Sunday 26 March 2023

The sparrows in my head and a jugular bulb

I hope you won't mind the medical nature of this post, but if you've ever had a CT scan you'll perhaps agree that it really does seem like something straight out of a sci-fi movie.  The idea of being fed through a machine as red laser lines make intangible marks across you, and having your veins injected with 'dye' so that someone else can see the inside workings of your head, your blood vessels, even your brain, is (no pun intended) pretty mind-blowing.  And for us patients in the UK it's all for free.  Thank you, wonderful NHS.

I couldn't help wondering beforehand what else might show up inside my head, though - a mouse's nest?  A boxful of dreams?  All the things I've ever lost perhaps (that hoover nozzle we were looking for the other day?  My book on 1970s interiors that mysteriously went missing in 1995?)  But, I'm glad to say, the thing they did find was the thing they were looking for - the answer to the question I've had going round inside there for the last three months: what's causing me to hear that 'flock of sparrows' that I wrote about here, cheeping away every second of the day...? 

I'm so relieved to say it's not a tumour, or a narrowed artery, or a build-up of pressure around the brain, all of which can cause this Pulsatile Tinnitus.  I've had two ECGs as well, and full blood tests, and things poked inside my ears and up my nose, plus a hearing test, and they all turned out ok, so it's felt like a long three months.  But I found out last week, thanks to the result of the CT scan, that I do have an anomaly, which is an 'enlarged jugular bulb' (this, as a very lovely friend suggested, really should be the title of a track by Peter Hammill or the like, shouldn't it?  I can hear it now, a noodly instrumental perhaps.)

After a lot of wondering, worrying and some dark nights (and days) of the soul, it's such a relief to have a diagnosis at last.  For anyone who's interested in our incredible anatomy, as I understand it the jugular bulb is something we all develop at around 2 years old, a pouchy part of your jugular vein, at its top, where it bends round and forms a kind of junction with a sinus vein.  My 'bulb' is now pressing against or protruding slightly into the inner workings of my ear and so it's like putting a loudhailer up to your jugular.... which perfectly explains why I can hear my blood flow pulsing past all the time (and seemingly a few other noises from inside my skull too - it's a busy place!)

I do wish I could get rid of the incessant noise but, unless things get very extreme or there are any physical developments requiring intervention, I have to learn to live with it.  Habituation is the key - training your brain not to tune in, to ignore it - apparently the more attention we give something the more our brains automatically log its perceived importance (this particularly applies to anxiety too).  So I must keeping working at it, and the lovely ENT consultant is going to monitor things regularly too; I go back for a follow-up in June.

In the meantime, music and art and other happy distractions are, as ever, therapeutic, and I'm so grateful I don't have to do a job which requires me to sit in front of a computer screen all day as that has definitely become a bit more tiring and uncomfortable for some reason.  In fact my circumstances couldn't be better really, I draw and paint for a living (I've also reduced my hours a little) and I do it with music playing or the radio on, and birdsong outside my window.  The cheeping of real sparrows is fine; Spring is, well, promising anyway, to turn up soon and at least the heartbeat in my head keeps confirming I'm alive!

Let's have some more Buzzcocks... they do seem to have cornered the market in tinnitus-related themes...

Thursday 16 March 2023

Pipe dreams

 "I wasn't picking up cigarette butts..." says Andy, in a scene from Series 2 of the ever wonderful 'Detectorists', as he bumps into Dr Tendai, who, shortly beforehand, had interviewed him for an archaeology job in Botswana.  "Clay pipes," he continues, "I saw some bits of clay pipe in the flowerbed..." He holds out his palm to show the chalky white pipe fragments.  "Broken bits of pipe that people used to smoke."

They do look like cigarette butts, but I've found myself just as acutely aware of their existence as Andy is, any time I'm pottering around in my garden.  Only yesterday I wasn't even digging or anything, I just glanced downwards briefly to where the snowdrops have emerged and a piece of clay pipe was just lying there, looking up at me.  Well, not exactly looking up at me, but you know what I mean.  Not buried, not even dirty.  Just lying there in the open, above the soil, as if it had been strategically placed there by someone five minutes beforehand for me to spot.  Who is that phantom pipe layer?!

These are some of the pipe fragments I've found in the same circumstances, all of them in this small, humble garden, all of them brought to the surface naturally - by worms, birds, moles, voles, Wombles, who knows what, but they just appear now and then, unsearched for - and I love it.  

They may only be tiny remnants of the existence of ordinary men in buckskin breeches with tobacco-stained moustaches but they'll do for me - little time travelling morsels from long-gone lives.  I totally get why Andy holds onto them and keeps them in a glass jar - I do the same.

Back to the scene in 'Detectorists'.  "How old are they?" asks Dr Tendai.  "These ones are Victorian.." Andy points to the thinner fragments, "but that one's early 18th, maybe late 17th Century."  "How can you tell?"  Dr Tendai's curiousity is clearly piqued now.  "Older ones are thicker and they had a much smaller bowl because tobacco was so expensive..."

Thick and thin together

I haven't found any sections with the bowl intact yet but now I know, from Andy's explanation and yesterday's find, that I had in my hand a little piece of (thicker) pipe which must once have been puffed on by someone around 400 years ago.  Here's another fragment with some relief decoration at one end still showing too.

I can't help it, I just love how something so small and simple can resurface after hundreds of years and make me feel that myserious connection the way it does.  I hope I'll keep finding cigarette butts bits of clay pipe in my flowerbeds.


I was wondering about some music to accompany this post too.  Well, I could have given you Crackdust, the Botswanian death metal band mentioned by Andy and Lance in this episode - honestly, they're real - but how about an unexpectedly stompy glam version of the Nashville Teens' 'Tobacco Road' instead?  

Albatross: Tobacco Road, 1975

(Although, if you're still curious about Crackdust...)

Crackdust: Mortal Decay
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