April 11: Superhero Badass Ninja

I feel like I’m experiencing fall for the first time.  Honestly, I hadn’t expected such an emotional reaction to the colors of the changing leaves before.  It’s like a miracle I’ve been living with for years and finally noticing.  

Time stops as I gaze upon the vibrant reds, lustrous oranges, the golden yellows all combined tastefully into one vivid psychedelic vision.  It was not unusual for my attention to be completely arrested by  a particularly stunning tree, noting every nuance of every leaf and its every subtle bit of coloration and veining.  Maybe winter will hold new surprises. Perhaps the falling snow will bring tears to my eyes or compel me to do something diabolically creative.

Speaking of surprises, I’ve only had a minimal amount of new (or newish) issues lately, but nothing really worth reporting to my doctor who I feel would dismiss whatever I brought up as all part of the recovery process anyway.  Anything that’s not life threatening or personality changing seems to fall under this category.  Dents are deepening, and my scalp seems to be resettling.  I experienced a weird clicking sensation in the indentation above my left eye, where presumably a burr hole was located (Burr holes are created during a craniotomy to enable the surgeon to lift the skull plate.  Just writing about it makes me squeamish!)  I can only compare it to a bug adjusting its position under my skin and settling back down again,  or the crinkling of an empty bag of Doritos.  Ick!

I’ve also been having neck issues. I can only hold my head up or in one position for so long before it gets stiff and uncomfortable, and there’s particular soreness where it meets the back of my head.  I never had this problem before, and it seems to be worse in the afternoon or in the evening.  The most I can do for it when it happens at work is take a break and head down to the 5th floor and lay on a bean bag chair, where my head can be supported when I lay back, or ice it when I’m home if it’s particularly bothersome.  

I have also found out that I can’t quite take the organizing load that I could before – at least not all at one time. There’s a definite limit before my brain refuses to continue, like a runner stopping to catch their breath before moving on.  My strategy has been to give myself a little extra time for certain things,  like planning major events or making travel arrangements, and taking brief breaks doing mindless tasks when things get too much.  I get back to it right after, and stuff gets done.

And life goes on.

I’ve been wondering lately how many years the brain surgery has added to my life.  There is no question that I don’t have the energy or motivation that I used to for certain activities that I once enjoyed – such as the annual Dinner Crawl that my company had last Friday.   I actually wept the night before, thinking about how I couldn’t participate this year because I knew I wouldn’t be able to deal with the loud bars and walking.  I know, I ran a 5K and all that, but it wiped me out for the rest of the day, and it was 45 minutes of focused energy.  How would I deal with a series of bars, loud conversation, an onslaught of mental processing that would last maybe 4-5 hours?   It scared me, to be honest.  So I declined the calendar invite, and left feeling just a little sadder than when I arrived that morning.  

Halloween was also somewhat disappointing in that I really wasn’t feeling it this year. It used to be my favorite holiday and for some reason I felt no inclination whatsoever to participate.  Was it just a matter of time before I felt this way or did my craniotomy accelerate the emergence of old person thoughts in me?  Or are these the slight changes my surgeon was fearful of after tampering with my frontal lobe, the personality’s hearth and home?

Perhaps a combination of both.  Life goes on, and I’m grateful that it decided to do so.  Besides, who am I to complain when most of my Me has remained intact?

In the morning we discovered that my left eye was slightly swollen – not too Frankensteiny but enough to make me mildly unrecognizable to myself.  My eyes were tiny things, like a kitten at two weeks old.   My husband called the doctor’s office to ask if this was normal, and he was told yes, it was and not to worry and maybe put a cold compress on that side to help with the swelling.

I heard this conversation from my bed, as Octavia was padding over to me.  She sniffed my face as she did every morning, and I noticed I didn’t smell her breath.  It was the usual odor of cat food but now it wasn’t there to annoy me, which I found somewhat odd.

I heard the coffee grinder and wondered why I wasn’t smelling it from where I lay.  Maybe I never did?  Then I heard it brewing and wondered where that comforting aroma of morning coffee was.  Again, I briefly doubted it ever existed before realizing I just couldn’t smell these things.  

“How about toast and bacon?” my husband called from the kitchen.  Okay, this was the last straw.  Bacon should have been the next best thing to coffee and I knew he was making it and I wasn’t smelling it.  This was really harshing my reality.  What kind of post-brain surgery nightmare was this where I couldn’t smell things like coffee and bacon?

I got up slowly and made my way to the bathroom, making sure the door was unlocked.  This was a new arrangement in case of emergency, which I needed to get used to because normally I would have locked it behind me for privacy.  I went to the sink, and I washed my face for the very first time in my own bathroom with my own face products. It was such a damn good feeling to be able to do this simple act of personal hygiene… except I noticed I had a hard time feeling my face.

There was general grogginess and head numbness, inside and out.  The inside of my mouth felt quite peculiar, like we existed in two different universes and were thinly connected by sleepy nerve endings.  An odd tightness perhaps – indescribable. I found that I had started a compulsive habit of running my tongue against my teeth, top first then bottom, touching each tooth quickly.  I marveled at this sudden onset of OCD, unable to stop what I was doing until I had finished the task.  When I brushed, I did it furiously and forcefully, trying desperately to feel the sensation of bristles pushing against my palate.  Nothing but a hint of pressure and the sound of brushing, and the feeling of vast amounts of toothpaste foam building up.  

I spat it out and rinsed, then thought about putting my contacts in but decided against it after looking at the state of my left eye. I thoroughly dried my hands on the towel (and I do mean thoroughly – I found the sense of any moisture on my hands almost painfully distasteful) then ambled over to the dining room, reaching out for the door frame, then the chair then slowly sitting down at the table.  I was a sloth, setting motion to my own slow rhythm, unable and unwilling to go any faster.  I sat down, and felt the hardness of the chair, as if I’d never sat in it before.   

It was then that I discovered I had an acute awareness of everything around me.

It was extraordinary, this sense of crookedness, of the uneven wood floor that had felt so solid and flat when it was first installed.  I could somehow feel all the objects in the room – again, hard to describe, but there I was feeling like a superhero badass ninja.  “So this is what it’s like to be Bruce Lee!”  I thought, feeling the smooth polished surface of the china cabinets with nothing but the imagined tendrils of mental awareness. No wonder he had such lightning fast reflexes and seemed to have an uncanny awareness of attacking foes, even when surrounded.  (Neat-o!)

I closed my eyes for a second, reaching out with my consciousness.  It was nothing distinct, just a vague awareness of each piece of furniture, all the surfaces of the desk, the table, the carpeting.  I wondered briefly if I could talk to the cat with my mind Beast Master style , and tried to summon her by directing my thoughts at her head.  Much to my disappointment she didn’t respond, but maybe even telepathically she was ignoring me.  (Damnit!)

My husband interrupted my epiphany, placing breakfast items on the table in front of me:  coffee, toast, mango peach jam and butter.  I bit into my toast and was delighted at how I could taste each and every flavor as I chewed, and the mouth feel of the crunchy tender texture was the loveliest thing.  Everything was saying hello in the most cheerful way in my mouth, each food item rolling playfully over my tongue, each bite a repeat performance of the last cavalcade of flavors. (Wow!)

But when I bit into the bacon I was immediately disappointed.  It was mostly texture, but no flavor.  (What the ….!)  Missing my bacon high, I reached for a sip of coffee which was almost as incredibly delicious as the toast, and I could finally smell it when it was right under my nose.  Same with the bacon, which suggested to me that something in the brain could tell the difference between close objects and far away objects smellwise – which was even more puzzling because who the heck knew the function of smell was so complicated?  I concluded that something must have happened in surgery that had altered my sense of taste and smell. I hoped it wasn’t permanent. But if it was, I could probably live with the minor hardship of not waking up to the smell of coffee and bacon in the morning. A small sacrifice to retain my Me-ness, I thought.  Two days after brain surgery was hardly the time to be fully recovered, and I assured myself that these missing experiences would return in time.

Breakfast was a tiring affair, and so I spent some time in the recliner afterwards listening to some Pink Floyd as I waited for my sister-in-law and mom.  My husband had chosen a more recent recording, made up of unfinished sounding instrumental tracks that all faded at the end.  He hoped this wouldn’t overwhelm me, and it didn’t seem to.  I just sat there, quietly existing and waiting for my mom and my nephew’s wife so I could get my hair shorn.

They arrived and quietly came in and I soon found myself sitting in a chair with a big towel around my neck, covering my shoulders.  I showed my nephew’s wife the picture that I had intended for my stylist.  The model had a pixie cut, super short and ready for hot weather. She looked it over. “Cute!” With a spray bottle, she wet down my hair then commenced snipping. Through my medicated daze, I soon felt air on my scalp.  She gave me a mirror and asked me if it was short enough. 

“Shorter,” I said.

It was already quite a dramatic change and probably the shortest my hair had ever been.  She had used an electric shaver on the back of my head which was a first for me, and I enjoyed the feeling of my palm brushing up against the bristles afterwards.  High and tight, just like my brothers.

After they left, I took my first real shower – another awesome experience! Since I couldn’t be trusted to not get dizzy and fall over, my husband assisted.  Octavia sat demurely on the closed toilet seat and watched as he scrubbed me down and I braced myself between the wall and the open shower door.  The surgery area was treated gently, of course, and my hair and body were cleansed of everything hospital when I rinsed off.  I felt clean and purified.

Afterwards, my husband asked if I wanted to try and go for a walk and I figured I’d better get started on such things.  I carefully made my way down the steps to the side door and went outside, clinging to his arm as we embarked.  This would be the second time I’d been outside since I got home. 

Slowly, we walked to the end of the driveway.  The world was starting to overwhelm me.  Everything seemed strange and alien again, and yet familiar.  There was an effort to remembering which was probably why nothing was immediately recognizable.

We got as far as the corner, which was not very far at all as our house was only two houses away.  I had felt wobbly from the start of the journey, and soon found out I was unable to turn my head quickly without getting dizzy. And there was so much information to process!  We had been ambitious, and not bad for my first walk.   But I had had enough for the day and needed to be in the house again with familiar things around me, lying in my bed.  We toddled our way back home and I headed straight to bed and laid down, settling gratefully into the warmth of the comforter.  My, how wonderfully warm my feet felt under the cushiony goodness of my blankets!  It was profound, this contentment.  It was a new intense euphoria I’d never experienced before. 

Tomorrow, I told myself, you’ll go farther.  At least past that damned corner!

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