Most musicians would welcome an internal metronome that they could actually hear, but this was too much.
Robin, a songwriter, pianist and insurance professional, had noticed some hearing loss in his left ear, but now he could hear his heartbeat quite clearly – all the time. It was as if it were being piped directly to the left side of his head.
"It was a very annoying problem that I knew needed to be looked at," he said, so he went to an ear, nose and throat doctor near where he lives in Greeneville, Tenn.
The specialist could see that his eardrum was inflamed and referred him to Vanderbilt, where he met with Marc Bennett, M.D., in the Skull Base Center.
It turned out that he had a non-malignant tumor called a paraganglioma growing against his eardrum. The pressure from the tumor was affecting his hearing and was mashing a vein against his eardrum, hence the steady drumbeat.
James Netterville, M.D., was also part of Robin's care team. The director of head and neck oncologic surgery at Vanderbilt told his patient that while this was a slow-growing tumor, it would need to come out.
"It was like a flat tire," said Robin. "You've got to do something about it. I joked with my wife that I knew I wasn't dead because I could hear my heart beating in my ear."
"I feel like I wound up at the very best place on the planet for medical care."
After a first appointment at Vanderbilt for medical history, imaging and diagnosis, he returned about two months later for surgery. Vanderbilt's skull base patient care coordinator helped him schedule a time that was convenient, yet not too far out.
"It was very well programmed," he said. "It wasn't an emergency, so I could go back home and know I was scheduled for surgery. I felt very peaceful about that."
The surgery went smoothly. Robin says he appreciates how Bennett came down to the waiting room just after finishing to update his wife on how he was doing.
"It was easier than going to the dentist," he said. "My wife was very happy."
"The help, analysis, the care, the surgery were all A-plus." Bennett's procedure and communication level were excellent. "I feel like I wound up at the very best place on the planet for medical care."
After two nights in the hospital, Robin made a quick recovery and was having friends over for dinner within two weeks. At 68, he needs hearing aids, especially for his left ear, the one that was affected by the tumor. But he says his condition and treatment haven't kept him from performing in concert and writing new music.
"I'm so happy this didn't knock me out of the game."