Recovering from Brain Surgery, or “Gunterin’ Around”

Tomorrow marks 16 weeks since a team of three (yes, *three*!) neurosurgeons and a host of other medical staff fiddled around in my cranium to extract Tommy Tumour. Thanks to that fat bastard, I had lost over 70% of the vision in my left eye.  Other than that, I had no symptoms: no headaches, no seizures, no balance issues.  Long story short, I was misdiagnosed with a specific vision problem in 2013. As late as April 2016, however, I was further misinformed: “If you were older, we’d call this a mini-stroke”.  Mini-stroke, my arse!

Shortly after that consultation, I was sent for an MRI that showed “a suprasellar mass lesion compressing the adjacent pituitary gland and pituitary stalk.  The lesion is also displacing the adjacent Circle of Willis vessels and the optic stalk”.  You may have read my prior post, Top 4 Fears Before Brain Surgery, in which I discussed, among three other fears, my concern about stroking out on the table during the surgery.  Well, that bit you just read about the Circle of Willis was what scared me most as all cerebral blood flows through it. What if the neurosurgeon had a medical problem himself during the operation? What if he accidentally tripped, or had a stroke, and nicked one of those vessels?  That would be it! I’d be kaput!  In the end, though, the surgery went well. We’re not sure exactly how long it took since there was a delay; but my husband James and I said goodbye about 1pm, and I was returned to the neurosurgical unit about 7.40pm, looking like death warmed over with a big bandage on my head and a little blood dribbled on the sheet for good measure.

James’s top fear was that the surgery would damage my brain, leaving me without my memory.  When the neurosurgeon came to talk to him afterwards, James asked when he would know if I was compos mentis.  The surgeon replied, “Give her a minute. The effect of the anaesthesia is the equivalent of drinking an entire bottle of whiskey”.  Let me tell you something. After I heard that, I realised how I felt the day after the surgery—exactly like I had a hangover!  In truth, it was the worst hangover in the history of hangovers.  I could barely move, I could barely talk, I had a vicious headache, and I was sick to my stomach—all day long.  As the Irish comedian Brendan Grace would say, “It wasn’t a hangover; it was a hangaround”. That pretty much sums up post-op, Day 1. The only good thing about that day was realising that I could see again out of my left eye.

Post-op Day 2 was better and worse.  The shunt draining my wound was removed. Not only did it feel like my brain was being sucked out through a microscopic tube, they surely took 8 feet of tubing out.  Shortly afterward, they removed my catheter; and later that day, I had an MRI and took my first steps. I was in serious pain all day long.  James says that he was in a bolshiness-free zone for all of 36 hours (bolshie meaning “defiant and uncooperative” per Merriam-Webster) and that ended abruptly after I returned from the MRI.  Let’s set the scene for this next bit.

 

The Cast: 

The Crafty Academic (CA), the patient

Mr. Super Hon Bun (SHB), the husband

Mick, the taxi man

 

The Setting: The neurosurgical ward in Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital, and the area around the hospital

 

The Scene:  Second day after craniotomy to remove Tommy Tumour (AKA The Fat Bastard).  CA has just returned from having an MRI.

SHB (looks up from his book, The Lost History of 1914): You should try to sit up in the bed.

CA: I’ll sit up when they tell me I have to sit up, and not until then!

SHB: Fine. Grand job. (returns to reading his book, thinking to himself that his wife is better now since she is “giving out” to him)

 

Later that day, an urge came over me.  I had survived the first day by eating virtually nothing. Now, on Post-op Day 2 and nearly 48 hours without food, I had a hankering.  It was a strong one—the unrelenting need for a vanilla milkshake and not my favourite—chocolate.  A vanilla milkshake was the only food that didn’t make me feel sick to my stomach just thinking about it.

 

CA (who hates asking for help): Hon, I’d really like a milkshake. Can you get me one?

SHB: Yes, I’ll get one. Just as soon as I figure out where. (Some time passes as SHB thinks to himself that this will require major logistics. Where will he get the milkshake since there is no actual restaurant in the hospital?  How will he get there? Will it involve the infamous Dublin taxi man? CA notices there is a lot of fiddling of the phone going on and a general lack of progress with the milkshake.)

CA (in a bolshie tone): Hon, I really need that milkshake.

SHB: Right. I’m going for it now.

 SHB makes his way out of the ward and downstairs to the hospital exit, procuring a taxi at the nearest taxi rank.  Mick, the driver, turns out to be a definitive example of a Dublin taxi man. The following exchange occurs on their way to get the milkshake.

MICK: What can we do for you today?

SHB: My wife had brain surgery, and she needs a milkshake. Where would we get one?

MICK: The nearest place is KFC.

SHB: Right, then. KFC it is.

MICK: Didja tell me your wife had brain surgery?

SHB: She did. Tuesday.

MICK: And how is she?

SHB: All things considered, she’s not too bad. And, especially, when you think of what they had to do.

MICK: Well, now. This is the thing, they’re not fuckin’ meant to be in there! That’s what the skull is there for—to keep ‘em out! So they have to cut a hole in it, and then they go gunterin’ around in there!

 Mick and SHB proceed to set the world to rights, procuring the milkshake along the way.

 

Let me tell you something: that was the best fucking milkshake I’ve ever had. It was creamy, cold, and delicious. Just what I needed while I recovered from them “gunterin’ around” in my brain!

 

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