April 15: Smoke and Mirrors

I am quite enjoying being away from the noise of modern life.   Emails,  texting, the daily deleting of Fab promotional emails – all quiet.  Just ocean sounds and meditation, being fed and watching my cat sleep.  I did keep glancing at my phone, though.  The unanswered emails were in the 600’s by now but it didn’t really bother me.  And I didn’t dare peek because  I knew how it was with emails:  They’re like potato chips; you can’t just have one.  So I enjoyed the quiet.  My mind was a playful meadow of  chirping birds and fluttering butterflies and wondered if this was what retirement was like. It was sweet relief to have nothing to do after years of hustling business, but I wondered when I’d suddenly be overcome with boredom.  For the moment, though, it was enough to observe the changes taking place in my head.

The “tapping” stopped at some point, but my senses were still muffled, my body only feeling so much.  I had to be careful with Q-tips for example, as the deeper part of my ear canal was still numb and the pressure of the swab disappeared at a certain point.  And my sense of smell and taste were still compromised, and continued to be baffling.  I couldn’t smell my cat’s breath up close, but I could smell cleaning products from another room.  Was the brain really that specific as far as distance and types of smells?  Hmmm.

My tasting situation was sadly apparent when my mom had brought me fried lumpia (Filipino spring rolls) that weekend as I had told her I had a mad  craving for them.  How disappointed I was when the nostalgic joy I had sought in this simple dish didn’t happen.  I wished for the sublime chomp of fried spring roll wrapper, which would quickly surrender to tender fried vegetables tanged up with garlic vinegar.  Instead,  I got a mouthful of almost delicious.  Rather than a familiar friend saying howdy-do, I got a stranger on a bus that said nothing for the whole ride.   I sighed and ate two anyway, as I knew how much work had gone into them.

Each day brought me a little closer to being myself again.  A few times when I rested I felt a slight but unmistakable “tuning” taking place in my head, a palpable clicking like the twang of a stringed instrument being adjusted until it hit that magic 440 Hertz.  It was oddly comforting as it suggested that healing was taking place, or so I liked to think.  Eventually this too ceased like the obsessive tapping of my tongue against my teeth.

An interesting behavior change to note:  My mood was extremely happy.  I was very confident in myself, and feeling unstoppable. I was going to write a book, and maybe do a TED talk on my experience and heck, maybe I’d give Algebra another whirl (which was really a stretch as I hated all things mathematically inclined).  I felt I could handle all sorts of things now that the meningioma had been removed.  I wondered if it had kept me from my full potential, and resented it tremendously if that were the case.  But then how was I able to play complicated music and pull off multi-tasking and planning events?  Well, at least up until the last few weeks.  I had wondered why I had become anxious and seemed less inclined to take on the variety of things I normally did with no complaint.   I also recall starting to use both hands when applying things like face moisturizer and foundation.  I had used my right one all my life, but out of nowhere it seemed more efficient to use both.  I suspect it was an early symptom – my right hand was becoming weak and the left hand was answering the distress signal.

I also felt a oneness with everything and an understanding for all, as corny as that sounds.  My empathy skills seemed enhanced, and I wanted to help everyone.  In fact, I felt that was my true calling in life, this need to make everyone happy.  It was so unlike the “me” before brain surgery – I’d been moody and prone to depression most of my life, and lost most of the time.   And now, I had focus and was elated about everything, and believed in myself.  I truly hoped I would feel this great for the rest of my days.  It was wonderful to wake up feeling optimistic and joyful, and I thought wow, this is what it’s like to be happy.  

As a bonus, I noticed my speech  improving, and my cognitive skills.  I could now consistently form complete thoughts, actually visualizing from the left part of my head first before I spoke.  And I was not questioning my vocabulary anymore – I started using some fairly spectacular words without wondering if they were right (of course they were!).  Things were looking up and I was convinced I’d come out of my ordeal a better, smarter person.

I was so happy about everything I felt like telling my family I loved them for the first time, another completely uncharacteristic behavior. My husband fully supported me knowing it was a pretty big deal.  

But for all the build up, I was met with little response bordering on awkward silence.  My twin’s partner said something slightly sarcastic about someone in our family actually expressing their feelings, but that was about it.  I think my mother smiled but said nothing – not exactly how I had planned it in my head.  I had imagined her bursting into happy tears, then we’d all hug fiercely and have a Waltons’ moment. I was left a bit stunned once the door shut behind them, and assumed they were discussing my odd behavior once they were out of earshot.

Welp, as the kids say.  So much for that.

Since then, I have found out that this is a typical response from family and friends if you’ve never actually behaved in any overtly affectionate way before your brain surgery.  I like to believe that they just didn’t know how to respond.  Heck, I wouldn’t know how to respond if my twin said one day “You know what?  I’ve never said this before, but I’m glad you and I are twins.  I love you, sis’!” I’d probably just nod and go back to eating my Cheetos or something.  Ok, maybe not, but I get it.  

As for my euphoric state, there were several reasons for it.  Euphoria is side effect of both the medications I was on (Norco and Keppra), but when I reported this period of mental clarity and joy to my social worker, she told me that shortly after surviving a life threatening situation,  it has been observed that the brain basically has a party for a short period of time after realizing it has narrowly escaped long term trauma or worse.  War survivors and many that have had near-death experiences have experienced this.  Also, in reading Jill Bolte Taylor’s Stroke of Insight she states that damage to your left hemisphere results in your right hemisphere becoming more dominant, thus further explaining the state of bliss I was in. But to understand this concept better, I should offer more detail on how the right and left hemisphere work.  

As she states in her book, your right side takes in information with no organization whatsoever, which is its primary function. It exists in a state of Now. Huge amounts of information involving colors, sounds, sights, names, faces, events, etc. then travel through the corpus collosum, the connection between your lobes, via numerous neural fibers (approximately 200-250 million!) to the left hemisphere where they get sorted out and create an ongoing individual reality. So, with not so much supervision from the left,  I was a happier person because I existed in the present, having less concern over where bits of information needed to go and not diving into past memories for random reference and emotions. 

So how could I not feel invincible and confident, with all these things happening?  How could I not assume this was my new outlook on life forever and ever?  All an illusion, much to my disappointment about two weeks later.  

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