My Head Trip

by Sandra Kennedy

I used to be an extrovert.

Now, I consider myself an introvert with some extrovert added to the mix. I have a hearing loss. One ear is deaf and the other partially deaf. I feel like I have an invisible veil separating me from others. 

Two years ago, after struggling to hear with friends, travelers, servers, family, salespeople,I checked into getting hearing aids. Each time, I felt frustration as technicians told me: “they should work.” They did not work for me. It began a path towards partial isolation and frustration.

I visited specialists at Kaiser, my medical group After test results, my doctor said, “You have a brain tumor which has damaged your auditory nerve."

“Hearing aids won’t help.”

“What?” My mind raced to thoughts of my grandfather who died of brain cancer. The doctor continued, “Good news: it is not cancer. Bad news: Permanent hearing loss with residual symptoms.”

“What are the residual symptoms?” The Dr. responded, “Head pressure, tinnitus, balance issues, and vertigo (world spinning around you.) 

“You will need to decide on radiation, surgery or wait.” I felt overwhelmed in making this decision. Adrenaline started pumping through me. One part of me wanted to cry. The other part started putting together an action plan.

When feeling threatened, I override my insecurities. Friends say, “You are so brave.” I think, no I’m not. My survival tactics go into play. They see a proactive, determined person fighting the odds. The outside doesn’t match the inside. 

I decided on 30 sessions of radiation for six weeks. They took place in the hospital’s cancer center. I felt like a fraud. I didn’t have cancer. Yet,, here I was among brave people fighting a daily battle for their lives. Each person I spoke with shared their story openly. I have such respect for each of them.

After radiation, I decided to work on acceptance, and keeping my dreams. Somedays, my head feels “wonky," a term used by others after radiation. It’s a mixture of loud tinnitus combined with head pressure which whirls in my head.

Some days I wake up and feel like my old self. My head is clear and emotions positive. On those cays, I begin planning my next trip to San MIguel de Allende, Mexico. With excitement, I reserved a casita for two months. I am open to new adventures again.

I am adjusting more and more to my” new normal.” I make different choices. Now, I roam in Powells Books rather than a play. I enjoy quieter restaurants. I love reading books and the Internet. I started to write and take photos again. 

I remember my nearly deaf auntie. She continually tried to adjust her hearing aids. At family events, she began to sit apart from the group. I think she tired of saying “What?” Now, I understand her frustration and the frustrations of those trying to communicate. 

At times, I think of hanging a sign from my neck saying, “Partially deaf but have a mind.” 

Life is full in a different way. I walk with trekking poles to maintain balance. I still smile a lot  each day. I feel fortunate. Things could be much worse. 

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Sandra Kennedy on horseback in Ecuador.

Sandra Kennedy is a Freelance Travel Writer, based in Oregon. After retiring from teaching internationally and nationally, she took a solo trip to Buenos Aires for a travel writing class. She followed her dream with mult-country travels and articles in: Morocco, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay,Argentina, Nepal, China, Portugal, Alaska, Maine, Oregon and Washington.

photo credits: courtesy Sandra Kennedy and Pavlos Stamatis via Flickr CCL.

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