Wednesday, September 4, 2013
HOW I SURVIVED BRAIN SURGERY
How I Survived Brain Surgery
In March 2013. my gait changed and I found myself walking like a toy soldier. The doctor said I had 'water on the brain' and needed brain surgery.
I work as a writing instructor and have published two memoirs and a novel. I had been a cover girl, then an actress who was a Stepford Wife in the film. Today I am a working writer whose columns appear in various publications.
Writing is Important to me. I gave up acting to write. Would I be able to write again?
How would I find a surgeon? I had to be assertive. How would I learn to become my own advocate?
In 1955, my father suffered a nervous breakdown. Cause? A mystery. A surgeon talked my mother and my father into his having a new break through operation--a lobotomy. During the operation, the surgeon discovered my father had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for which a lobotomy is not a cure. The lobotomy had created permanent brain damage in the man who had been my hero.
I vowed never to allow a surgeon to operate on my brain.
In March 2013, after double vision, an MRI of my brain was taken and I was diagnosed with Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus. When I Googled NPH, I discovered the pressure slowly causes nerve damage. It is a buildup of pressure created by an excess amount of spinal fluid. It could affect my walking and motor skills. It affects football players from blows to the head. Children are born with it. It can also appear with no known cause.
Brain surgery is the only treatment. A surgeon inserts a shunt in the brain. He threads a tube, a thin silicone catheter, inside the body down to the abdomen where the excess fluid is released and absorbed.
I wanted to continue to write.--- to have a quality of life that I had been enjoying while teaching creative writing, reviewing movies and writing books. I needed this operation. How could I trust a surgeon after what one had done to my father? I had no choice. Was I going to allow my life to be ruled by fear? I had to stop reliving my father's life and research the best surgeons.
The first neurosurgeon showed me the MRI of my brain.
"These are your ventricles ," he said, then showed me a normal brain.
When I saw that my ventricles were swollen like two thumbs and normal ventricles were wafer thin-like lettuce leaves, I knew I needed a shunt.
"What happens if I don't have this operation?" I asked.
"Then you should get your affairs in order," he said.
I didn't like this threat and crossed this surgeon off my list. Then I focused on two other surgeons and found former patients to interview. All three surgeons had advised a lumbar drain of my spinal fluid prior to the operation and each one would shave a different part of my head, but my decision would not be based on vanity.
I chose the surgeon who practiced with the hospital with which my niece, a nurse, was affiliated. He had an excellent reputation. I was discharged after a four day stay for the lumbar drain.
"See me in one week. You do not need the brain operation," my surgeon said. When my niece saw my poor balance and that I had been discharged without home care, she was angry.
That night I fell out of my bed. The next day when I called the esteemed hospital's case manager who was fearful of a lawsuit, she offered to put me in a rehab. I did not want to leave home. My niece arranged home care.
A week later accompanied by a friend, I met with my surgeon who said, "Your walking has not improved. You need a shunt." I was angry as I did not see the purpose of the lumbar drain.
"We needed to do that drain for information," the surgeon said. "I can admit you now and do the surgery."
"I need some time," I said as my friend wheeled me out of his office.
I had to come to terms with my anger. I learned that my surgeon was not responsible for the case manager's negligence. His unparalleled skill with brain operations was why I had chosen him.
Within a week I was on his operating table surrounded by his surgical team of six. When I saw the serenity in their faces and their calm stealth movements, I was not afraid.
I had no pain. My surgeon awakened me 45 minutes after the anesthesia. "You had more fluid than I had thought. The operation went well," he said in his award-winning ,bedside manner. I felt like bricks had been removed from my brain.
Now the hospital sent me to the best rehab. Within one month I was walking better than ever, feeling more focused, rejuvenated and had written a piece -"Cory Monteith's "Accidental" Heroin Death Should be Investigated."-that while I had been in rehab, to my delight, was published to accolades.