To begin my day with the end of my day, I record that I was well. Truly. This blog is testimony to the fact that I am not one to downplay a drama. I currently have no pain or soreness, nor have I experienced any pain or soreness at any point before, during or since the surgery.
From my perspective, my first foray into Brain Surgery (as an active and yet passive participant) has therefore been “no biggie”. I wouldn’t really mention it at all but for the fact that I’ve not got too much else to write home about at the minute.
Get a Grip
I can feel that some activity has taken place at the Mining Site but, rather than feeling painful, sore or even uncomfortable, it is best compared to a passing awareness that one is wearing a hair grip. Except that I’ve seen a photo of What Lies Beneath the rather flimsy plaster shown below:
There are not one, not two, but seven staples in my head (staples much bigger than your regular desk staples, I might add). Let me know if you’re curious and would to see the uncensored photo: I’ll send it to you if you promise not to make it public or show it to my Mam!
Earlier, I took some paracetamol at my nurse’s suggestion with the twin aims of: preventing any discomfort from developing (I am in favour of pre-emptive strikes in these unusual circumstances); and, increasing the chances of me snatching a good night’s sleep. The Sleepless Steroids have mostly overridden the Plucky Paracetamol in relation to the latter battle (as I expected) but one out of two is good.
…but Potential Gain
This will hopefully come from the Squatter’s loss and relates to the purpose of the biopsy: successfully identifying what type of tumour I have. Although we are not expecting the results until the end of next week, preliminary tests carried out during the No Biggie confirmed that Mr H successfully evicted a tiny little piece of the Illegal (i.e., he didn’t just pluck out some of my regular brain cells, for which I’m grateful on so many levels).
If the sample is sufficient for the lab to reveal the Squatter’s secret identity, that is the starting point for planning as comprehensive a deportation plan as is possible. So, Thursday was Brexit, Part 1; in life imitating farce, it is yet to be determined how many Parts there will be and what they will involve. Thankfully, clever Mr H moves a heck of a lot quicker and more decisively than Government in getting the process started (although admittedly it doesn’t take much)!
It’s not the end, the beginning of the end nor even the end of the beginning, but I’m satisfied that it’s at least the beginning of the beginning.
Close Encounters of the H Kind: The Great Communicator
I spoke to Mr H four times on Thursday. Brain surgeon encounters must be like buses.
1) Control Freaks
Approaching two weeks to the minute since the onset of my seizure, I told Mr H that the anti-seizure medication prescribed to me in hospital on Wednesday evening was lower than the dose he had decreed last week. I casually (if you believe that, you might want to check whether “gullible” is a real word in the dictionary) queried whether I should be given another dose pre-surgery.
To apologise in case I came across as a bit pushy (although he’s the one who saw and touched my brain less than a week after our first meeting so “pot, kettle, black” springs to mind!), I said “sorry, I’m just a control freak” but he said “that’s alright, so am I”. The Immovable Object meets the Unstoppable Force? Mr H is winning and I’m ok with that. He reassured me that the team would probably give me further anti-seizure medication during the procedure so I shouldn’t worry.
I took this as vindication of my raising the issue. My Mam later pointed out that it might mean that Mr H would only ever carry out an awake Hannibal-esque surgery if a sound-proof screen is fixed between us. Maybe we are both correct?!
One unquestionably irrelevant issue that bugs me about the day is that I was first on Mr H’s theatre list but listed on the wider Neurological Theatre Manifest as Passenger 37. Yes, I was Patient 37, not Passenger 37, but it was close enough to fire up some synapses and bring Wesley Snipes into my mind to add to the surreal cultural reference melting point of this tumour journey.
The irrelevant point (but the point nonetheless) is that I definitely didn’t see 36 other passengers in the theatre area this morning. Admittedly, I was asleep for a while and taken into different rooms without other patients, so I don’t know for sure that there weren’t 36 others.
I have to believe, though, that a fellow control freak like Mr H would not allow his charges to be assigned random numbers in a truly ghastly fashion, and I’d like to understand the number assignment system. There’s no point sweating the Big Stuff but these are the types of burning issues for which the Steroids keep me awake. Still, at least I wasn’t listed as Passenger 23.
2) All Scrubbed Up
Mr H later popped into the theatre waiting area in his scrubs at about 9.10am. He told me he would “see me in there”, which I’m certain was an accurate prediction as I don’t believe he operates with his eyes closed. On the other hand, I didn’t see him “in there” as I was soundly asleep by then. I was pleased but not surprised to note in that fleeting exchange in the waiting room that Mr H has a reassuring and confident Game Face.
His Game Face came just minutes before I was transferred into the excellent and successfully sleepy hands of the Good Lady Anaesthetist. In fact, she was so effective, I have no recollection at all of her giving me the anaesthetic. If we were due to count back from 100, I don’t think I even made it to the start-line. She had already drugged me up by then, though, which might have something to do with my blank memory.
A Word on Walter White
At the risk of sounding like I’m planning a Breaking Bad spin-off, the Anaesthetist told me she was going to give me a very strong painkiller before injecting me with the anaesthetic. She didn’t name it but said that it would make me feel “woozy but in a very good way”. I confirm that the wonder drug quickly made me feel absolutely fabulous; I floated away to a very happy place and can’t remember another thing pre-surgery.
I would like to know what the drug is. I promise that I am not planning to commence an illegal drug operation (or indeed any other type of drug operation). I just want to know what to ask my doctors for in future endeavours. I might also write a hand-written thank you letter to the genius who came up with it if he or she is around (and not permanently enjoying his/her creation). Dr T/Mr S/anyone else: can you shed any light on this?
I believe that I woke up in the Recovery Room at around 11am and Mr H popped in to see me again at some point before 12 noon, when I was transferred back to Ward 15. He said the procedure had gone well, told me I’d done well (perhaps he really does prefer me when I’m asleep?) and promised to visit me again after he had completed his afternoon operations.
The Detective Within
Confusingly, after waking up, it took me about half an hour, a couple of catnaps, a glass of water, the re-introduction of my spectacles and my own pedantry to realise that I had come full circle. It turns out that the waiting room and the recovery room are one and the same: I was even located in exactly the same corner bay.
I noticed pre-surgery the irony that a door propped open very close to my bed bore a sign that read “DOOR TO BE KEPT SHUT AT ALL TIMES”. When I noticed the exact same sign on a closed door in the same relative location to my recovery bed and realised that the open-and-shut doors were both named “Cleaning Unit”, I felt confident I’d solved a riddle.
That little vignette perhaps demonstrates why a dear friend nicknamed me Detective Turner about 12 years ago. Of course, it also demonstrates how much time I waste in finding pointless mysteries to solve as I could have just asked someone where I was. Alas, where would be the fun in that?
4) Cautious Optimism: The Sequel
As promised, Mr H came to see me again on the Ward at about 5.30pm. He reconfirmed that the procedure had gone well, this time adding the detail that part of the Squatter was identified as present in the sample. He told me that the lab wouldn’t come off the tumour-identifying fence on the basis of the preliminary tests to proffer an indicative result.
However, based on what Mr H saw inside my skull when compared with the hundreds of nasties he’s seen over the years, he continues to believe that we are dealing with a lower-grade tumour. This doesn’t give me anymore certainty than I had last week, but nor does it give me any reason to downgrade the Cautious Optimism. Most importantly, I appreciate Mr H’s open communication (it really is good to talk) and I have total confidence in him as my surgeon and Brexit Champion.
The Mind Map
Depending on the results of the biopsy, Mr H confirmed that he is still contemplating a neurological function MRI test. This would be done to survey the parts of my Brain living closest to the Squatter. Their proximity in living quarters makes them inherently the most vulnerable to unintended consequences if Mr H attempts a further surgical eviction.
Out of the survey, a map would be drawn up. In my mind, it would be colour-coded with the sort of crayons Jennifer, a Geologist and/or Property Lawyer would use. The key would identify the importance of the movement, traits and characteristics lodged in the associated brain cells shown on the map to prioritise which departments to protect from the Swingeing Cuts:
- A Safe Pair of Hands. The Shay Given of brain cells. They are not perfect but always nice to have around and should be retained at all costs.
- Positive and Worthy In A Land of Milk And Honey But Ultimately On Which it is Not Worth Spending Significant Time, Effort and Money To Save. The Garden Bridge of brain cells. We might be able to save these flourishes and quirks if there are still spaces in the life-boats, but in the absence of sufficient resources, we have to be prepared to write-off their dreams for the greater good.
- Home Grown But To Be Actively Encouraged To Leave. The Joe Hart of brain cells. These cells make too many mistakes and talking a good game isn’t enough to prevent us being much better off without them. This category could in fact hold the largest number of cells and could massively reduce the length of future blog posts!
As ever, though, my imagination is getting ahead of itself. The MRI Mapping Project is a possible step in the not-too-distant future, but it is at least three steps from where we are now. First, we need the test results, and then, assuming they are definitive, we need a prognosis.
The Big Breakfast
I was able to digest (and obsess) on Mr H’s information carefully because, not only had I woken up fully by then, but I had finally quenched my desperate post-surgery thirst and fed the Steroid Baby. I enlisted the help of: several litres of Council Pop; three mugs of milk; egg sandwiches; a bowl of rice pudding; a banana; an assortment of yogurts; a mini-custard pot; a mini-rice pudding pot; mince and dumplings with vegetables; treacle pudding and custard; and, a foot-long Subway sandwich. Since then, I’ve also eaten a balanced diet in the form of a Krispy Kreme donut (thank you Mam!) and a bunch of grapes.
I’m now awaiting Friday’s breakfast.
Shortly before the surgery, a striking non-striking junior doctor on Mr H’s team explained the pending procedure to me and Graham in detail and I duly signed my consent.
The title given to my surgery (and recorded on the Consent Form) is “Left Frontal Borehole Biopsy”. I could not have made that up even with the help of the Shiny Happy Woozy Drug.
Last week, Mr H had said that he might pin my head in place on the basis of another scan (and I’d been revising the presidents in preparation) to mark the drilling site in advance. However, he had changed his mind (it’s still mostly a free country) and had decided to make a borehole and use an ultrasound probe (maybe it is Rocket Science after all) to locate the tumour.
Maybe I’m not the only detective around here and he learned that I work for a company with extensive mining expertise. If so, he surely knew I’d be more comfortable with an industrial borehole than a head-pinning medical device and he wanted to make me feel at home? In fact, one of the last issues I remember working on before coming on Baby Leave involved borehole rights, so it was obviously all meant to be. Yes, I could tell you a few things about boreholes (Joe Hart anyone?). As previously mentioned, I’m a hoot at parties.
For those who didn’t see the comment my Mam added to Mr Bombastic’s timely update, my immediate verdict on Brain Surgery was recorded contemporaneously.
So I get a call from my amazing daughter after the biopsy.
“How wonderful to hear from you” I say, “how are you feeling?”
“Yes, fine, no headache “she replies. “But I tell you what, give me brain surgery over a slipped disc anytime”
Only my daughter x
I stand by that a day later. The slipped disc saga last year was, by some distance, the most painful experience of my life to date, way ahead of giving birth (even if I count the two births in aggregate, although I’m not sure quite why I’d want to keep score like that). Incidentally, I hope the Slip retains its premier position in the charts for the rest of my life.
David and Goliath Anomaly?
It’s baffling to me that Plucky Paracetamol has, since the Big Guns slipped away, defeated the Goliathan Excavation. The nurse who looked after me in Recovery told me that the team gave me morphine as well as paracetamol during the surgery, and I almost laughed. I’m a big fan of morphine (legally prescribed of course) and, in my view, it’s one of the main reasons why birthing pains paled into insignificance compared to that most slippery of all slippery discs.
However, in my dabbling professional opinion, the other main reason for the rankings is that Panicky Paracetamol gave a dismal performance in its cowardly defeat to the Goliathan Slip. After popping plenty of the little dears for nearly a week with nary a Placebo Effect to claim as its own, I concluded, as the battle raged higher, that it was one step too far for Wor David and I relegated him to the Minor Leagues.
Now I’m not sure whether to raise my paracetamol expectations again for any David and Goliath battles in the future.
Two Sobering Reflections
- Yesterday was six years to the day since my Uncle died suddenly, which left a big hole in our family’s lives. The anniversary came to mind just before I was taken to the theatre area. This didn’t fill me with any superstitious nerves or fears about the surgery and I’ve been calm throughout. Coming after last week’s inaugural meeting with Mr H on our wedding anniversary, it just hit me that we won’t be allowed to forget some key dates in this process.
- I have only written about it briefly so far but, at every stage of this journey, I’m consciously and sub-consciously comparing and contrasting my brain tumour experiences with those of that late, great Brother of mine. I know my parents are too, as I’m sure are those of our friends and family who lived through part 1 of our family’s long-odds lottery. What resonated with me yesterday about this was that remembering and reliving Graeme’s surgery did not add any anxiety about my own. If anything, I found it easier to be operated on than I found it waiting for news all those years ago. Above all, though, I feel comforted by his example because his strength, humour, grace and courage in facing his surgery (and everything else) has always been an inspiration to me.
To Finish on a Non-Chemical High
The undoubted highlight of my day was to feel well enough to host an audience with my little lady during afternoon visiting hours. Jennifer made me feel even better than the Woozy Drug had done, with the added bonus of me actually being able to remember the occasion.
She observed that the bandage on my head was very small (definitely to her disappointment) but, on the flip side, volunteered that I didn’t look scary (perhaps she meant no scarier than usual).
She was fascinated by my oxygen mask (at that point my oxygen levels were a little bit low so I was asked to use it intermittently) and was satisfied with my explanation that Mammy was getting some “fresh air”. Jennifer is a strong believer in the benefits of “fresh air” and this reminder of her passion led her to take socks, shoes and trousers off immediately to join in the fun.
She was also delighted with the glasses-matching purple dots and scribbles made on my face by the “silly doctors”:
As instructed, I bunked over and we cuddled on the bed to end a truly magical visit.
I should be discharged later today so I’ll hopefully see my life-affirming superstar again at the Rents’ Establishment very soon. Thankfully, Leo will be able to re-join our gang there as I’ve missed him (he’s too spirited to bring to a quiet neuro unit full of people with headaches!).
After this lengthy dissertation on the No Biggie, some of you might want to set up a petition for more of my Hubby’s Brevity. Perhaps we should alternate?