My avatar's story (@Mike MDS [not of special interest to anyone else I fear])

Posted by: Massimo Bertola on 12 October 2018


The image is what you think it is: a slice of a CAT of my head. Now, the' story' can be more that one: why I chose it, why did I do a CAT, why that specific slice.

First, let's say that it has shown I have nothing unusual or nasty or so I was told. I did it because for 21 years I have suffered and still, at a slowly receding pace, I still suffer from something a number of doctors have improperly called tinnitus (in Italian: acufene).

Well, it is not. It is a hiss, of variable pitch, intensity and position, which has nothing to do with my inner or outer ear and with the cortical audio receptors. It began in 1997, when I moved from the small school I was teaching in to the Conservatorio in Milano. I had never had anything like that for 45 years, it was the end of the first semester and when I got off the train, home in Torino one night, the bothering, high-pitched noise I had thought was coming from the car I had travelled in (trains are full of noises), was coming with me. It was in my head.

The first diagnoses, had I known what I know now, would have been a good chance for a good laugh: my family doctor 'saw' an inflammation of my right ear and suggested I wouldn't fly (I am not Superman, he meant not taking planes); an otolaryngologist had me do a hearing test and then suggested I looked into my mind and soul. A little better. A second one suggested the byte and diagnosed an abnormal tension of my mandibular nerve. Bought the byte. It didn't do nothing to the hiss, but I stopped grinding my teeth. Sometimes a good, hot pizza made the hiss disappear. Had I known it before, you know, a pizza is 5, the byte was 800.

It was not regular, nor allocated in the ears; it came and went, and tended to have rest on Sunday: a Catholic hiss. It seemed not to have any relationship with my relationship with what they now call an ecosystem: the world. But then I thought of it as something organic, one way or another. And have done so until recently. Lately, while it tends to slowly disappear, it always begins in the upper center of my skull then moves and stops, diminished in intensity, exactly a few mm. outside my right temporal lobe. Sometimes it disappears with a short nap, frequently a short nap activates it. At times, I wake up in the morning and my head is silent as a tomb, and so it remains until I go to sleep. The next day is the next world, and I don't know what it will be.

I lived with it more or less resignedly until Feb 6th, 2017. That day, I finally broke down. I suddenly found myself it was a simple, pleasant Sunday evening at my in-laws and their two lovely, dearest kids  down, terribly moody, the hiss was cutting my brain in two, I couldn't eat, I could stand even the people I love most, I was angry and, at the same time, silent, grim and irritable. After a week in which I woke up in the middle of the night and stayed up in fear that the hiss wouldn't let me sleep again, I decided (I have three doctors in my acquired family) to have a talk to a specialist. Luck and a friend made me end up in a very special man's a 76 years old neuropsychiatrist, in Como studio, where it took him a few minutes to diagnose me with depression. He asked me about my family, wanted to know if I had ever considered therapy (yes I had and tried, four times in my life), then gave me prescriptions for two mild medicaments and said think about it. Five days later, I called and said I was ready to try. He said come tomorrow at 2 p.m.

I have been in therapy for 18 months now, then the sessions have started to diminish from weekly to fortnight, then to when I want to see him. In the meantime, he finally told me 'as a fact' that my hiss is of totally cognitive nature. It's all in my head (pun unintended). I wanted to corroborate his diagnosis with a neurologic visit and a CAT of the head. The neurologist visited me then wrote: Somatization in anxious-depressive syndrome. The CAT showed nothing of relevance. I am not depressed anymore, anxious I am still a bit, often. There are also inborn traits, and in 65 years one develops a personality which is hard to modify (or optimize) without a lot of lubricant. 

My last move was then, after 21 years, to leave Milano and its Conservatory: toxic places, totally unfit to me. It appears that I can't read reality well, and can't read people properly as well. Not always, at least. Cons in Milano is the worst possible place for one who reads people badly, probably second only to working in politics. I'll shift to a smaller town, with a smaller, nice, orderly and quiet Conservatory. Some say it will be boring, that I'll regret Milano; but my hiss has already begun to diminish and disappear more frequently, and in two years, when I'll be a retired old fart, if still alive (I, not him) my therapist is sure that the hiss will be gone.

Have I had proof of psychosomatic-ness since I was made aware of the hiss's cognitive nature? Yes, a lot. I have learned much on myself and much on men in general.

Last: I chose that particular shot of the 200 the CAT took, together with my brother-in-law while he was illustrating the pics to me: because of the two eye globes. It is well proportioned, and I think that in this moment it represents me in the most plain, crude and direct way.

Hope I haven't bored you.



Posted on: 12 October 2018 by Kiwi cat


thankyou very much for the time to tell us of your experience. You are not alone and may you continue to improve. I hope you find that lovely small town and fill it with music. I wish you every happiness. And keep enjoying those Ovators!

Posted on: 12 October 2018 by Massimo Bertola

Thanks a lot. The place is already found, a medium-sized town on the Lombardy-Piedmont border, called Novara. By a gentle touch of chance and fate, it's the place where my last, older aunt taught Harp she was a concert player and a teacher for the last years of her career. I'll begin there on Nov 6.

As for the Ovators, I am really enjoying them, now.

Thanks, really.



Posted on: 12 October 2018 by Bruce Woodhouse

Thanks for posting that. So good to hear of your insight, and progress.

As an interesting historical aside I have an MRI of my own head on my wall at work

It was taken in 1986 at Nottingham Uni where I was a student, and where MRI was developed as a clinical tool in the late 70's (winning a Nobel Prize for Peter Mansfield).

The scan was taken purely for a research project, they paid med students to have scans so they could look at new techniques and ways of using the kit. The scanner was the size of a large room, and to access it you stepped over vast coils of cabling. I swear when it was powered up the Uni lights went dim.

My scan time was about 3 1/2hrs. I fell asleep since it was 2am and apparently they got very good images as a result! I was paid 50.

Today MRI scanners are ubiquitous, and scan times can even be down to a few minutes. We use them for all sorts of complex imaging. I will however always remember the sense of being involved at the cutting edge, and the wonder of those images as they appeared that we take for granted now.


Posted on: 12 October 2018 by MDS

Thanks for posting this, Max, and for responding so fully to my inquisitiveness.  

That's quite a story. I think it a testament to your resilience that you have endured what must have been worrying symptoms for so long. You must be a stoic man, Max. It must have been a huge relief to finally obtain a diagnosis that has ruled out your worse fears and given you something to work with in terms of treatment.  Indeed I suppose such a diagnosis has made a significant contribution to that treatment.  

My very best wishes for your continued recovery.

Oh, and I very much enjoyed your quip about the hazards of working in politics. I know what you mean.


Posted on: 12 October 2018 by Tabby cat

Thanks for Sharing Max - Pleased your depression has eased and pleased you have clarified what the problem is.Good luck with future treatment.

Wishing you a great weekend

Cheers Ian

Posted on: 12 October 2018 by Hook

Hi Max -

I am grateful not be dealing with depression, but have a sister and nephew who do. They are both getting regular care, but still struggle many days. I offer as much empathy as I can muster, but depression still strikes me very much as a lonely battle. Glad to hear your symptoms are on the retreat. I wish you well with your continued recovery, and with your move to Novara. Hope your new listening space is a good one!



Posted on: 13 October 2018 by mpw


The pic intrigued me as well.  I knew what it was but obviously not the context of it. 

I hope good things happen to you.. 

Wishing you well.. 

Best regards 


Mumbai,  India

Posted on: 13 October 2018 by nigelb


Thank you for sharing you experience. Thank goodness you were brave enough to face up to the worrying symptoms, took matters into your own hands and now appear to be coming through a terrible time.

Fortunately you got to the bottom of the root cause which, worryingly, can be a lottery getting to see the right specialist.

A quick aside. I had an MRI scan after I fitted a few years ago. A worrying time. I went to the specialist to hear the results (and see the MRI). There were two options: a brain tumour or 'just one of those things'. Thank god it was the latter. What did worry me from the pictures from the scan however was how very bent my nose was! Doc said I must have broken it sometime in the past and never realised it!

Max, I wish you good health and happiness in Novara.

Posted on: 14 October 2018 by Massimo Bertola


my nose too is bent. Funny thing, a very noted otolaryngologist, years ago, said it was surely of traumatic origin; my father said his father had exactly the same slight deviation of the right duct. I don't remember ever having taken a strong hit on my nose when a child (unless my dad himself applied it..) so I tend to think the noted otolaryngologist was too self-assured. I suppose it's familial, my hands too are exactly like my father's.

BTW, while I thank you all for the very kind interest and replies, I care to make it clear that I only will go to Novara for my work, I''ll continue living in the small, relaxing s**t hole I live in now. I'll only have to spend a few more time on a train, but it's decades I use trains.

Yesterday the hiss came and went twice, and I ended the day in silence. My biologic machine is beginning to see the world not necessarily as an enemy anymore perhaps, and its cry of protest is dimming and going.

A good day to all,


P.S. I liked the 'just one of those things' thing a lot. Docs are weird: you can't sometimes avoid them, but neither you can always trust them. It's down to haphazard. In a way, they are human beings too...