Wherein I occasionally rant on various topics including, but not limited to, PHP, Music, and whatever other Topics I find interesting at the moment, including my brain tumor surgery of August 2010.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Brain Surgery

On August 31, 2010, I went into brain surgery.

This is a "delayed" blog post about that.

It got rather long, I'm afraid, which is why it took so long to get up here...

Plus I've been kind of busy until now, where I have a 2-week lull between post-op and Radiation.

But people seem more interested in the actual surgery than anything else, so here is a play-by-play of what I remember from it.

The day started early, with a 5:45am arrival for a brain-mapping GPS MRI scan
and 7:30 surgery. I had been warned I might lose my hands for a week, as they were probably going to "nudge" my motor strip in that area when they cut out the tumor.

After they put all those circular markers on my head, they scanned me, and then I guess dumped a map of my brain to the surgeon's computer.

I was then wheeled into Pre-op which is a fancy word for hallway with curtains.
Felt kind of like being in the wings of a particularly clean Theatre stage for any
Old Troopers. I guess it makes sense for resource management, but it sure doesn't seem very nice. I was lucky not to be too back-logged I guess. I imagine on a bad day, you could end up waiting there for hours and hours.

Dr James P. Chandler
Then started the introductions. I had already met the surgeon Dr Chandler, but was introduced to at least three anesthesiologist including Dr. Koht and his two assistants, and the Chief Resident, Ryan Halpin, who turned out was my "coach" for the surgery (viz) and he seemed to be the one watching the heart and other squiggly lines monitor that I could also see. Though I daresay there were many others monitoring all kinds of stuff I never even saw.

I think I got re-introduced to some doctors/nurses, and I'm told surgery started 2 hours late, but I didn't notice, so maybe that was their plan... Just keep me trying to remember names and faces and distract me :-)

Anyway, they wheeled me in, hooked up an IV or two, and conked me out. They apparently locked down my head and connected some plumbing then, for which I'm quite thankful I was not awake. That probably seems normal enough for any surgery. Then they woke me up, still on the table!

They had me move my fingers around and monitored stuff on their computers to make sure things looked right. They cut open my scalp and chopped a hole in my skull. Did I mention I was still awake?!

So then I presume he moved the protective water balloon brain sac aside, and went in through the vein above that red arrow, or moved some brain bits aside...

Then they had me touch each finger to my thumb and said they were getting signals on that.

Then he hooked up a wire to my brain and made a nerve in my right wrist  twitch at 60 Hz and asked "Can you feel that?" Surreal!

If you've ever gotten a light tremor from house current running through you for a few seconds, it was just like that.  Only direct from my brain. And on purpose.

They also confirmed on some med computer that they were seeing the same signal.

Repeated the process, for my right ankle. Then the left ankle. Each time they asked me "Can you feel that?", and confirmed signal with each other.

They didn't do my left wrist, which was disconcerting, but I'm not sure I was able to voice that concern well.

Then they warned me that they were going to do a few more that I wouldn't feel.

There's not supposed to be any nerves inside the brain, but I WAS able to sense each probe in turn as a sort of cool prick. I told them all about it, apparently in more detail than they required: I believe this was the first time they politely told me to be quiet and focus on taking nice deep breaths.

That would be Dr. Ryan Halpin, the "coach" and I have to say he has the patience of a saint. He managed to put up with me and keep me on task while I was halfway zonked out, which is a miracle.

They ran through all the signals again, confirming I could feel the nerve twitching at 60Hz and seeing the signals on their computers. Apparently "measure twice, cut once" applies to brain surgery as well as lumber.

Come to think of it, counting up MRIs (regular, functional, spectroscopic, and mapping) as well as CT scans and the probes, it was more like "measure 10X, cut once." Same principle at least, but I suppose a factor of 10 for Brain Surgery makes sense.  I mean, tossing a 2x4 out is one thing... :-)

Then Dr Chandler cut out the actual tumor. I think this may have been another time I was politely told to shut up and breathe. It seemed like the actual tumor removal only took 10 minutes, but my time sense wasn't exactly perfect, eh?

Finally they started putting things back together. There's a chunk of skull held in by titanium plates and screws (Looking for a pic of these). No MRI or airport restrictions on those, which is nice.

There is apparently some glue in there holding something together as well.  I wonder if they have a $10,000 hot glue gun just like my $20 one at home, or if it's some kind of packet like a condiment they use.

Then the scalp was stapled shut, as you can see to the right:
I kind of expected some stitches, but if I have any, I sure can't find them, even now that the staples are out.

At some point the doc asked for a 1x3, but the nurse only had a 2x2. They went back and forth a few times on that, which was disconcerting. I mean, who cares about the shape of the scar or whatever, but the wrong size screws or plate inside?... I didn't know exactly what stage of re-assembly we were in, so I tried to make a joke about lumber, but it fell flat. Oh well. Tough crowd I guess.

(Weeks later I found out it was just a gauze swab to wipe out some blood or something. Whew!)

They also didn't like when I broke into a song lyric with a trigger word/phrase somebody said; which anybody who knows me is a habit of mine. Guess I don't sing any better while in "twilight" anesthesia. But I only did that once, so that's not so bad! A musician friend of mine tells me she had the whole operating room staff singing with her. That was definitely one of the times I was politely told to shut up and breathe deeply.

Then they wheeled me out to post-op (read: hallway curtains) where I spent 2 hours needing to be there, and six more hanging around waiting for a room, thanks to construction... I've got a few pithy comments about post-op and a certain nurse, but will save those as I've already made this quite long.

Anyway, that's all the bits I can remember from nearly 3 hours of brain surgery. I apologize if it's out of order, or I've managed to completely mess up what they did. All I know is, it was surreal, but they got the tumor out, and over-delivered as my hands worked just fine, albeit with a bit of tingling and numbness now and then. I'm calling it a "win"

Honestly, the only things I could have asked for:
  • Advance notice that my main job would be deep breathing.  They had described the finger / nerve twitching process in advance. But perhaps the breathing thing is case-by-case. I probably could have kept more quiet and done more breathing if they had.
  • Check that left wrist, or tell me we don't need to.
  • Let me know what is going on when the doc asks for a 1x3 and they ain't got it, so I'm not worried about it.
Considering everything else going on, these seem awfully petty!


tblasi7 said...

Dr. Chandler is AMAZING!! He did my mom's brain surgery two weeks ago today. Love him! Quick question: how did you find out about your tumor? did you have a seizure? Did you have any seizure's after your surgery? Any complications at all?

Richard Lynch said...


Oh dear.

I'm just now finding this comment.

I don't think I know how to work blogspot very well...

Anyway, yes, I had a grand mal seizure in the shower, and was rescued by my daughters (9yo and 12yo then) getting mama and turning off the shower.

I had two or three more grand mal seizures while at the hospital. Or in the ambulance.

I wasn't conscious.

Actually, technically, Friday the 13th 2009 simply does not exist. I was not conscious for any portion of that day. Ergo, it must not exist.

I'm sorry to say that I have had many minor seizures since then, while we were dialing in on the correct dosage for my medication.

On the plus side, they start fairly slowly, in my right leg and then arm, and I've always been able to get my fast-acting medicine out of my pocket in time to hold off anything major.

Actually, an early warning I had but didn't really pay attention to was tingling in my fingers. I just thought it was a new chair/desk at work cutting off the blood at the wrists.

I would encourage anybody feeling odd symptoms like tingling, numbness, or vision rapidly fading to schedule an appointment with their doctor, or if your insurance allows with an MRI and scan for a tumor.

Brain cancer develops over the course of a couple months or even weeks. There is no time to delay.