Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Halfway through Cabrillo
One week down, one week to go at Cabrillo. The first week of concerts was—in the opinion of many—one of the best in memory. The most exciting part about Cabrillo is the presence of so much artistic excellence everywhere I look. Santa Cruz is small, and the streets have a way of tumbling people into one another. It’s hard to hide and everyone is literally rubbing shoulders with everyone else. As I lean across the breakfast table to grab another bear claw I brush past a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer just idling there, deep in thought as he sips on a cup of coffee. I never mention names in my blog, but the talent out here is on some other astral plane, let me tell you. The orchestra musicians, the soloists, the music direction, the composers and the audiences are all fantastic and we feed off each other’s zeal, passion and energy. Four hundred people attended our first rehearsal. The concerts, featuring some of the most difficult new music imaginable, are sold out. Cabrillo is a special place in my heart, a unique part of music history that rewrites music history every year.
On to my health. Two minor brain shocks last week. I am stressing they were MINOR (only 3 on a scale of 1-10) but they are notable because this is the first recurrence of this phenomenon since May. The image I get (I wrote about this before) is of an alien ray gun pointed at the left side of my head. For a second it feels like my brain melts away and then pops with a painful jolt. A half-note downward glissando with a percussion hit at the end. Before I know what has hit me it is over. I never know when the next one will come. It could be minutes or months. When the two brain shocks hit last week I was deep into playing technical passagework, losing myself in the music.
I try to be careful about this but it’s harder when the musicianship around me is full of fire. In the back of my sinus cavity there is only tissue now where there used to be skull. The hole is about the size of a dime. I have a slice mark on my belly to remind me where they extracted this tissue to plug this hole in my head. Common sense tells me bone is solid and tissue has “give.” With the high air pressure of playing the oboe I wonder if the tissue plug bounces in and out when I play and rest. It’s a little gruesome to think about things like this, but I’m starting to wonder if slight on-off pressure changes in the area of the brain behind my sinuses could be responsible for this intermittent brain shock phenomenon.
When I returned to playing a few months after recovery, I took things easily. I played on the easiest reeds and my orchestra’s management accommodated me with anything I needed for gradually working back to a full schedule, never pressuring me to push it any farther than I wanted to. I was determined every week to be one step farther along while maintaining constant vigilance about watching for leaking spinal fluid again.
Because I took things slowly and carefully, I didn’t suffer setbacks during rehab. I have now tested the tissue plug with the heaviest levels of playing I know and it’s staying put. But I wonder if the plug still moves or bounces a millimeter or two with the pressure changes. Once again, I ask myself how many professional oboists have had two craniopharyngioma resection neurosurgeries and then made it back to their previous level of playing? If I make it through the rest of Cabrillo, I could be the first.