Tue. Nov 02, 2010
Brain Matters: Surgery & Coming Home
Well, it’s done. I’m fixed. And I’m home. That’s the short story bottom line. But there’s always “more to the story” (for backstory, see the earlier “Brain Matters”: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Waiting and Contemplating, The Haircut, Surgery Eve and A Photo Of The Aftermath).
Susan and I showed up at Emory just before 6am last Thursday, to be prepped for 8am surgery. It’s the usual “hurry up and wait” as they get you there at the crack of dawn so you can get changed into hospital garb and then wait, and wait, for the med team to come along. Of course, they’re very busy, as I was one of perhaps 30 patients having surgery of some type that morning. The Emory “Same Day Surgery” waiting room is huge, and was full even at that early hour.
But when the med staff came, they came in large numbers. Two guys showed up to “install” the shaft for the catheter they’d be running into my femoral artery for a post-surgical look at the results. Have I mentioned how much I love that process? And two people showed up to insert 4 (yes, four) IV’s, two into each arm. Big thick honkers that required lidocaine prior to insertion.
The last thing I remember was one of the “IV people” saying they’d be giving me something to relax me in a minute. The next thing I knew I was waking up to stupid questions (“What’s your name? What year is it? Who is the president?”), a painful neck (from being literally locked in one position for a few hours), and a powerful thirst (which they “treated” with a tiny sponge on the end of a stick).
But I did not wake up with the kind of pain and/or confusion I had somewhat expected. I had what I would describe as a dull headache in my forehead. And I felt some swelling in my temple and under my right eye. But otherwise, surprisingly normal sensations. I knew where I was, why I was there, and immediately recognized my wife, step-son, and daughter-in-law.
During the 1st 24 hours after surgery, I was in ICU, where you are very “connected,” plugged & tubed, and fairly immobile. I was still having low pain levels, and no other side-effects, so I felt a little “out of place” in ICU. Susan stayed the night in my ICU room with me in one of their uncomfortable fold out chairs. I had some nausea when they brought breakfast Friday morning and the aroma got to me. But an injection got rid of the nausea quickly, allowing me to finish the meal (this process happened again at breakfast Saturday, and not at all since).
And they finally sent me to a regular room Friday morning. One with a window, a food menu from which you could choose, and a bathroom next to the bed so I could stand up and pee like a man again (I’ve yet to meet a catheter that I’ve liked).
Once in a regular room, I was able to call my mom. Susan had been keeping her up to date, but I wanted her to hear my voice and know I was OK. My sister came by to visit, bringing a plant and balloon, plus some special get well drawings from my niece, Caroli.
That Friday afternoon, a physical therapist came by to assess my mobility after surgery, and generally check me out. We walked the halls, walked a few flights of stairs, and she declared me fit to do whatever I felt up to doing. No “therapy” needed.
So I was allowed to walk the halls, as long as I had a family member with me. And after that kind of major surgery, movement feels like life.
The doctors would come by between 5am and 6:30am, ask me a few questions, take a close look at my incision, and declare I was doing great. Saturday morning, he then told me, “when you go home is pretty much up to you. We could send you home today, if you feel up to it, and by Monday, we’re going to be ready to give you the boot. You need to be more active than you can be in a hospital room.”
I requested they give me another 24 hours, so we starting setting the train in motion to get me out of there Sunday. I wanted another day of observation, plus I knew Alex & Sarah were bringing by my granddaughter that afternoon in her Halloween finest … and I couldn’t miss that. Her visit was some fine medicine. My good friend Marti came by as well.
Sunday morning at 6am the doctor came by and noted he’d never seen a recovering brain surgery patient set up with a smartphone and a laptop. He said, “you look a little too comfortable here.” “OK, doc, then you should send me home.”
My sister came by Sunday morning as they were finishing up the paperwork on my discharge. She helped us get everything down to the car, and we were off! 75 hours after surgery began, I was on the way home. With one quick stop to drop off some prescriptions, I was home by noon. And being swarmed by needy kitties who surely had written me off. Casper in particular has appeared “concerned” about my altered appearance.
And, frankly, this whole ordeal has been perhaps 20% as painful and traumatic as I thought it would be. My pain level has been quite low, I only had one post-op shot of morphine, it’s been mostly Percocet since then. It looks like it ought to hurt (WARNING: that link is a graphic photo, not for the queasy), but the worst I’ve had is a dull headache around my temple and forehead. A couple of Percocet knocks it back fine, without making me too goofy or sleepy.
So my first Monday at home has been quite nice. Got a shower, took a walk, was fed well, and took a nice nap in my own bed. And just got to wallow in the idea that I’m home, and this big problem is now entirely extinct. Never to be an issue again, after being a looming black cloud for the past 3 months. I just have some weeks of healing ahead of me, 4 to 6 weeks on the incision, and from 6 months up to a year for my skull to fully heal. I go back Nov. 12 to get my staples removed, and Nov. 24 for a general followup with Dr. Barrow.
And then there’s the hair. It will take some time to heal it as well. Plus the help of some brave (yet gentle) professional.
But these are the tiny worries with which I am left.
Susan says I’m surrounded by angels, but I think it had a lot to do with having a first-rate medical team (who’d done this type of procedure hundreds of times before), and a wonderful support network. Starting at the top, with Susan. She’s been a real trooper, and I could not be in better hands.
And many thanks for all the kind thoughts and prayers sent my way over the past week or so. All heard, and all appreciated.