Reflections | My Surgery | Part l / Ten Years Later
This time of year, my scar starts to get tender. I’m not sure if it’s the cooling of the Fall air creating a reaction with the titanium that keeps my skull in place or if I’m more conscious of the healed place around the anniversary date, but this year it’s really making it’s presence known. She feels a little more sensitive than I remember and prominent over the past few days. The humorous side of me says, maybe she’s just prompting me to tell her story, give her a little time out from under a head full of hair. The more serious side of me tears if I let myself sit in the weight of it all.
It’s been ten years and I cannot believe how much time has passed or the dichotomy of how it’s only been ten years. Every second prior to the surgery still feels so vivid and easy to pull down from my memory. While the 9-day hospital stay no longer reels through my memory as it once did, it is etched into my soul and always just a second away. But it’s not replaying itself multiple times a day anymore and sometimes not even every day. I bring the story up more often now than I did for maybe the five years after… possibly seven until I just didn’t talk about it at all. But when it’s talked about now it’s usually for entertainments sake, never to get into how it reshaped my life and changed almost everything that I was in the middle of doing in that season. I rarely told people immediately after everything, unless asked or there was no way around the conversation. I just wanted it to go away. As traumas do, it kind of fell off of the radar for most after a couple of months, which offered me quiet. The scar was hidden, the newer friends were far enough away from the established friends that the story didn’t cross over as loosely. Because it’s part 1 of the 4 most pivotal shifts of my life it felt more like it was just mine than for everyone else to hear about for the sake of hearing.
To some, it’s just not that big of a deal, to others there are a dozen questions that follow the confession, “I had brain surgery.” Both are actually wonderful for different reasons. In transparency, I’ve kind of let it loose it’s luster when walking through the steps as I repeat it now. But, inside of those nine days during August of 2008 it was a very big deal. And in the months to follow, even bigger.
In general, I like to focus on the good. I’m all about the silver lining so my demeanor in the midst of those 216 hours felt rather even keel. Hidden tears fell and I covered my face plenty and I often held my breath to keep from showing my ribs going up and down as the fear gripped my lungs. But also the heart monitor was a tattle tale and having a student doctor as a dear friend in the room for almost the entire first 48 hours kind of ruined my cover. Although, she was sure to hold my hand when the screen started to indicate that my emotions were getting the best of me. I longed for those that meant the most. I wept when specific people showed up for the sake of feeling loved and due to the fear that they were there because the “what if'“ felt vast. I made the doctors laugh and friends shake their heads. I had an ICU room representative of Grand Central Station and I just am not sure I’d ever felt so loved.
Shortly after a wakeboard fall and a visit to the chiropractors office which started with a rib being put back in place and ended with a debated neck adjustment, I found myself having a TIA, well on it’s way to a full blown stroke. There I stood, well, 1/2 bent over after my hand failed to work in public and my internal world was fading before my very eyes. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t hear everything I had just heard a split second prior, I couldn’t pick up my keys that I had dropped on the floor- my limbs weren’t working and I was in front of a line of other customers that wrapped out of the door. My worst fear- physical weakness exposed in front of others. And a new fear uncovered, “is my body shutting down, will there be a permanent change?!” “WHAT IS HAPPENING?” I grabbed the hand of my co-worker become friend, Aleks, and guided myself to the nearest chair and put my head between my knees. I prayed feverishly in my mind. As people began to swarm around me trying to figure out what just happened to this spry 23 year old who was swiping payment for the office’s lunch five seconds prior, it was settling in that this was not good or normal. The time gap felt like twenty minutes had passed, in reality it had been 90 seconds, maybe? After regaining my ability to speak I literally shook it off walked out arm in arm with Aleks. I returned to work and finished my day.
I asked for a ride home that day as I felt a little shaky about driving. What if it happened again? I received a different ride to the ER. I was told after a short test that I had just experienced the side-effect of a migraine. This didn’t feel right. I never argue with Doctors. I revere and respect their education and I understand that I know less (especially then) about how the body functions and how everything is tied together. But the send off of a quick diagnosis didn’t sit well. I asked for more. She called the MRI tech, he hesitated and then said, “She’s okay, send her home.” The doctor acknowledged the paused and said she was sending me back for round two. She said that he never hesitated and she didn’t trust his sending off this time. Another MRI, and another…. I returned to the ER, honestly thinking I’d be at the church overnighter that I had volunteered to help with.
My dad was in the hallway talking with the doctor and I overheard the nurses talking. One of the nurses came in and started to prep me?! I asked, “For what?” “Oh, has the doctor not spoken with you?” “No?” “Oh, okay…. I’ll be back.” I wasn’t panicked at this point but I could feel the seriousness tying itself into the evening. My dad was on the phone with my mom telling her to return from Colorado with my little brother as soon as possible, leaving my grandmother with early onset of ALS to be cared for by my Grandpa who neither was in good health. And then, the white coat walked in with news of a blockage in my throat. I’d be kept overnight and released in the morning. Five minutes later, “Actually, this is out of my range of knowledge and I’m not sure what to do with you. I’m sending you to a Neuro Specialist at the Barrows Neuro Unit where they can do further diagnostics. This is very rare for someone your age, weight and height.”
Before this day, I didn’t actually know what a neurologist did. I’d maybe been to the doctor 4x in total and on a prescription drug twice.
The ambulance swept me away and I called my boss to let her know I was fine but didn’t think I’d make it to work in the morning….
11 PM Checked In / Let’s be honest just hooked up to all of the machines…
12 AM Siblings Show Up
1 AM Resident pulls my gown down in front of the whole family (.)(.) Hi Fam! It’s fine, he was Dr. McDreamy, I wasn’t embarrassed at all.
1:30 AM CT Scan
More tests…Literally hours of testing. Back to back x-rays and more scans. MRI tubes, feeling like I’m peeing my pants from the contrast, back and forth from room to room.
5 AM Siblings have gone home by now and Dad is sitting behind my bed. Testing subsides.
6 AM Another Resident Doctor comes in.
”Wake up, Karen. We’re not sure what’s going on. The blockage that’s shown we can’t get enough information on from the scans. It doesn’t make any sense. The blockage is big and we need to do an angiogram potentially resulting in doing an angioplasty. (this means they’d send a small camera through my blood vessel in my groin up to my neck to see what the heck is going on and if there was a gap they’d put a stent in my neck to remove the blockage) There is an 85% chance that if we perform the angioplasty you’ll have severe brain damage from a blood clot causing irreparable damage to your brain. We need to go in for the procedure in the next 45 minutes. Do you have any questions?”
Don’t worry guys, still no tears. “Um, will it hurt?” “Not really, we’ll put you in a deep sleep without putting you under.” “Great, okay thank you.” My dad came around from the top of the bed in full tears. I think it’s the first time I’d really seen him cry about something. I can’t explain the feelings I felt. 85%! I would do anything if someone told me it was 85% in my favor. A 15% chance of not having serious brain damage post surgery in 45 minutes. I think this is where the whole experience swiftly began changing the making of who I was. It’s 6 AM and I know my siblings are still sleeping. There’s no way they could be there in time. My mom and little brother are states away. And somehow I’m laying there thinking I needed to be strong because dad was scared and I kind of had shock on my side.
There were so many questions, so much movement, and after having been pushed into the OR the doctor asked if I said bye to my dad. “Hey guys, did she say buy to her dad? Did you say bye to your dad?” “No?!” “Push her back out, let her say bye.” What about the other six people in my immediate family? What about my extended family?
I laid on the table and made jokes until I fell asleep. When I woke up the first thing I said was, “The jokes before I fell asleep- I’m actually that funny guys, it wasn’t the drugs.” But, I WOKE UP, I remembered things from before the tests, my brain wasn’t further damaged. It turns out the test was inconclusive and they didn’t feel confident putting a stent in which kept my precious little blood clots right where they belonged, below my brain. They needed to wait for Dr. Spetlzer to return from his 2 month Summer vacation to the unit before they made any further decisions about me.
A lot of things happened for my mind that morning. A whirlwind of feelings and logical choices. A processing of what takes place if the big what if comes to fruition. A complete perspective change happened deep inside of me that reshaped so much for me. I am still letting that unfold in my life. I still have questions of why things went the way they went.
I actually am surprised about how I’ve dragged my feet to write about this… But for me most things feel better tucked deep inside but I want to share because I think that when there is strength shown in adversity there is good to be drawn for others in like situations. How we ended up with 17 staples soon…
Thank God digital photography has made moves. Yikes!