The Woman in the Thermoplastic Mask

Earlier this week I told you that I was having a mask made, which wasn’t strictly true: it’s described as a “thermoplastic immobilisation device (head shell)” on the leaflet that I was given. However, I couldn’t think of even a tenuous link to a reference (cultural or otherwise) for the proper name. I am therefore going with “mask”. It might be worth Hollywood doing another adaptation of the Dumb-Ass* novel with a brain tumour twist. QC, please can you have a word with your Hollywood connections?

The Mask

The immobilisation device was made by the Mould Man in the Mould Room. (When we met Dr M last week and, on the way, first saw signs for the Mould Room, Graham and I both thought it was weird putting a room full of fungus near cancer patients but, alas, we were mistaken.)

The process started on Monday with a swimming cap put on my head followed by the placing of Plaster of Paris around the back half of my head.

As an aside, in Googling whether the plaster’s spelling really is the same as the city’s, Wikipedia told me that:

A large gypsum deposit at Montmartre in Paris led “calcined gypsum” (roasted gypsum or gypsum plaster) to be commonly known as “plaster of Paris”.

I never knew that.

Anyway, between Monday’s and Tuesday’s appointments, the shell of the back of my head had been created in clear plastic from the plaster cast made the day before. It was loosely attached to a wax base (collectively, these two parts are referred to as the headrest). The first part of Tuesday’s appointment was to put my head in another swimming cap and then have me lie down to back my head into the headrest. By reference to a thin green light line projected on to the centre of the table bed I was lying on, and therefore projected on to me, I was straightened up to put my head in the optimum position and the plastic mould was tightened in position on the wax base. While I waited outside the Mould Room for about half an hour, it was permanently affixed to the wax base. Thus, the headrest was complete.

Back in the Mould Room, wearing yet another swimming cap, I was asked to lie down on and in my newly completed headrest and lined up using the green lines again. This time, a sheet of perforated thermoplastic, which was pre-warmed to soften it, was shaped firmly over my face, and clipped to the headrest. I was warned that the plastic would be hotter than expected (without being too hot to bear). And so it proved, although it was not unpleasant. The thing that I hadn’t thought about until immediately before the event was that I would have to close my eyes. The strangest part of the process was at the end when the mask was taken off and I opened my eyes to the bright lights of the hospital again. Although I’d not been asleep, it was like being woken up to bright lights and it took me a little while to adjust.

Cold wet paper towels had been placed over the plastic to speed up the cooling and setting process. It took about five minutes from putting the flat sheet of warmed plastic over my face to taking off the freshly-moulded Mask.

Scanning and Planning

I had an MRI scan on Thursday afternoon both with and without the contrast dye. These were the first scans I’ve had post-surgery. I don’t get the results as such, they’re for the clever oncologists and psychics (you know, I’m pretty sure that should be physicists) to work out the best angle(s) to launch an attack on the Squatter. It’s accurate to the millimetre (talk about military precision), which is why I had the Mask made to keep my head in the same position for each and every one of the 30 sessions of radiotherapy.

The MRI scan is more detailed than the CT scan that I had yesterday. The CT scan (during which I was wearing the Mask) is, as far as I understand, used to match the accurate calculations from the MRI scan (during which I was not wearing the Mask) to the position that my head will be held in place. Before the CT scan there were markings and stickers put on the Mask to assist with this matching process. I assume that these stickers were less randomly placed than my splint stickers!

I saw the completed Mask for the first time yesterday. Sadly I was not allowed a phone or iPad with me in the CT room so I didn’t get a chance to take a photo. It bears a passing resemblance I think but I can’t be sure that I’d pick my Mask-self out of a line-up! I’ll wear a swimming cap every time I’ll be wearing the Mask – it’ll be the next big thing in fashion, I’m sure. The completed shell and Mask look like the one shown here.

I was told yesterday that the Mask would feel tighter than it had felt when it was made and, well, that wasn’t a lie! It has a hole cut out where my nose is to allow me to breathe, which is just as well as I had the Mask on for about 20-25 minutes. It was surreal not being able to see anything and being rolled in and out of the scanner, injected with a contrast dye, rolled in and out again, all while listening to music by Florence and the Machine and Donna Summer (the choice was the radiologist’s). (For those who are interested, the music for the MRI scan was everything from Fatboy Slim’s Praise You to Independent Women by Destiny’s Child, which I could just about hear above the noise of the MRI scanner.)

My radiotherapy starts on 14 December (the day after an appointment with a consultant Neurologist back at the RVI). The first appointment is scheduled for 12.34pm (military precision again!). We don’t know the other appointment times yet but we do know that radiotherapy continues every day on week days (other than bank holidays) until 1 February 2017.


In other news, I’ve been increasingly more energetic as the week has progressed. Graham and I made it to Jennifer’s first ever nativity on Thursday morning. She was a literal and metaphorical star. G asked me half an hour before we had to leave if I was up to it and he said “it’s gotta be worth a seizure or two hasn’t it?”. That’s our new measure of the importance of things! I’m so pleased that I made the effort (and didn’t have any seizure payback) as it was clear that the kids and teachers had put a lot of effort into it. It was a bit like herding cats at times and I found it funny in a loving way not a mocking way!

A Facebook “on this day” alert on 1 December reminded me of this wonderful advent calendar knitted by the legend who is my Mam:


We had all forgotten about advent calendars in the midst of everything. Graham retrieved the Knitted Wonder from the loft at home and my Mam and Jennifer went yesterday to get the numbered chocolates to go into it. Yesterday evening, when Mam got the knitted tree and shook it (it has literally got bells on), I said to Jennifer “ooh, listen to the bells, look at what Grandma’s got, it’s a Christmas tree!”. She turned to look at it then looked at me and said cheerily: “that’s not a Christmas tree, Mammy, it’s an advent calendar!”. I’m proud of my pedantic progeny!

Seizure-wise, I’m still averaging one a day. They’re a mixture of those confined to my foot and calf and those which are slightly longer ones that go all up my right hand side from my foot to my shoulder and have pain similar to cramp for part of them. The latest anti-seizure medication is phasing up steadily as planned but still has some way to go (I’m on 50mg per day, whereas the aim is to get me up to 150mg per day). I’m hopeful that, when I reach the intended dose, it will keep the seizures under control and possibly stop them altogether (one can only hope).

In a while, crocodile.


*That’s not an insult but a separate reference – the first person to identify the correct movie wins pride if not a prize.


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