my left ear. In a quiet, one-to-one conversation, this isn’t a problem, as long as my friend remembers not to stand behind me. I’m adjusting to it; I have several sets of mismatched earrings so that I can wear a green one in my good ear and a red one in my bad.
But when I am with a large group, I am alone in my partial deafness. We just spent a few days with old friend in Arizona. It was exciting, fun, and incredibly frustrating. I would ask someone a question, but as they answered me, their voice would be drowned out by the sound of water running in the sink, or someone laughing, or dishes rattling. I kept leaning in, turning my head, cupping my ear like someone from an old movie. It was exhausting. My head hurt the whole time.
Thanksgiving was worse. I always love hosting this epic foodie holiday. I love the crowd and the laughter and the pie.
But this year, with my little house absolutely packed, the entire day felt like standing in a giant wind tunnel. I heard roaring. I heard bursts of laughter. I heard a few words. But mostly I felt like I was standing next to a jet engine all day.
It wasn’t fun. It was depressing, honestly. And the constant struggle to hear and understand made me dizzy and off balance.
You see, the acoustic nerve and the vestibular nerve are branches of the same nerve. So my balance is damaged along with my hearing. It’s not terrible; I can do pretty much everything I want to do on a daily basis.
That’s the positive part.
The negative is that while I go about my day, taking care of my grandkids, cooking, doing laundry, etc, I am continually working to stay upright. I can’t look over my shoulder as I walk. I can’t safely enter a dark room. I can’t lean over to pick things up off the floor. Not without toppling into a heap.
So I find myself in the interesting position of learning to accept some permanent losses (my right ear, my balance) without falling into self-pity. I need to figure out how to grieve about what won’t come back while being grateful for what stayed.
I wish I could hear in a crowd. I wish I could go to a nighttime festival of lights without getting nauseous and scared. I wish I didn’t have a big, aching scar on my skull. I wish I could feel my right ear.
I’m still the luckiest person I know, honest! I know that.
But, jeez, I miss Thanksgiving conversations.