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So it really WAS brain surgery

As some of you know, we discovered a meningioma up against my cerebellum in a random MRI I had as part of a medical study. We decided to have it removed, and I've been working up to surgery for quite a while.

I hardly slept the night before, even though I took something to make me sleep. After three months, the day had finally arrived. The alarm went off at 4:30. I climbed out of bed, showered with Hibiclens, and Kelli and I crept downstairs, trying not to wake Zeppo, and headed off. My appointment had been variously listed as 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., so we figured we'd better err on the side of early.

What a lucky decision. A passing inquiry from my chatty MRI tech revealed that they had put in the wrong order, and if I hadn't shared that I was having brain surgery, the MRI would have lacked the necessary reference marks, and my surgery would have been postponed. As it was, they bustled me through and rushed me upstairs where I was greeted by about a dozen doctors and nurses who introduced themselves, had me sign things, took vitals, and stuck me with IVs. Before I got a chance to get scared, I was rolling down the aisle toward the operating wing.

Next thing I knew, I was waking up. I had fantasized about that moment many times. I realize that surgery is generally very safe, but there were some risks in mine, and nobody could rule out a catastrophe. I was really too groggy to experience the euphoria I had anticipated that I was still alive. It was not until about two hours later, when they let Kelli and the boys in to see me. Kelli told me that the surgery had gone really well, that they had got the entire tumor. Looking up at their faces, and knowing I had more time, made a river of tears flow down my immobilized face.

The next eight hours were bizarre. The most painful things were my left thigh and my neck – I reckon because of the position I'd been in for six hours or so. They used this hoist apparatus to move me from the operating couch to my recovery bed. I felt like a crate being loaded on a steamer. I had to stay in post-op, because there were no beds upstairs. I didn't realize how lucky I was for that until I moved the following day. In post-op you have your own nurse right outside your private cubicle, and every comfort a post-surgical patient can desire. At one a.m., they rolled me downstairs to MRI for another scan. My bed wouldn't fit in the room, so they had to shift me onto a plank and then onto a gurney, move the plank onto the MRI machine, then do the whole thing in reverse. It was bizarre and uncomfortable.

In the morning, my surgeon visited. He was clearly delighted and proud. They had managed to avoid all of the hazards that my surgery presented. "It was beast," he said. "But we got it all." Shortly after that, I moved upstairs.

The neural floor in recovery is a rough place. In my two days there, I had three roommates. The first was being discharged, but would laugh at odd moments – very discomfiting. After him came a guy who had blood on his brain, who climbed out of bed and fell on me at three in the morning. He grew unresponsive the following day, and they rushed him to surgery. He was replaced by a poor guy – about my age – who was dying. He had trouble breathing, and was clearly scared and miserable. I heard the doctor tell the nursing staff they were expecting him to deteriorate.

Thank heavens for my amazing nurses. They really are the most incredible people. They took such good care of me, and my last nurse went the extra mile to make sure that was discharged, even after the PT people failed to show and give me the all clear.

Recovery has been slow. I'm weak, and my head hurts on and off, and my body is very unhappy with all the lying around. But I got my sutures out yesterday, and the outlook is good. The biopsy came back as Stage 1 meningioma, which means just regular MRIs for a while, until we feel confident it's not coming back.

I feel very blest for my good luck, my incredible surgical team, my care team, my wife, my kids, my family, and all the friends who lent me their strength and support.

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25 jul 2023

This is an incredible story and beautifully written. Congratulations. I wish you a long life. -Brian S. Gardner

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