14 January 2013

This Diagnosis Is Self-Designed

A couple of months off of the blogging grid has reached breaking point. While falling victim to the throes of modern technology, battling with the demons of medical problems and trying to keep other wolves at bay, I wound up retreating so far into myself that important events and goings on weren't even a blip on my radar. Friends of mine are buying houses, getting engaged and/or married and I can't even get off the couch.

My over-analytical nature has been a constant internal engine for as long as I can remember. I am conscious of my hyperbole. I am conscious of letting days and weeks and months go by without any sort of productivity. Combine that overheated engine with a nasty dose of self-diagnosis and you've got yourself a mechanical problem that only be fixed by the vehicle itself.

Within reading the first few pages of Todd Taylor's 'Shirley Wins' novel tonight, I felt the fire of inspiration scorching the ceiling of my self-induced depression. It began burning an exit, a release from a room I've spent far too long in. The gravity of the words, the weight of the context, the inherent struggle of human characters brought me back to a place I left behind on accident. It snapped me back into the place I need to be: reading, writing and burning away the hatred of humanity with my vices. Rather than being so self-absorbed, I need to get my head back in the clouds, chronicling not only the conversations that not only Robin and I have had, but the scrappy, hardscrabble and ultimately human lives I interact with on a daily basis.

So, let's take things one thing at a time.

It began innocently enough. Against Me! was playing Portland for the second time since we moved here. It was the first appearance of the strong-willed and the increasingly beautiful Laura Jane Grace. Only five months before we were able to witness the second to last performance ever of Tom Gabel. Safe to say, this show was a huge deal to the lot of us.

Before the show, Robin and I met up with my close friend Mike. We spent the afternoon drinking beers and hand-stamping CD-R sleeves for his band Faster Housecat. Being the merch guy for the band, I was happy to oblige with some hands-on, merch production. I knocked back beers with ink-stained hands while the thought of seeing Against Me! in full force that night kept my heart racing. We accomplished a lot in the couple hours we sat around bullshitting and watching crappy television.

Robin and I made our way to the venue. Due to the fact that AM!'s show was part of MFNW, advance tickets weren't available. We knew we were going to be waiting in line for quite a while and we steeled ourselves at the prospect. We wiled away two hours on the sidewalks outside the venue, smoking cigarettes, talking shit and basking in the golden afternoon of the city. Other friends met us in line and they joined in our nicotine revelries.

We got into the show without a problem and beelined for the bar. Beers were in order and we had already wasted our earlier buzz by waiting in line. I knocked back beers by the fistful, calibrating my racing heart and mind with copious amounts of alcohol.

The band came out roaring. Beginning to end, it was a no-frills, no-bullshit set. There was no bantering. There were no self-indulgent interludes. It was a fucking show. We were in the crowd the entire time, sweating and dancing and flailing like maniacs. When all was said and done, it felt like no time had passed at all. I have never been drenched in more sweat than that night.

Upon leaving the venue, the fresh air had quite the sobering effect, leveling everything out. My sweaty clothes clung to me like in a disgusting manner, while my lungs reached for the sky. They tasted freedom and I breathed in deep. Amidst the scrabble of our group of friends parting ways, clarity came in waves and crests. My ears were ringing in a way totally unprecedented.

I thought nothing of it for the next couple of days, self-diagnosing myself with some sort of ear damage. When, after a few weeks, the ringing didn't go subside, I began noticing that my hearing felt more sensitive. Normal volumes had become harsher, everyday noises became grating. The ringing was constant and I steeled myself for the worst.

I became so wrapped up in the noise I became obsessed. I let certain defeatist traits overcome me. I thought I was going deaf. The thought of an actual medical diagnosis that would deem I was, in fact, losing my hearing scared the living shit out of me. So, in its stead, I toughed it out, one day at a time. I figured if I didn't go to the doctor, I wouldn't get the bad news.

My expensive surgery earlier last year had a silver lining. The expenses accrued put my account at "Maximum Out-Of-Pocket-Reached" (or whatever the insurance lingo is). That granted me a free ride for ANY medical expense from there on out. I used it to my advantage for other visits, but it ultimately led me to the end of the road. It became halfway through December and I was still dealing with the ringing the metallic reverb. I had to see a doctor while it was free because, come January 1st, any visit and/or surgery and/or any other self-diagnosed problem would put me further into debt. This was it. I made a phone call and had an appointment four days before the end of the year.

Going into the appointment, I was a nervous wreck. I was sleep-deprived from the last week and had been at work since five that morning. Getting gridlocked in traffic didn't help my mental storm. I was on the cusp of either the best or worst diagnosis thusfar. I rationalized it as far as I could. I was doom and gloom as I walked through the door.

After the regular check-in bullshit, and after dealing with the having-to-get-a-key-to-take-a-piss bullshit, I sat there in the waiting room. Waiting. Ragged and tired with boots covered in blood and guts. I faced the abyss.

After the obligatory weigh-in, I was back in another room. Waiting. The same pre-op room, the same post-op room. Everything came full-circle. I was in limbo between the old and new. This would either be the best or worst news. I was out of options to rationalize it in a clever way.

The hearing test with a specialist was an anxiety-ridden gauntlet of despair. I had no way of knowing whether or not I was completely fucking up or excelling at the test. Every lapse in time and space was spent in agony. Was I hearing too much, or was I hearing too little?

Afterwards, I spent more time waiting for my actual doctor. The same doctor that performed the surgeries on my face and had been a shining light in a world of desolation. He came in the door, barely remembered me and we talked.

Immediately, he took a look in my ears. "Well, they're completely jammed with wax", he tells me, "Let's get that out of there". A couple pin-prick sensations in the ears later and I felt a thousand times better. Chronic build-up in my ears was the first medical problem I willingly went to the doctor for. It was the first instance that I realized I wasn't inhuman, that I wasn't invincible. It fueled quite a bit of writing back then. Said realization fuels my writing now.

After a brief discussion, I was told that my hearing was totally fine. Build-up of earwax had been the main culprit in the problems I was having. The ringing in my ears would eventually heal itself. It was a diagnosis I had not expected. Immediately, the ringing in my ears became nothing more than an minor annoyance, a hiccup in the great scheme of things. My ears FELT better, and everything sounded crisper, cleaner. I left the doctor's office, blasting the Strait A's with new ears open.

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