“How did you know you had a brain tumor?” Every time someone hears about what happened to me, that is usually the first question they ask. Always quietly, deferentially, shyly, like I might bolt up from the table or couch in hysterics and scream “how DARE you ask me that!!!” But I’ve noticed when I do answer it is usually quickly and dismissively. “I couldn’t clear my ears,” I say. “I was dizzy,” I say. Then I quickly move on to something else because, if there’s anything that’s more difficult to talk about than my time in the hospital, it’s the time before I went into the hospital.
I first noticed it around Thanksgiving, a feeling like you get when on an airplane of pressure in your ears. I tried to clear them, but nothing worked. Allergies, I surmised. It will clear up once winter gets here. Life went on. And life was insane.
I taught Monday evenings, then again on Tuesday and Thursday mornings early. My husband would drive our first grader across town into Clintonville and I would go to work. I would arrive home before 10am usually, take my professor hat off and put my mom hat on. My husband woud dash off to work (he’s a full time professor at the same university). Just after 12, I would drive my preschooler to school in Clintonville, then drive some more until the toddler fell asleep, then find somewhere to park until it was time to pick the first grader up, then pick up the preschooler, then head back across town. Once home, I would wait for my husband to get home and then, 3-4 times a week, run the first grader up the road to martial arts lessons. I call this my Dance Moms phase, in which I became a fixture at the dojo and my eldest son was on the Demo Team and taking umpteen classes per week. The owner of the studio in Westerville, OH is really a great guy and I don’t regret any of our time there, but I was over-involved and enjoying it far more than my son was.
The 6 days a week, at least twice a day drive to Clintonville was wearing thin for all of us, so in March of 2012, we had taken the huge step of getting our house ready for the market. With help from our realtor Liza, we hit the market around April 1st. So then, in addition to teaching, shuttling kids across town to school and being Martial Arts Mom, we were also trying to manage showings and open houses of our current house while looking for a new house in Clintonville. It would have made anyone crazy. Maybe that’s why, as my ears began to constantly ring and my head began to throb and the world began to spin whenever I got up too fast, I was able to just keep putting off doing anything about it. Sure, I went to the Minute Clinic and told the Nurse Practitioner that I thought I had an ear infection. She said she didn’t see much, but that maybe it was high up in my sinuses, so she wrote me a prescription for Augmentin. I immediately discovered I have a raging allergy to Augmentin. Now my head was pounding, I was dizzy, my ears were ringing and I was puking my guts out.
When the puking stopped and the rest remained, I finally decided to see a “real” doctor. Only I didn’t have one. Like a lot of young moms, I had an OB/GYN, but not a GP, so I called an office in April and got an appointment with the Physician’s Assistant for the end of the month. Meanwhile, I did what everyone does these days. I googled my symptoms: fullness in ears, dizziness, headache. Boom. Answer. Ménière’s Disease. Chronic. Incurable. Shit. Oh well, at least it’s not a brain tumor.
By the end of April, I was miserable. I was so dizzy all the time I was afraid I was going to crash the minivan. There were times when it felt like I couldn’t see properly. I could barely sleep. I kept waking up to the pounding in my ears. I finally got hold of the Hunger Games series. I would lay on the couch and read, desperately trying to escape into District 12. As it turns out, if you are about to go into a drug and surgery induced haze for 4 weeks, The Hunger Games is NOT the series you want playing around in what remains of your mind, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Around April 25, 2012, I finally got into see the PA at the new doctor’s office. She listened to my Minute Clinic Augmentin adventure and told me it might be migraines, but that I needed an MRI to rule out anything else. I didn’t tell her my Ménière’s theory. I went home and set about trying to schedule an MRI. Before I even figured out where to call, the phone rang. It was my first ever call from Anthem, our medical insurance at the time. Anthem told me they had received the request for the MRI from the PA and approved it, but might they suggest that I visit a private imaging clinic rather than the hospital for my MRI. You know, get your head scanned at Bob’s MRI Barn, get your card stamped on the way out for a free sub! Whatever. I’ve got Ménière’s Disease anyway, so I may as well get this MRI done as quickly as possible, so that I can get back to the business of selling my house, grading papers, being Martial Arts Mom and feeling dizzy for the rest of my life. Turns out Bob’s MRI Barn works a lot faster than the hospital and they booked me an appointment for the following week: May 2, 2012.
It was a Wednesday evening. I remember I was afraid of the MRI. My mom had had one a few months before and had panicked. They had to pull her out and start over. When I told her I was going for one, she offered to fly out from Denver, but I turned her down. I knew she was planning a trip to see my grandfather, who she had been estranged from for a couple of years and I suspected this was an excuse to get out of that trip. Also, I assumed it would be a couple of weeks before they had the results. I had talked to my friend Cindy about it earlier that day and she had reassured me that I wouldn’t panic, that I would be fine, but that it would be loud. I planned to bring rosary beads and take solace in the repetitive mantra of Hail Marys and Our Fathers while praying for our house to sell. I don’t know who watched our kids, maybe the neighbors? Maybe my friend Cheryl? I just know they weren’t with us. Bob’s MRI Barn (no that’s not REALLY what it’s called) was quick and clean and professional, but they confiscated my rosary beads. Metal and MRIs don’t mix. Cindy was right. I didn’t panic, but it was loud and annoying. Clackety, clackety, click, click, clackety. Rat tat tat tat tat. I’ve had many since then. They are still loud and annoying. I went home that night relieved that I’d finally done it, I’d had the MRI. I was one step closer to finding out I had a chronic incurable malady and that my ears would be ringing for the rest of my life.