What are the eleven words you least want to hear your from your doctor (that don’t involve the area just south of your waistline)?
“You have a brain tumor the size of a golf ball.”
Hey! I have a brain tumor the size of a golf ball!
It’s a meningioma, a tumor of the meninges, the lining of the brain and it’s causing mild and very strange perceptual hallucinations of the language function.
Here’s what I wrote for my neurosurgeon to help him understand my symptoms:
“About two years ago I began to notice a phrase, a paragraph of text, teasing at the edge of my mind. It was one of those things about which you might say “I can’t put my finger on it.” At the time it seemed to be just a sort of old memory; something I saw written down somewhere, perhaps at work several years ago.
By the way, I could not, at the time, tell you what the phase is, and cannot today.
It seemed like it might be an effect of aging; a trick of memory. The kind of thing we all share as we grow older. But then it changed. The phrase began began to present itself to me from the mouths of others.
Television and film characters began to speak the phrase. Not to me, but as though it were part of the dialogue they were performing. At first I thought that the phrase must be a common aphorism that I heretofore had simply not been familiar with. It seemed fairly well known. Everyone was saying it. Then I heard the phrase spoken as part of an interview with Mike Nichols on The Charlie Rose show. They were talking about Shakespeare’s Henry IV. “Aha!”, I thought, “it must be a common piece of Shakespearian dialogue.” I have Tivo, so I recorded a later show to view as my proof.
And the proof wasn’t there. Nichols and Rose had the same dialogue, but the phrase wasn’t there. This would be a good time to remind you that I still have no idea what the phrase is.
Now the phrase began to appear in print. Books, magazines, the covers of CDs, even the side of a case of oil at Pep Boys.
Let’s say I’m reading a book. Here is the printed text:
“During the rapid movement from the blockhouse, and until the party was deeply buried in the forest, each individual was too much interested in the escape to hazard a word even in whispers. The scout resumed his post in advance, though his steps, after he had thrown a safe distance between himself and his enemies, were more deliberate than in their previous march, in consequence of his utter ignorance of the localities of the surrounding woods. More than once he halted to consult with his confederates, the Mohicans, pointing upward at the moon, and examining the barks of the trees with care.“
Here’s how it might suddenly read:
“During the rapid movement from the blockhouse, and until the party was deeply buried in the forest, because the nature of the perceptual effect I’m experiencing is so difficult even for me to wrap my head around, I thought that it might help you if I made an attempt to explain it on paper, so that you would have a record to which you could refer in order to better understand what’s happening to me in the same way that I do. More than once he halted to consult with his confederates, the Mohicans, pointing upward at the moon, and examining the barks of the trees with care. “
Of course, the actual phrase would be something else, known only to me as I read it. Returning to the text after a shake of the head or a blink, it would read normally, the phrase no longer there.
I have tried to speak the phrase aloud as I read it, but find I cannot. It is as though only the meaning of the text changes, but not the actual text.
The phrase has also presented itself to me without the aid of text or spoken dialogue. In these instances, it seems to be searching for a place to present itself. It still feels like a thought. It does not present itself as a voice. No, I am not hearing voices.
Oddly, none of this caused me any concern. But I found it to be an interesting puzzle and shared it with my physician. He doubted it had any organic cause. I, however, doubted that it could be anything but organic. I tend not to believe in things that require belief.
I’m not anxious to discover an organic cause for all of this, but as I said, I remain a skeptic and a rationalist. In the same way that I might feel that my gut is agitated due to a bad piece of shrimp, because that is what is actually happening, I can feel that what is happening to me in this instance is happening to my brain and not my mind, while happily conceding that they are one and the same thing.”
Bit clinical, I know, but that was kind of the point.
So my new friend Dr Cybulsky (a Pole! My orthopedic surgeon, Dr Mircovic is Czech – I entrust my nervous system only to Eastern and Central European practicioners), wants to carve a hole in my skull and yank that sucker out. Oddly, this is elective surgery, as it’s a benign tumor and not life-threatening and the symptoms are merely strange.
I don’t expect it to cause me anything but a couple of week’s grief in late March and some hair, so there’s really nothing to be all that concerned about. Cranial surgeries are far better things to have than say, thorasic surgeries. Less invasive, no affect upon ambulation, etc. Actually, brain surgery feels very punk-rock to me. Kind of like the ultimate tatoo.