Rearview Mirror – ChaCha

Rearview Mirror is our annual look back at the year in music from our friends in and around the business.  Musicians, managers, roadies, superfans, bloggers etc..

Today’s recap comes from Elba sidekick ChaCha, who underwent brain surgery in 2011. She talks about that ordeal and what it was like to hear music again for the first time with a tumorless brain.

Oh 2011, you fickle bitch. I spent the first half of it getting over 2010’s heartbreak, the middle of it happy, but feeling like death was knocking at my door and the end of it having emergency brain surgery, attending my father’s unexpected funeral, turning 31 and then the rest of it desperately trying to get my life back to normal.

On the morning of September 9th, I went for an MRI that I’d put off for too long for financial reasons. What started out as headaches and halos in my vision had accelerated into a frightening series of symptoms over the course of June, July & August had included loss of my normal motor skills. By the time I got the MRI, I could not button my pants or buckle my seatbelt without help. On that very same day, at around 3:45 in the afternoon, I was diagnosed with a Meningioma brain tumor. A type of tumor normally diagnosed when patients are in their 50’s or, when their autopsy is performed. Most people can live their whole lives and never even know they have it. They can never have a single symptom. But I was 30 and had almost all of the symptoms of this troubling tumor.

“Mengie” the tumor, as I had begun calling it, was pressing down on the right frontal lobe of my brain and my symptoms had progressed so rapidly that I was scheduled for emergency surgery on that following Tuesday, September 13th. I was lucky because Mengie was benign and as the doctors put it later, the easy to remove “consistency of jello.”

I spent a torturous week in the hospital. Drugged up, with needles sticking out of my arms and staples in my skull and everyone looking at me not knowing what to expect. I was kept on a floor that I referred to as the “What’s Your Name & Wiggle Your Toes” floor, where a nurse comes in every 2 hours, checks all your vitals and asks you a series of telling questions such as: What’s your name? Where are you? And what is the date? All of this along with the request to squeeze her fingers as a way to test your strength. David in the room next to me could not do any of these tricks. So every two hours before they got to me, I laid in my bed and listened to them yelling at David. But David did not reply.

I was awake for 72 hours after my surgery, extremely uncomfortable, way too over stimulated and listening to all of this going on around me. I had never been in the hospital before. I had just been through the most unnerving experience of my life. And when I did finally sleep, it was in fits and starts or hardly at all. I hoped that going home would change that but it was almost worse.

I’d listened to some music in the hospital, but my senses had been so sharp and sensitive, that I’d limited a lot of input. Aside from the stuffed dog my dad brought me that sang a select line or two from Barry White’s “My First, My Last, My Everything”( and one day when I finally got my headphones and listened to Fleet Foxes, Caitlin Rose and John Gold, I hadn’t heard much of anything. Not surprisingly, brain surgery can be a real bitch on your level of sensitivity to the world. I had gone through a self-prescribed sensory deprivation with smells, food, music and visuals almost out of desperation. I no longer knew what foods I liked or even how to get comfortable in my own bed. Both of my arms and wrists were covered in bruises from the IV’s and I’d lost 15 pounds in 2 weeks. Because of the medication I was on, my fingernails were growing at a rate I swear I could see happening before my very eyes.

I was home for an entire week before I slept any longer than 20 minutes. The following songs are what I heard in the early morning hours after the first night of solid sleep I’d gotten in 3 weeks.

“Hyacinth House” – The Doors

I spent years seriously hating The Doors for trivial reasons that today, I can’t even remember. But that morning, listening to “Hyacinth House”, it was pretty much the best song I’d ever heard. Not too loud, not too forceful…the perfect first track…and really, if you think about it, pretty relevant.

“Just the Motion” – Richard & Linda Thompson

Once upon a time, my uncle Vance strongly suggested I add their music to my IPod while robbing his personal digital collection. It took a while to stick. On this particular morning, still healing from surgery, with staples in my skull, confused and still exhausted, this song brought the mental house down.

“Thriller” Michael Jackson

The “creeeeeeak” at the beginning of Thriller scared the living daylights out of me and as I was remembering how awesome that song is, I realized how absolutely frightening the opening is when you’re sitting in the dark, alone, at 5:23 am.

“Have You Ever Seen the Rain” by CCR

I really could go on and on about the rest of the morning and how I watched The Labyrinth and had relived part of my childhood. But that doesn’t have anything to do with music. I could also tell you about all the other musical epiphanies and moments of amazement that I experienced post op. Truth is, there wasn’t much I didn’t want to listen to. Before I was diagnosed, it had gotten to the point that I didn’t even want to listen to music anymore. I drove to and from work in silence. And when music did pop into my head, it was often something so far out of my normal listening habits that it just confused me. I used to say that my internal radio was on the fritz. ABBA & Lil’ Wayne were both popular on my damaged internal radio. I didn’t even know any Lil’ Wayne lyrics. It was just a lot of yelling. And my ABBA lyric knowledge isn’t so great either

There were times after my surgery that I literally couldn’t believe I was alive. That I had been so lucky to get one of the best neurosurgeons in the Midwest, to have the support of all these people in my life, to work for someone that held my job for 2 months while I recovered, and to have seen my dad one more time before he died because of my surgery. And to listen to music and taste and smell everything like it was the first time.

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