Beethoven was deaf. I am not such a great musician as he was, and not completely deaf as he was, either. My daily work as a conductor and a principal of six different orchestras in Israel, for youth and adults, was not disturbed when I felt 7 years ago that I have some hearing loss and tinnitus. It did not worry me at all that my ear, my major musical instrument, was becoming weaker from year to year. I thought it is one of the professional accidents that happen during a musician's lifetime.
I am a former viola principal with the Haifa Symphony Orchestra, and it was very curious to me not hearing the usual nice sound when playing my viola, and more than that, not to hear the beautiful tone of Annett’s violin, sitting weekly left to my side in our String Quartets’ rehearsals.
The story is known and hackneyed, it is needless to tell the details: CT, MRI, long meetings with physicians and neurosurgeons. I usually answered them that it does not matter what the threat to my life is according to their opinion, I didn’t want to lose my basic instruments as a conductor, which might happen after open surgery:
- balance – the ability to stand on stage steady;
- hearing - to hear correctly all the sections in the Orchestra;
- facial nerve – to keep my face normal for the important gestures for the players;
- coordination – one of the important techniques for the conductor’s routine work.
I am 50 years old, and that time, in January of 1998, when I was told I have AN, was the first time I bought a PC and learned how to use the internet. Every night, with assistance of my brother-in-law who lives in LA, I was looking for a solution. I had decisiveness to do every thing, but not an open surgery. Soon, I learned the miracle word, one I had not heard before: Radiosurgery.
As all his former patients, I have found the person that showed me the way I can continue to live, do the things I love best, with optimistic view upon life, and with great hope that his new system (Fractionated Stereotactic Radiosurgery) is the right way for me.
Dr. Gil Lederman from Staten Island University Hospital was a light in the darkness. He was the only physician that really took care about my situation: he phoned me several times, encouraged me, explained basically his system’s advantages and all procedures. You can not believe: a head of a department did not mind wasting his time and helped me and encouraged me in a period when every Neurosurgeon wanted only to cut, without talking about other alternatives.
Within 2 weeks I came with my wife from Israel to Staten Island, after my insurance approved me for FSR because my tumor size was 3.3 cm (in Israel till now we have only the one shot system, and the size limit for it is 3.0 cm). I did not come for a holiday, I still had the tumor that distressing me, but Dr. Lederman and his staff gave us the feeling they were really concerned, from helping us to find housing near the Hospital, to an invitation for Kabalat Shabat, the Friday meal, with Dr. Lederman’s family.
2 weeks after the treatment, I stood on the podium again, conducting the Orchestra in 50th anniversary of Independence Day concert.
Dr. Lederman told me before the beginning of the treatments that according the statistics, 5% of the patients with AN get hydrocephalus after treatments... Eventually, 8 months after treatment, I joined this minority...
Dr. Lederman phoned me 3 times a day after I told him my hydrocephalus’ symptoms. He was insisting that I do a "shunt", but I could not find any neurosurgeon at the Rambam Hospital in Haifa that believed in the Radiosurgury system. They tried to influence me to do open surgery immediately, to get rid of the AN once and for all. I was afraid they won't agree to do the shunt because I was not their patient; I told this to Dr.Lederman and he answered directly: "Buy a flight ticket and come to Staten Island to do the shunt, Dr. Ehud Arbit will do it tomorrow at no charge".
At last, I convinced Dr. Jan Sostiel to do the shunt. Like his friends, he does not believe in radiosurgery, but he looked upon it as a challenge to operate me, because his idea is that some day in the future I will need him to do an open surgery… I of course don’t see it as an option at all.
Now I am 3 months after the shunt. I feel very good, all the hydrocephalitic symptoms are gone. According to the last MRI (from December 98) the tumor began to shrink – 15%. I feel improvement in my hearing. I don’t have any common symptoms that are known for AN. I stand on the podium and conduct with great confidence that I’ve chosen the right way and a good person to do the best treatment.
In gratitude to Dr. Lederman and Staten Island, I have translated into English a collection of poems that I wrote about my AN experience. Some day, I hope to tour the USA with my Orchestra and to give a concert in NY. I am not Beethoven, but nobody will throw me off the stage. I feel a new energy for life in all my activities, and especially my music.
Chris Ottewell (right), Gil Lederman (middle) and me (left)