Welcome to Machine

Rodney Warner, JD
Rodney Warner, JD

It was a familiar sight. An IV line in my right arm. It was a familiar smell. Latex gloves and alcohol. It was even a familiar taste. I was told it was just saline going in the line, but I had a distinct bitter, plastic taste in my mouth after the injection, so I think it was more than that.

Soon afterward, another familiar sight. The inside of the circular opening of a CT machine. It obviously wasn’t new, a little grimy and stained. There was a familiar red light coming from the laser. I knew I shouldn’t look at it, so I closed my eyes. I had been asked if I’d had a CT scan before. I said I’d lost count.

It has been a couple years since my last CT scan. These machines used to inspire so much fear in me. I really have lost count how many I’ve had. During and after treatment I’d have at least four a year. I think I stopped in 2006 or 2007, started in 2000. Three times these giant electronic doughnuts delivered bad news: tumors. Nothing could concentrate my ability to pray like being in a CT machine.

I was afraid I was hearing echoes of my cancer treatment, starting about a month ago. I woke up in the middle of the night with a loud ringing in my ears. That kind of ring you get after sitting too close to the speakers at a concert. Only I hadn’t been to a concert, been working a noisy factory or loud construction site. I had no fevers, sinus problems or dizziness.

It’s never quiet anymore. The ringing in my ears hasn’t stopped since. With the internet at hand, I read that tinnitus (ringing ears) can be caused by a number of things and can be a symptom of hearing loss. I wrote down all the chemo combos I’d taken over the years, wrote down the drugs I took and came up with 15 of them (there’s a 16th, but I can’t remember it). As best as I can figure out, five of them have been linked with hearing loss as a potential side effect.

Earlier this week I went to see an ear, nose and throat specialist. I had a hearing test, which came out normal, so no hearing loss. He told me it was very unusual for someone my age to have his ears start ringing with no apparent cause. He doesn’t think my cancer treatment is the cause. Just to take a look inside my head to see if there’s a physical cause (like a tumor, and if there is one, hopefully a benign one like an acoustic neuroma), he gave me a prescription for a CT scan of my head (unlike my previous CT scans, this one didn’t involve my chest and abdomen and drinking ungodly amounts of foul tasting, stomach churning barium ‘milk shake’).

So here I am, yet again, waiting for results of a CT scan. Only this time, I don’t think my life is in the balance. The ringing, though constant, is only noticeable if I focus on it or when it’s really quiet (like in the middle of the night). So, I’m hoping we’ll find some cause; some treatment and this won’t get worse.

When this started, I feared the worst, that I was going deaf and other than hearing aids or possibly cochlear implants, there was nothing I could do about it. I’m hoping this will be a short and uneventful journey in my health history. But like everything else in my life, the shadow of cancer and its treatment seem always to be looming over me.

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