April 8: The Strangest of Awakenings, Pt. 2

Open Letter to Myself

Dear Me,

Listen, you stubborn little poop.  Are you listening?  Because you tend not to pay attention when someone’s telling you something you don’t want to hear.

Here’s how it is!

1) After this past Saturday’s incident, I forbid you to go to Eastern Market by yourself.  I know you used to enjoy going solo back in the day but ask someone to go with you next time.

2) No drinking alcohol for at least a year.  Period. Finding out you risk having a seizure by having a little too much booze means no need to drink “just to be social”.  Neither you nor your friends want to be inconvenienced by you suddenly falling over and foaming at the mouth.  Not that it’s likely to happen, but do you really want to risk it?  I mean, really.  How rude.

3) No situations where it’s loud and crowded if you’re not rested and up for it.  It’s no fun for your brain to struggle when you’re trying to conversate, so stay home or decline invitations to go out if you’re not ready to socialize.

4) Some days you’ll just want to be alone and not talk, or not talk too much.  Don’t be ashamed of those days.  Everyone will understand.  But also don’t let these quiet periods go on too long – make yourself talk to people after an acceptable amount of time passes so you don’t lose the art of meaningful chit-chat.

Alas, it is time to face my deficits.  “Deficits” is a word used in my group therapy, a kinder way of expressing disabilities or shortcomings. I looked it up and it generally means you don’t have enough of something, like money.  Or brain power to deal with certain situations, like going to one of the largest open markets in the country. How excited I had been that morning to return to the excitement of Eastern Market!  Moments after completing my mission of acquiring duck eggs, I scanned the  the high ceilings of the shed and the hordes of people that had started to arrive. The tiniest seed of fear soon blossomed into full panic, and I quickly retreated to my car and got the hell out of there.  Driving back, I mourned over this small act of independence that was now lost to me.  No big deal – just another thing to accept as I journey through this thing called life.  I told myself to not be a big baby about it, and that things could always be worse.

So I had a girlfriend at work come up to me at lunch the other day,  and she asked me how I was doing with my recovery.  I decided to answer truthfully, and not just a vague “Pretty good” which has been my usual response since my surgery. I took a risk and opened up.

I admitted that I’d been having problems the past few days with speaking and whatnot – I had actually been considering pursuing transcendental meditation, as another co-worker had taken some courses with positive results.  We discussed the age old problem of quieting the mind, and somehow we ended up on the subject of my tumor size, which had been compared to a baseball. I thought, well, what’s that all about?  It had never occurred to me to use a baseball and actually feel the size of the tumor in my hand, so I sent an inquiry out via Hipchat asking if we happened to have a baseball around the space.  Eventually someone offered their baseball shaped paperweight on their desk.  

Close enough, I decided. I brought it to the bathroom, accompanied by my aforementioned friend. First I marveled at how big it was in my tiny palm. Then I held it up to my head in the mirror.  

Perhaps I avoided doing this before because instinctively I knew what my emotional reaction would be.  Seeing this thing next to my head, this baseball shaped object that represented the intruder that had been residing in my brain – well, it was shocking.  We both had a “Holy shit!” moment and I actually started to get goosebumps and grow ever so slightly nauseous. I put the ball down on the bathroom counter, only to hold it up again to assure myself the first time was real.

Perhaps you’ll call me a masochist, but I don’t regret doing this.  It forced me to finally accept the seriousness of my surgery, despite how well it had gone for me.  It made me feel, for the first time since this ordeal, everyone’s fear and distress.  They did not have the luxury of my drugs and so weren’t shielded from any emotional distress by a perpetual low-key euphoric state.  And how the hell could something this size stay quiet for so long?  

Meningiomas, in case you haven’t looked it up on the internet by now, are extremely slow-growing if they decide to be benign.  They grow maybe 5 mm in a year, so it’s likely I’ve had this monstrosity in my head for most of my life.  Year after year it grew, a silent, savage threat to the otherwise healthy environment of my brain.  

Ick.

I mean, it was big. Breathtakingly sizeable. Unquestionably large. Not grapefruit sized like other tumors in medical history, but it was pretty huge.  I thought it was alarmingly not small in the MRI scan, but up close and personal – yipe! No wonder it was pressing on all those areas of my brain.  My friend remarked that she couldn’t even put her fingers around it, and I imagined my surgeon seeing it for the first time and wondered how that had gone for her.  She had told me she had to use scissors due to how firm it was (harder than a racquet ball, she had told me later). After reading Henry Marsh’s book and finding out the main tool used by neurosurgeons was a fine sucker, I imagined her finding it useless, flinging it away and yelling “Hedge trimmer!  Stat!” and someone swiftly handing her the requested garden implement – just the thing to remove a stubborn meningioma!  

I ponder all of this as I rest in bed on a Friday afternoon. Octavia, my ragdoll cat, snoozes next to me. Occasionally I stroke her abundant soft fur, and am rewarded with soft motor sounds. Today’s company outing at the Detroit Zoo was quite exhausting, what with all the chaos and noise around me for almost 4 hours. But this was one of the events I couldn’t avoid since I was the organizer. And I do enjoy being the engineer behind a good time, although it has been getting harder for me to not be overwhelmed.  (Mental note: Swallow your silly pride and ask for help next time.  People will be there for you.  You need only to ask.)

My husband had tried his best to keep me relaxed the rest of the day, but it was difficult as I kept scanning the crowds for  co-workers and late comers, and kept receiving texts from various sources. The whole day had been very taxing so far, meddling with my speech, according to him.  “Too much hesitating and searching for words,” he had observed. “You should lie down after this,” he suggested,”and don’t do anything else for the rest of the day.”  I agreed.

The sound of a thousand crystal chandeliers tinkle in my head as I lie here.  The same noise that’s been plaguing me these past few nights, keeping me from sleeping.  My doctor had told me it was my brain processing all the information from the day.  It’s not super loud, but combined with  the insect orchestra outside my bedroom window, it’s occasionally maddening enough to clutch at my head and go into a fetal position in a futile attempt to block the noise.  

Eventually I deal with it, like everything else.  ‘Cuz that’s life, you know?  You just deal with it.

I woke up shortly after I dozed off to find my mother and my twin brother walking in.  I didn’t have my glasses on, but I knew they were studying me for a moment before both of them agreed that I “looked good.”  My nephew and my niece-in-law said the same thing when they visited later. I think they had expected some kind of horrible disfigurement – maybe black eyes, perhaps some swelling.  But I actually felt fine, except for the enormous swaddling of bandages around my head.  And my hair.  

My hair!  What the ….??  I put my hand up to my head. It was stiff with some kind of dried goop. It felt like it could hold the hairstyle of the lead singer from The Flock of Seagull’s, and I was afraid for a moment that it was dried blood.  But it didn’t have that metallic scent to it, so they must have put some kind of gel in my hair to hold it away from the surgery area.  Good thing I had showered the night before, with my husband’s assistance.  Nothing like a good clean before a good dirty. 

My husband arrived finally, expressing again his surprise that I had called him that morning.  Needless to say, he was happy to see me awake and alive, and talking. He had brought my glasses, which I was grateful to have again but unfortunately they wouldn’t go on my head due to the bandages.  I spent the rest of the morning either holding them up to my face or assuming the  blurry figures around me were either family or hospital staff.  I did put them up to my eyes as a speech therapist entered, to see what she looked like.

“Good morning!” she said cheerfully.  “I understand you’ve been having some speech problems?”

“Heh, yeah.  Just a little.” We laughed at the obvious joke. I was eager to start getting help with my speaking.

“Well, your doctor wants to see where you are today with it, so let’s get started with some basics.”  

 She asked what things I would find in the produce area of a market, and after a brief moment I listed the first things that came to mind.  (Apples. Oranges.)  Then eventually I found myself imagining I was standing in the first aisle of a nearby market from my house, and naming fruits and vegetables off from memory.

After some basic memory tests and super easy math problems, she said I had done very well, and confirmed what my doctor had told me – that I would be visited by another speech therapist the next day as well as a physical therapist who would check my motor skills to see if I was ready to go home.  She left, and then a few minutes later my doctor returned to talk to me and my husband.

She repeated everything she had told me earlier that morning, which I was glad of because my memory of that morning was getting a little hazy by then.   The tumor sample had gone on to pathology as promised, but there would be no results for several days.   She assured us again it wasn’t cancerous, and the pathology results would eventually prove it to be so.  And, they were already getting a room ready for me back in 8 South so I was definitely not staying in ICU much longer. Hooray!

Nothing further worth noting happened in ICU that I can recall, other than me being pleased with myself for coming out relatively unscathed.  Sometime in the afternoon I was transported back to the neurology ward where I was glad to get my old room back, but with a new roommate.  A vase of flowers from my work had just arrived, as well as a lovely summer bouquet from our neighbors.

I settled into my bed, and I think it was at this point that I started channeling my deceased father’s mannerisms.  I held my left hand just so, moving my fingers about as I searched for the right word.  My twin noticed right away.

“Hey, that’s what Pa used to do!” I told my mother I felt my father’s presence in the room.

“Pa’s here, you know,” I said. I meant it, too. I felt it. Maybe that scared her, or maybe it comforted her – I wasn’t sure how to read the serious look on her face.  I merely wanted to let her know that my father was there, had entered my body somehow and was moving me like a puppet master.

Then the meds took hold of me again.  I passed out and fell into the sweetest of slumbers.

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April 8: The Strangest of Awakenings

My fingertips on my left hand have gone soft.  I have trouble opening jars and oddly shaped energy drink bottles.  Once upon a time, these things would not have given me trouble as I was a multitasking monster who played in three bands – playing bass really makes your hands strong.  I also had a baking business and was employed at a thriving tech startup in downtown Detroit.  My life was non-stop logistics – performing on the weekends,  delivering cakes to weddings and one noteable restaurant, or organizing company outings to exotic locations in the city.  Now I’m down to two of those things and can’t fathom taking on anything more.  Surprising for someone that had a brain tumor sitting in their skull, isn’t it?  But nowadays, I feel no need whatsoever to fill my days with activity and measure my success by how much I could accomplish.  Time to take care of me.  

My therapist has given me a lot of insight regarding my recovery, some of which I found a little disappointing.  It turns out that the healing process isn’t really all uphill once surgery is done.  Instead, it’s a rollercoaster of improvement and regression, mountains and valleys.  You think everything is fine then something you thought you had gotten over happens again.  This would explain why I have anxiety in noisy places and also started to re-experience some speech issues.  And why I find myself once again retreating to the empty fourth floor of my building  just to quiet the cacophony going on in my head.  I had taken breaks down there during the early days of my return to work, hoping it was a temporary strategy that I would soon find unnecessary.  It wasn’t. This new information wasn’t particularly encouraging, but it was at least helpful.  It provided a good reason as to was going on and emphasized my need to continually strategize and recreate my lifestyle.

I also learned and accepted the fact that the brain and spinal cord can’t really ever heal like the rest of the body.  Once these areas are traumatized, they’re unable to recover in the same way other organs can.  But the brain can reroute and recalculate.  It can create strategies and think of new ways to cross broken pathways.  In other words, it’s able to improvise and survive.

So I got that going for me.  

She also told me about this amazing TED talk by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist who had suffered a stroke at the age of 37.  Ironically,  I think I recalled a similar podcast while on the treadmill a few days before going to the emergency room.  I hadn’t really thought much of it at the time, only that I found it fascinating that a neuroscientist should find herself in a situation where she could study a stroke up close and personal.  But as I watched her passionate and in-depth explanation of her unique experience, she began to mention things I had been through, particularly the right brain only euphoria. So that’s why I felt like a ninja superhero beastmaster that one day! How very interesting.

She was pretty trippy, and often closed her eyes during the parts of her talk, arms spread like wings, reliving the euphoric moments of her stroke.  It was such an amazing presentation that I bought the book ,A Stroke of Insight,  and I very much look forward to its arrival.  

I dare you to watch the TED talk.  In fact, I double-dog dare you.  If you’ll pardon the pun, it’s really quite mind-blowing.  (WARNING:  She does handle an actual brain so if you’re prone to fainting at the sight of human organs, just take a Xanax before watching and you’ll be fine.  It totally reminded me of that scene from Predator.  You know the one.)  Because, as we all know…

The brain is a beautiful, complex beast.  I can’t remember now if I had this epiphany before the surgery or right after, but there was definitely a pivotal moment around the time my brain was in a delicate state.   I recall that I was in the bathroom and saw something dark and menacing from the left corner of my eye. Then it was gone. And after that I realized that this must be how it is for schizophrenics or any mentally unstable person.  If I had to live with this mysterious, threatening presence all the time it would probably drive me to madness.  It was so very real that I could imagine it being voices, or a figure or a creature or anything at all a damaged brain could conjure up that would just become part of my reality.  This discovery both fascinated and scared the bejeezus out of me, because it could happen and I would never know the difference.

So when I first emerged from the dark nothing, not too long after having uttered “You’re going to put a catheter in me, right?” I had what I can only compare to as an out of body experience.  I was slightly above my body, seeing with surprisingly perfect vision a group behind glass, gathered around a darker-skinned person in operating scrubs, who could only have been my surgeon.  She was talking, explaining something, and then the scene disappeared briefly as I again slipped into the black void.  I rose a second time to witness the same scene for a few brief moments and I fell back again into unconsciousness.  About five breaths later, I woke up in a dark room, with no one around and wondering if I was still in post op, and if so, where the hell was my family?!??  

Do not panic, I instructed myself in a most Buddha-like manner.  Observe and gather data.

My head was heavily bandaged, but my mind, to my great relief, was my own.  In fact, I laid there in wonder as it slowly dawned on me that I had just had brain surgery and that I was so very alive and okay.  I was so very awake, too.  I expected some wooziness from the anesthesia, but nothing of the sort.  I actually felt better and more clear-headed than I had ever been.  I started planning and organizing random things to check if that function was still intact, and when it was there was a small parade in my heart.  But damnit, I wanted to fall asleep again, but I couldn’t!  Like a real sleep, not this doze off and wake up with someone poking my arm or checking my blood pressure.  I wanted to be enshrouded in the purple cloak of sweet slumber, to have the familiar heaviness of unconsciousness overwhelm me.  But alas, that was not to be.

A nurse walked in to check my vitals, and I asked her if this was pre op.  She said “You’re in ICU – think you’d get better care anywhere else?” or something like that.  Kind of like “How can you not know where you are?” sort of tone.  I guess I missed the whole post op episode unless…was that the vision I had just had?  If so, that was a serious amount of anesthesia they had given me.   She left, after seeing all my vitals were good.  I gathered more data.

Catheter? Check.  Glasses? Gone.  I remembered that my husband had taken them with him, so I couldn’t see anything.  I could make out the clear glass above the wall to the left of the door, the long counter that followed the wall, a computer screen, the nurse station just behind the glass and the machinery next to my bed.  I was, of course, attached to an IV. I then realized this was the ICU where my husband’s father passed away about five years ago.  Was I actually in the same room?  Well, that would be just a crazy coincidence, but it was entirely possible as this whole experience was rife with weird coincidences.  

Later, much later, long, LONG hours later, a second nurse entered to check on me.  She told me more about my surgeon, and like everyone else had the highest praise for her.  Apparently my doctor was also a Harvard grad on top of being a brilliant neurosurgeon, and coincidentally my nurse had gone to school with one of her assistants.  Such a small world.  Another piece in the coincidence puzzle.

I saw a group of doctors gathered outside my room, about to make their rounds.  I recognized my doctor and her assistant among them as they walked past  – I guessed it was about 6:30 – 7:30 am in the morning.  I panicked, thinking they’d be coming to talk to me soon and not being in any coherent condition to deal with anything as complicated as how my surgery went.  I asked a male nurse who had entered my room to take notes for me if she walked in.  He said sure, but I could also refer to the notes that she gave the staff as to what had been done and what was coming next for me.  Lazy ass, I thought, then realized it was actually a good suggestion and that he was just trying to be helpful.  I could just make out his form sitting there on a swivel chair in blue nurse scrubs, and I guessed he was checking the computer monitor for information on me.

I waited.  I was coherent enough to order breakfast, and kept it simple – just cereal, I think.  I spilled some on myself and immediately felt a wave of self-pity and helplessness, as I could only lay there in the mess I’d made and request a new gown, which never came.  But before that, I called my husband, who was really surprised to hear from me.  The shock in his voice was priceless, and I chuckled to myself a little as I hung up.  I mean, what was so unexpected about me calling him after brain surgery?  Doesn’t everyone pick up the phone after they wake up? 

When the doctor arrived with her assistant,  I greeted them with a cheerful good morning.   She turned to her assistant and said “Oh, good!  I kept her personality intact!” which made me laugh, like everything she said.  We had established this form of communication early on in our relationship.  She would tell me something like “We’re going to cut your head open and probably remove part of your skull” and I would giggle.  She found it amusing that I wold laugh at everything she said, but I found my situation so ridiculous that I couldn’t help myself.  I just found it all very funny.

She told me that they had gotten most of the tumor out, but it was bigger than she thought and part of it had grown into my skull.  That part of the skull had been removed, replaced with two layers of titanium mesh, and the tiny bit of tumor that was left behind would be taken care of with radiation therapy if necessary.  After some tee-heeing about the titanium mesh that was now part of my body, I got to the one question still on my mind.

“So…not cancerous?”  I remembered her saying something about a piece that would be taken to pathology during the operation to determine if it was benign or malignant.

Her answer was a very definitive “Nope!” and I was relieved.  But in the back of my mind was the thought “Wait until you get proof.   Then you can celebrate.”  Stranger things have happened in the medical world.  No matter how confident her answer was, I wanted to get some evidence that it was benign and that I could go on with my life, despite the fact that part of my head was missing.

We discussed my recovery.  I asked her if I could go back to yoga.  

“Yes, but no headstands.” Well, I could never do those anyway.  I asked her if I could go back to preparing for the half marathon that I had hoped to run in November.

“Sorry.  That’s out.”  So all my training up to that point had been a waste of time.  I sighed.

”What about playing bass?  Oh, by the way, I’m also a musician. I forgot to tell you when you asked what I did for a living.”

“Are you really?  You didn’t mention that.” She was genuinely surprised, but didn’t ask any more questions about it. “Six weeks,” she said, not needing to explain what she meant.  I quickly recalled the C Major pattern on the bass, and found that mental process still intact.  Whew.

She told me I’d be visited by a speech therapist while in ICU to assess me, and then a second speech therapist to schedule follow up,  and then a physical therapist to see if my motor skills were stable enough to be released.  Overall, she was pleased with my recovery and told me I’d probably be transferred to a regular room later in the day.  Well, I thought, I didn’t need anyone to remember all of this for me.  I did just fine.   I thought no more about the drying splotch on my chest where I’d spilled my breakfast, and took the briefest of snoozes after they left.

April 7: Showtime! Act One, Scene Two

Every night, I trace the scar with my finger.  

Starting just behind my hairline above my left eye where there was raised, brutalized skin, there is now a smoothness that speaks nothing of what took place.  As I travel further across the scalp, the road gets a little rougher.  There are irregular bumps, a dent, a few scabs that I’m trying desperately not to pick at, all coming to a slightly less lumpy conclusion about two to three inches behind the hairline above my right eye.  Only three friends have seen its post surgery loveliness. The first time I finally acknowledged its pulsating horror (yes, it was pulsing due to the fluids returning) I almost cried.  But thankfully, no alien hand clawed through so I’m grateful for that.

This week I finally finished reading Henry Walsh’s book, Do No Harm.  It was released in spring of this year, another weird brain related coincidence along with the latest release of Pixar’s animated feature film Inside Out.  I learned quite a bit (actually, more than I cared to it turns out) about how neurosurgery is performed and how dangerous even the removal of a benign tumor in the most perfectly operable  place can be.  But I guess that was the point of getting the book, as I am still fascinated by all things neurological and brain related.  Did you know a quarter of the blood pumped by the heart goes to your brain?  Or that they likely used some kind of saw to cut into my skull? Isn’t that fascinating?  

No wonder my doctor didn’t give me details on the operation.  Reading about all the equipment used in a craniotomy had me more scared than any Clive Barker novel ever could.  I mean…bone dust left in the hair.  Yeesh.  And the neurosurgeon’s life is no picnic either, which makes me wonder why someone would choose that career in the first place.  It does take a special person to be able to tell a family that their loved one died on the operating table, or a person that their tumor is inoperable.  I think they love cases like mine where the outcome will most likely turn out well.

And therapy continues.  I’ve stopped with the speech pathologist for the moment and moved on to deal with the emotional part of my recovery.  I met with a social worker specifically experienced with my situation, and also decided to attend group therapy for recovering brain trauma patients returning to the workplace.  This was a really big step for me – I mean, really, really big.  I was anxious about discussing my concerns but I really had no clue on how to deal with the emotional things that were happening to me on a daily basis.  So, encouraged by my husband who had been taking the brunt of my frustrations, I took the leap.  

It turns out that therapy is actually a very positive thing.  My social worker turned out to be very experienced with my particular situation, and she reassured me that the things I was wondering about regarding the highs and lows of my recovery were completely normal.  Towards the end of my session, I found myself eager to unburden myself with this woman who was like someone’s hip grandma.  As for the group therapy later that day, that was unexpectedly helpful as well.  I’d only seen group therapy sessions on TV or the movies, so I wasn’t sure what to expect – trench humor comedy or someone eventually needing to be restrained by prison guards .  But it did actually help.  These were all people who had experienced various kinds of brain trauma (mostly strokes and concussions – sadly, I was the only one who had a craniotomy) and I was surprised at how much we had in common despite our different injuries.  I felt a sense of camaraderie, finally finding people with similar experiences.  I promised to come back next month.

But it wasn’t all ragdoll kittens and rainbows. Eager to learn more about Henry Marsh, I had rented the DVD of The English Surgeon, one of two documentaries that featured this prominent English neurosurgeon and his contributions to modern medicine. Unfortunately,  I couldn’t watch it.  Once they showed an actual operation taking place and power tools firing up, I found myself too horrified to continue and hurriedly reached for the controller.  But I did catch a glimpse of the special operating table that I had been curious about since my surgery. I assure you, it is not like a normal operating table, and I can’t find an image of it on the internet without having to view various pictures of brain surgeries in progress.  Mine apparently was designed by my doctor, which makes sense because she would need to be as comfortable as possible while performing this most delicate of surgeries.

Well, enough about operating tables.  Shall we?

Showtime!  Act One, Scene 2

I was asked who I wanted to have with me until the operation started, and I said my twin brother, my mom, my husband and my best friend.  My mother-in-law felt a bit excluded, but this was definitely the group of people I wanted to see last in case my recovery turned out less than fantastic.  They had to be witness and say that once upon a time I was not a drooling vegetable who could feed herself lychee nuts, dress outrageously when necessary and not have to be assisted to the bathroom.

They appeared in pre-op looking like they’d just gone through the Forest of Despair.  Apparently they’d gotten a little lost en route as it was, after all, a very large hospital.  It had taken them quite a while to get there from the waiting room, accepting different directions from different people in various hallways.  No wonder they had such a look of relief when they saw me at last.  My best friend was laughing about it, actually, like she usually does when ridiculous circumstances are afoot.  But that’s how she rolls, even when life decides to throw a wrench in the machine.

Fortunately there were enough chairs to go around, and everyone was able to sit and wait along with me.  We discovered the Calming Images Before Your Brain Surgery channel – a loop of different scenes including penguins frolicking, whales bursting through ocean waves, and otters being painfully cute, and a smattering of other adorable animal antics interspersed with waterfalls and mountain views.  It almost did the trick, but I was  mostly relying on willpower and my need to not show fear in front of my family, lest that add to their already intense worry.

The pre-op team was the first to arrive.  It’s been at least 30 years since I’ve been in surgery, and I certainly don’t recall a team of three nurses and two anesthesiologist preparing me.  The team consisted of one male nurse, who appeared to be the leader of the group, and two female nurses, one being Filipina.  They were very efficient. Everyone knew their role and quickly took care of business.  

The anesthesiologist appeared next, who said he might not be the main one as his shift was almost over, but he promised the other anesthesiologist he would prep me anyway.  I found this slightly unnerving, but dismissed it as normal hospital routine. He started a second IV for the anesthesia medication, and then taped the weirdest multiple tube contraption I’ve ever seen on my wrist.  It appeared to be one long tube with several smaller tubes coming out of it, presumably for various other things that would go into my body.  He didn’t really explain it and frankly, I didn’t really want to know what it was for.  Some mysteries are better left unsolved.  

My doctor finally popped in,  fresh from other surgeries but still able to deal with mine, we were assured.  What a superstar – who knows how many she had done already!  I was last on her schedule, and it was a wonder she had any energy left to do it.  But I figured that’s what she was trained to do, so I trusted that she’d live up to her stellar reputation.  She offered some comforting words to my family and then left to get herself prepped for the operation.  

I compare this part of the experience to getting ready for a gig.  The eternal waiting that takes place beforehand, sound check, the pre-show jitters, then suddenly it’s time to strap on your bass and you’re not sure if you’re ready but damn the torpedoes, let’s get this thing done.  It was time to say goodbye and my husband took my glasses, which mercifully spared me the sight of my mother’s face as she stood in the doorway watching.  Her blurry figure was very still as everyone left, and I wondered if she was tearing up or quietly convincing herself her daughter would be alright.

Then the real anesthesiologist appeared from my left and introduced himself, explaining that the other guy was just getting me ready for his arrival when I expressed confusion.  They lifted me onto a weird little table, just big enough for my body.  It wasn’t anything like the long operating table you see on medical shows as it wasn’t that wide, and I felt in danger of falling off.  (But why would they let that happen?  Oh, they’re probably going to strap me down or something.  Or something.)

I expected “Now count back from 10” like they usual do, but that instruction never came.

The last thing I said was “So, you’re going to put a catheter in me, right?” thinking how difficult it would be to get up from that dangerous little table to pee.  A catheter would be just the thing I decided, uncharacteristically practical.  A moment later I dropped, with frightening swiftness, into a profoundly dark and silent space, empty and still.  No thoughts, no sensations.  Nothing.

April 7:   Showtime! Act One, Scene 1.

Well, that was unexpected.

The performance at the church went well, but I was surprised to be asked if it was okay to come up to the front so the speaker could briefly regard my return.  It was, after all, the first time I’d played there since Good Friday. I guess I was too focused on how I’d do and neglected to acknowledge this myself.

I didn’t say yes at first.  It was weird enough being there, as it brought me back to the beginning – places have a way of doing that.  But this particular group of people had made a huge impact on my recovery.  Would it have turned out differently if they hadn’t all been praying for me along with my family and friends?  Who knows.  But I recall that I had felt the power of faith and positive thought for the first time, and it was real.

So my only thought that Saturday morning was get through the music and keep an eye on my energy levels.  After my fall, I didn’t know what to expect so I just stayed alert and occasionally touched the walls for reassurance as I walked through dark areas to the stage.  Was I tired or was it recovery exhaustion?  I can’t tell yet. Maybe in a year I’ll know for sure.

The first time I walked up to the front was, I admit, a little scary.  First of all, coming from the back of the stage to the front was quite an experience – just a little more exposed, and I was glad I had requested not to speak.  There were over a thousand people present, and it was very intimidating.  He went through the highlights of the story, condensing the parts I had told him into a tidy little segment that ended with both of us almost crying.  The second service went a little easier.  There were audible gasps following “and just two days later she was having brain surgery to remove a tumor!”  and just a little longer applause than the last time.  I looked across the auditorium and smiled a little smile.

I’ve come to accept life as a series of unexpected events, and this was just one of the more pleasant surprises.  This new dent towards the front of my head, not so much.  The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, I guess.

I had been requested to not eat after midnight, so I complied,  forgetting that I was probably not going to eat until the next day as the operation was scheduled so late in the afternoon. Luckily I slept until about 2:00, when people started showing up.

All my worlds were coming together in the waiting room. Arriving at different times were my twin brother from Chicago, my best friend from Ann Arbor, a bandmate from church and a keyboard player from my cover band that had disbanded last winter. Also, the two founders of the company I worked for, including the CEO.  I guess they’ll see me at my worst, I thought, as I walked arm in arm with my husband and pulling my IV.

It was like a big party, with no one actually addressing the surgery and their shared concern  for my well-being.  Instead, different topics were being discussed, and everyone took turns sitting next to me.  One of the founders gifted me with an expensive looking box of colored pencils and two coloring books, one inspired by depictions of celebrities with bizarre surreal imagery.  He also gave me a short stack of graphic novels (we have similar tastes), which I couldn’t wait to get to.  

A vase of salmon orange roses resided on a corner table next to me, in perfect bloom.  Occasionally someone would notice their unusual color and comment on their beauty.   It added a little class to the room and offered cheer.  If this was the last time I was going to see everyone in a normal state of mind, I was quite happy with the outcome.

Finally it was time for me to go.  Good-byes were said, I-love-you’s and hugs were passed liberally around, but thankfully no tears.  My husband, twin, best friend and both moms would join the rest of my immediate family in the surgery waiting room until I got to pre-op.  I was taken back to my regular room, tucked in and wheeled down to surgery.  I re-experienced that relaxed, floating feeling of being in other people’s care.  

Bahala na, as the Filipino expression goes.  Whatever will be will be.