A lot of people ask me what is it like to have brain surgery. It is not that common of a procedure so I can appreciate their curiosity. If I had to use one word to describe the experience it would be: extraordinary….followed closely by the word: unpleasant. I have decided to break up my experience into parts since like any trauma I just can’t seem to stop going on about it!
Part 1 – In the Beginning
Now when I found out that I was going to need brain surgery my first response was typical – I freaked out! I don’t think you need to know too much about medicine to know that brain surgery is the big leagues of medical treatment. I think this is due mostly because – as Dr. Vertosick Jr. (Neurosurgeon, Author) would say:
“You are never the same once the air hits your brain.”
It is a game changer.
I had known about this possibility for a long time, but I still found that as the surgery date approached my anxieties intensified. Even still, I did feel as if I was dealing with it reasonably well. I would have said that I was taking a rather pragmatic approach to the whole thing. My subconscious though was less convinced. For months leading up to the surgery I would thrash and scream in my sleep. This behaviour was made worse due to the fact that my deafness prevented me from actually waking myself up during the commotion. Needless to say Rob felt the direct consequences of my night terrors acutely, and promptly moved to the guest room.
Another unpleasant reality for me leading up to my surgery was disclosing its fact to others. Telling people that you are going to have brain surgery is a PR nightmare. There was really no way to spin it that would help soften the blow. If you have ever had to share a major medical situation with family or friends you know what I am talking about. It is hard enough preparing your own self let alone consoling others who just “can’t believe it” , and who are already lamenting your demise. (I am not dead yet.) For the most part I tried to be brief, and move from the topic as quickly as possible. Finally I resorted to setting up my own social media site for updates and messages. This approach helped me to achieve my communicating goals of efficiency while also allowing for “messaging control and containment”. I think my friends in the communications industry were proud.
I got an EEG test the day before surgery. (Along with a million other pokes and scans) I had never heard of this particular test until they began hooking me up with electrodes. I found out that they actually would run this test on me all throughout my surgery. It basically uses these little sensors to check to see if my brain still works. Can my brain tell my foot to move, my hand, etc. I was told that someone would actually be watching me twitch for hours to make sure I was maintaining good brain function during surgery. (And I thought those construction workers holding the SLOW sign on the highway had a boring job.) It is not an enjoyable test awake (like random little shocks throughout your body for an hour so they can get a baseline). However, I was pleased that they would be “just checking” to make sure that they hadn’t just caused a catastrophic event in my brain.
And then there was the thinking about the actually surgery and what they are planning to do to me. Since your brain is encased in bone (your skull), I think it is basically telling all would-be surgical-cowboys to back-off. I can’t imagine who thought at one time that sawing into someone’s head was a good idea, but now they do it all the time. They use a special saw mind you, but thinking about the bits of bone flying in my surgical suite was not a pleasant thought. What if they don’t stop it at the right moment? (They have never seen my brain before…perhaps its lustre might distract them?!) I think of my brain as one of those new fancy cars where when you open the front hood all you can see is a locked, steel box and a dip stick. It is as if the car manufacturer is saving “don’t even think about it”. Wise words for your fancy car’s engine, as well as wise words from my even fancier brain! Both were built for performance, not easy-maintenance.
My actual procedure was long (12 hours) because all brain surgery is slow and tedious work. To me a brain surgeon is more like an antique Swiss watch-maker who only works with original parts- they both work slowly and carefully since there are a lot of delicate pieces and you can’t go back on any errors. When you cut a nerve it is dead, all done. No second chances so it is slow and steady all the way.
My surgery was stopped since my brain started to swell. It had played nice with these would-be helpful surgeons-intruders but now it was time to put the steel box back together, and go away. For me, they used titanium screws, and fancy surgical stitching to close me up. And that is it – I survived the surgery! However, the trouble with brain surgery is that the devil is in the details, and no one – not even the surgeons – can be totally sure what going to happen when you wake up…….to be continued in Part 2 Dazed and Confused….Brain Surgery Memoirs Part 2
Brain surgery is a fairly aggressive process. There’s a lot to get through. There’s the beautiful, delicate shaving first, which is really lovely. There’s a wonderful ceremony of putting all the covers on, so only the little bit you’re operating on is revealed. But once they make the incision and tear the skin back, the drill comes out. – James Nesbitt