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My Brain Surgery, Part IV

It’s great to be home from the hospital. After an 11-hour brain surgery, it’s great to be anywhere.

I’m told – and my family members have video evidence to back them up – that I was highly entertaining the day after my brain surgery.

Before surgery they put these air-compression sleeves on my lower legs, and about every 30 seconds they would turn on and squeeze my calves. They said it was to prevent blood clots due to inactivity during a long surgery. After surgery they moved me to the ICU, but they left these things on, and all night they kept coming on. I felt like I had cats laying alongside my legs, and twice in every minute these cats would become unhappy and begin pushing for more space, only to suddenly give up and lay quiet again.

Being still under the influence of some disorienting narcotic, I would wake up every so often and search drunkenly for the nurse call button to ask if someone could take these bloody cats off my legs. The only thing I found resembling a nurse call button, however, was a glowing red light clipped to the top of my pillow, which I would pull, setting off a satisfying beeping that did, indeed, summon a nurse, who told me I had disconnected my heart monitor. The nurse would very kindly show me the nurse call button on a remote control tucked in next to my pillow, and re-connect my heart monitor.

I ALSO ASKED THE NURSE how to turn off the television. The television looked tiny and far away, located in a far corner of the room up by the ceiling. For a long time I doubted it was, in fact, a television, because there was no sound and the program never changed. A man was shown talking, talking, talking, as if repeating on an endless loop.

The nurse showed me the TV off-on and other controls on the same remote as the nurse call button. However, with double vision in one eye and the room spinning in the other, I found it very hard to see the buttons, and after a while I would give up in exhaustion and go back to sleep.

All night long, the quarrelsome cats would wake me up, I would watch the man on TV talking soundlessly, and I would disconnect my heart monitor to call the nurse. I knew I had been shown some other way to call the nurse, but this method worked so well I hated to abandon it.

The nurse call button, TV controls, and the cats on my legs – every time I called, the nurse would answer my questions and every time I would forget what she had said. This happened about 10 times that night.

I WAS MOVED from ICU to a regular neuro bed after one day, and soon was allowed to walk the hallways accompanied but unassisted after PT and OT therapists took me through some highly technical tests. One was putting on my hospital footies by myself; another, walking a figure 8 around three Styrofoam cups.

“Would you like to brush your teeth?” a therapist asked.

I thought she was just being nice. Then I realized she was watching closely as I screwed the cap back on the toothpaste.

“Everything’s a test, isn’t it?” I said cynically.

I WAS DISCHARGED only three days after two neurosurgeons and four assistants at Allegheny General cut and hinged my left ear out of the way, drilled a hole in my skull, and removed a benign tumor pressing on my brain stem, without damaging delicate nerves passing through the tumor. I was sent home with a script for Oxycontin and instructions not to sneeze with my mouth closed or blow my nose under any circumstances.

“The surgeon promised that my left ear would stop sticking straight out after the swelling goes down,” I told the young man who was my discharging doctor. “Right now I look a little like Alfred E. Newman.”

“Who?” he asked.

“You know, the funny-looking guy on MAD Magazine.”

“What?”

“Never mind. Google it.”

A happy postscript I can add as this is written, Thursday, June 20, one week after the surgery, is that the double vision is gone from my left eye, something that was not expected to happen. The double vision is what prompted doctors to look for a cause and find the tumor.

My vision is fine, my equilibrium is good, and the post-op pain is being managed.

My thanks to so many friends, family, acquaintances, and complete strangers who sent cards and offered up prayers for me, and to the medical folks who did such a good job to fix me. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

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