I was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2013, immediately following a summer tour with my band. It was a nightmare. I’m a full-time songwriter, and my specific type of tumor — an “acoustic neuroma,” which sits on one’s hearing nerve, causing terrible damage to the surrounding real estate — had already wiped out much of my hearing. Hoping to restore some of that hearing before I underwent brain surgery, my doctors prescribed me a daily dose of dexamethasone — the same steroid that is now being administered to President Trump as part of his kitchen-sink treatment of Covid-19. And just like Trump, it made me feel invincible.
Medically speaking, it was a miracle drug. Dex restored nearly half of the hearing I’d already lost. But it also made me high as a kite, like I’d just mainlined a potent mixture of espresso beans and psychotropics. I could feel my heartbeat in my eyeballs. I was euphoric. I made elaborate plans for the months following my surgery — including another tour with my band, Andrew Leahey & the Homestead — despite my doctor’s warning that I wouldn’t be well enough to hit the road until the following summer. Not even the anxiety of my upcoming operation could dampen my buzz. To borrow a phrase I heard somewhere recently, I felt better than I did 20 years ago.
I took dexamethasone every day, as prescribed, steadily ramping up to a full dose. During that time, I also booked an acoustic tour with two fellow songwriters who happened to be dating. They broke up while we were driving through California, and I’m not sure I even realized. I’m not sure I even cared. I just sat in the backseat as we traveled from town to town, my head in the clouds, and spent my nights onstage, playing guitar solos that were almost certainly too long. In my mind, I thought I was performing better than ever: unencumbered, unafraid, limitless. To audiences that may have seen me on that tour: man, I’m sorry.
I can’t imagine that anyone took me seriously during those weeks of higher-than-hell discombobulation — and if they did, they shouldn’t have. After all, I was a sick man on the brink of a life-changing operation, feeling a false sense of invincibility thanks to a flush of steroids. So I get where Trump is coming from, and I can somewhat understand the misguided, Chuck Norris-worthy level of bravado that comes with dramatically walking up a set of steps, defiantly tearing off your mask, and saluting a military helicopter as it flies into the sunset. He probably feels like the hero in his own action movie right now, and maybe he deems it necessary to communicate that sense of strength to the rest of the world.
The problem is, it’s not real strength. It’s a steroid. It’s a drug. And, judging by my personal experience, dexamethasone may be giving him the same false feeling of stability and empowerment that it gave me.
The difference? I was a touring musician singing songs about my wife; Trump is the leader of the free world with literally millions of lives in his hands.
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