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.  

April 13:  A question finally answered

Our first snow was, as I suspected, just as spellbinding as the grandeur of fall.  I gazed upon sloppy, fluffy piles on the branches of the old maple tree in front of our house, and listened to the ethereal hushed sounds of fat falling snowflakes slowly plummeting through the chill air.  It was a little hard to look at and I had to close my eyes at times – the constant falling motion of the tiny flakes was a bit dizzying.  Still, it was quite gorgeous.  I could have stayed out there longer watching in rapt wonder but I thought it was time to go in before the neighbors started getting concerned.

It’s been awhile since my last post, I admit.  I blame the holidays – the company holiday party, having family over for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.  I had just gotten the excitement of meal preparation back, and I guess I thought I could handle it – man, how did our moms do it every year?  But I’m happy to say I survived everything with minimal suffering on my part.  I say “minimal” because I admit to suffering significant amounts of anxiety surrounding these events, particularly the company holiday party. It was not the nervous excited version, where I would enter the fray with determination and grit, but one in which I wondered if I could successfully pull all the moving parts together in the end.  I was genuinely afraid I’d hit a wall at some point and things would get confusing and I’d be unable to make quick decisions and well, everything would just fall apart and be ruined.

But I had people helping me and offering moral support, and without them I don’t think I would have gotten through it without bursting into tears, which I felt close to doing on more than one occasion.  I also meditated three times before I finally left my house for the venue.   I had my strategy in mind, which was to get to a quiet place and recover before everyone arrived and periodically throughout the night.  My husband kept an eye on me as well in between socializing and thus I was able to survive the evening exhausted but unscathed.

There’s been a couple of things I’m still experiencing.  On occasion, the aforementioned hypnogogia still returns to entertain and bewilder me.  I managed to write down a couple of them and my theory is it’s a result of my brain occasionally readjusting and coming up with false or illogical information in that time period between wakefulness and snoozeland.  Thus, Steppenwolf did not write “I Am Superman” (it was R.E.M.), and I cannot take my shopping cart from the produce aisle in my head into the real world through a whirling vortex.  

The second thing took me by surprise, much like my sudden inability to spell out loud.  My twin and I were trying to figure out what time to pick up my mother for church on Christmas Day, and I found I couldn’t think backwards in time.  It was like going down a familiar path (“Let’s see…so if we need to pick her up at 9:00 to get there by 9:30, we have to leave at..um..wait.. let me start that over..9:00 am…crap!”) and suddenly being stopped by a dense forest that wasn’t before.  My thoughts just stopped dead and couldn’t go any further.  But I’m sure I’ll hack my way through that forest in time – not a big deal, just more annoying than anything else.

There will be a slightly different format to my next blog posts due to the nature of the content and because some of it will need to be followed by an explanation or supporting information.  You’ll see…it will all make sense (at least I hope so).  And besides, isn’t the new year supposed to be about changing things up?  I truly hope 2016 will be nothing like 2015 but I feel a little more resilient to whatever tragedy might befall me and my own in the next 12 months.  I know, not a great attitude, but what can I say –  it’s better to be a realist in these troubled times.  

So Happy New Year, and let’s keep it real as the kids say.

At 4:27 am I’m wide awake and fully expecting to engage in conversation with my husband. I was mildly disappointed that he didn’t want to discuss my increasingly colorful dreams that were progressively becoming more detailed, but perhaps that could wait until later when he was coherent.  I guess this was to be my sleeping pattern until I was off my meds, but instead of being irritated I was grateful to be home in my own bed,  and it wasn’t routine for a stranger to come in and poke me for my blood at that part of the day.

Upon finally waking,  I heard my husband talking on the phone in the dining room.  He was pacing while he talked, a sure sign of agitation.  It was in his voice, too. I could tell by hearing certain words that he was speaking to someone about the pathology results which we had been told would be ready told by now.  The terror of having cancer that I had put aside in the hospital was again all consuming, and despite my doctor’s assurance that my tumor wasn’t cancerous my stomach tightened and butterflies fluttered madly inside it.   

There was a pause in the conversation.  Someone was getting the information and had put my husband on hold.  We both waited nervously in our separate rooms, terrified by what the voice on the other line might say.  In those brief moments I desperately thought of other things, like what I was going to eat for breakfast or why wasn’t I able to smell my cat’s breath yet when she was right in front of my face in bed snuffling me.

I heard a sigh of relief from the dining room.  “Thank you, that’s great news.  I’ll let her know as soon as she’s up.”  But I’d already heard, and the butterflies in my belly stopped their insane fluttering.  One less thing to worry about.  Now I can just concentrate on getting getting back to normal.  No gamma knife radiation therapy for me!  Whoo hoo!

I decided to lay there a little longer and then nonchalantly walk out of the bedroom to see what was up.  My husband told me the good news and we hugged each other very, very hard.  

“So what’s for breakfast?” I asked, pretending I wasn’t scared out of my mind moments before.

That day he was to return to work officially while my best friend kept an eye on me for the day until he returned.  He helped me shower, and Octavia took her spot on the toilet. I was a little more independent this time and did a little less holding on to the wall, and moved with more confidence.  When I tilted my head back to rinse the shampoo off what little hair I had, the water was hitting the titanium mesh area of my skull.  It was like hearing rain on a metal roof, but the roof was my skull and the house was my mind.  I could hear the patter inside my head and sense the pressure of each water drop. Very alarming at first, then I just accepted it as part of my new normal. I was reminded of the infamous break towards the end of the B52’s song ‘Love Shack’ , which made reference to a roof made of an inexpensive metal that had oxidized (or slang for a girl getting pregnant).

My friend arrived late morning from Ann Arbor while I was laying on the couch waiting for the usual drowsiness that followed my Keppra and Norcro.

She and I had met at work, both unwilling recruits to yet another web design company.  It’s a bit complicated to explain so I won’t bother, but it was very much like an arranged marriage or perhaps a bad blind date that simply didn’t end.  We both got laid off after a few years of trying to fit, but during this miserable time we forged a strong friendship based on heroic acts of emotional support and trying to keep the other amused during the day via instant messaging.  She totally got me, and I got her.  She became the sister I’d never had, growing up the only girl in my immediate family, and she quickly became someone I trusted and could confide in, and also laugh my ass off with.  Amidst our tears of frustration, we giggled  our way through numerous troubled times and hooted at the various obstacles life had thrown in our path.  Well, after the miserable parts were over.  And a few sidecars were tossed down.

Anyway, I hadn’t seen her since the post-op love in, so it had been a little over a week.  We said hey to each other and she took a seat across of me on the recliner.  Conversation was minimal, but we managed a few low key but heartfelt laugh fests.  Mostly it was rehashing about my twin’s behavior when my mother-in-law insisted on coming to post-op, despite my very specific requests.

“Your brother is my new hero!” she declared.  We laughed – I could imagine how things went down.  My mother-in-law meant well, but sometimes obvious things elude her.  Someone had to talk some sense to her, and my twin was no one to mince words.  Things were said and lines were drawn,  and soon she was left in the company of my nephew’s wife while the people I had requested came to comfort me in my hour of need.

About 4:00-ish we were visited by one of the founders of the company I worked for, who I also hadn’t seen since the day of surgery.  He came bearing gifts yet again, including a card signed by my co-workers.  I wasn’t allowed to read yet so I had my best friend read some of the messages for me.

Even Hallmark couldn’t have come up with something appropriate for this occasion.  Can you imagine?  “Glad the surgeon didn’t sneeze and you’re still your old self!” or “Craniotomies are no fun!” or “So they said it was benign?  Let’s celebrate!”  Which is why they had found a congratulations on your new baby card instead, with the words “baby girl” crossed out and replaced with “meningioma”.   

Then he handed me a box. “What’s this?” I asked, recognizing the brand name.

“We took a collection for you.  Go on, open it!”

Inside were the Bose QuietComfort 20i acoustic noise-cancelling headphones. They looked pretty fantastic, and I knew anything by Bose didn’t come cheap and that this product was most likely the result of thorough, meticulous research.  The individual who had masterminded the collection had an EMS background and experience with brain trauma patients, and had explained to everyone that this would help me avoid overstimulation as I recovered.  I was profoundly moved by this gesture and very pleased as I was very sensitive to every noise, no matter how small, and it would be incredibly useful as I progressed from the controlled environment of my home into noisier places like restaurants and markets.   I tried them out and it was amazing how with one flick of a switch I could enter a world of total silence.  It was a wonderful gift, and I felt very lucky to work with such generous, thoughtful people.

As he was leaving I told him to tell everyone thank you, particularly the individual who had organized it, and that I was up for visitors but only one at a time as two would be too much for me in my delicate state.  He said he would convey the messages, and we hugged.   Then he left to get home in time to take his daughters to karate.  I went back to the couch, tired from this brief visit but happy to know that I was missed.  And I admit it was an odd feeling to be on the receiving end of charity, but I didn’t dwell on it.  I had received something we hadn’t thought of from people that genuinely cared about me, and that was all I needed to reflect on.

I was far from ready to return to work, but damn, I realized how much I missed everyone and their wacky ways, a sentiment rarely generated by a normal workplace.  But I worked for the best company in Detroit and I truly couldn’t wait to get back.  I just needed to go slow, be patient, and everything would happen in its own time.  For now, it was enough to eat, sleep, shower, receive visitors and write, write, write.  

I went back to the couch and rested until dinner, and this was the extent of my activities for the next few days.

April 12: Tappity Tap

The building was nothing special from the outside.  It was a dull grey bricked affair, with skinny windows that suggested late 80’s office architecture.  I pitied the people that had to work in such a place, and imagined drop foam ceilings, putty file cabinets and Bunn coffee machines with prepackaged coffee packets so that every cup of coffee tasted just like yesterday’s.  Like I said, nothing special.  But when I first walked into the room a sense of calm and well-being overcame me.  Maybe a subconscious reaction on my part because of where I was, but I didn’t expect it. This first experience sticks out in my memory even now, weeks after completing the Transcendental Meditation course.

Words are inadequate to describe TM.  How do you describe falling in love? How do you talk about the peaceful feeling that suddenly comes upon you when rain is hitting the roof? It’s intangible.  But the benefits I’ve experienced so far are not.  Remember in my last blog when I was having severe neck issues?  After my first day of instruction, my neck wasn’t crunching on its hinges when I turned my head.  I waited a few days to see if the soreness would return, but so far I’m still creak-free.  A miracle?  Maybe.  But I think it’s working.

So far I’ve been able meditate twice a day, as advised.  Now that I’m done with the course it’s a little more difficult – I have slightly less motivation to practice since I won’t be required to report my personal observations to anyone.  However, I’m determined to stay disciplined.  They say it will improve my prefrontal cortex and enhance cognitive skills.  The goal, ultimately, is to be stress free and live in a state of cosmic consciousness.  And by golly, who doesn’t want that?

Meanwhile, sensation is returning to the area of my head where the titanium mesh replaced my skull.  One day I ran my nails gently over that area and experienced a prairie grass wind tickling of my nerves. Weird, but not unpleasant – but mostly weird.  This has all been a weird trip, though. I dare say nothing really freaks me out anymore.  Except…this!  Behold, the tools of craniotomy!  

Ooh.  Shiny, shiny.  

Maybe someday  I’ll be brave enough to show my pre-brain surgery MRI images.  Doesn’t everyone at some point of their medical trauma blog?  Something with a disclaimer, like “The images you’re about to see will shock and horrify you.  Or not, if you happen to be one of the few that are morbidly curious about such things.”

Ha.  Maybe later, kids.

The swelling had gone down somewhat, but still decided not to put my contacts in.  I had never gone this long without them and wondered if there was a limit to how long they could sit in saline without eventually becoming one with it.  I couldn’t wait to get these weighty spectacles off my nose. They kept falling down due to the heavy lenses and my lack of proboscis.  

Some time during the day, I decided to keep a daily journal of my progress going forward.  I thought it would be helpful when my two week follow up appointment came up, as there were already things that I had questions on.  Like this smelling thing -I wondered how long it would last or if it was permanent.  And I still wasn’t feeling myself in a number of ways.

I passed the day as a child would, eating, sleeping and taking some time to write.  I was in between two journals – a daily one and the other one I had started to try and remember everything that had happened in the hospital, before I came home. I decided this would be my daily regimen, because one day these events would be hazy memories though they were still so clear in my mind at the moment.  I wanted to remember everything.  

We went for a walk again, and I made it two street corners further before I got too tired to continue.  I looked at the goal before me.  The main street we were following had a series of traffic islands, which made up a little track of sorts, and if you went all the way around and two islands more, it was about a mile.  How far away the other end seemed!  But I made up my mind to go all the way around very, very soon.

The day was passed in this manner, with two long naps in between activities just after I took my pain and anti-seizure medication.  I couldn’t write for very long, but it was something to do when I was really awake and focused.  I wasn’t allowed to look at the internet or text, and I wasn’t really in the mood to watch American Idol or Judge Judy.  We were expecting his best friend and his mom for dinner, so soon enough they came bearing bagels and lox, and Venus razor blades for me because my leg hair had become quite unseemly in a little over a week.

There were some things I had noticed that day.  Prior to my surgery, I had noticed a constant heartbeat in my right ear when I leaned over or if my head was pitched over slightly.  I had thought it would be gone once my tumor was removed, but no such luck, so this was a concern.  Another was the burning sensation in my left breast when I turned over, which was puzzling because it had only happened when the pain med was administered through the IV in the hospital.  Maybe that would go away eventually, but for now it was alarming and annoying every time I turned to lay on my left side.

But the most bothersome thing was happening – or rather, that hadn’t happened yet- was the fact that I hadn’t gone number two for over a week.  Part of it was a known side effect of the pain medication, but part of it was just the normal experience of brain surgery.  Apparently the lower intestine is the last part to wake up, so it was very important that I keep taking the stool softeners even though they didn’t seem to be doing anything.  You’d think I would feel myself getting backed up, but I just didn’t feel anything.  But I would be patient.  One less thing to deal with, right?

We had dinner, then his friend went off on an ice cream mission for our dessert.  It had been my husband’s intent to not leave me alone with his mom, who didn’t quite understand my speech difficulties and who would most likely ask me complicated questions I couldn’t answer in my current condition.  The plan was going well until my husband decided to go in the kitchen under the pretense of cleaning up.  

“Does it hurt?” she asked, a beat or two after he left the room.

“No, actually, it doesn’t.” I looked down at the remnants of my bagel and lox and wondered if I should feign a seizure.

“Really?  I wonder why that is?”  

“Oh, well…I think it’s because … you really don’t have nerves in your brain.  I think that’s why.”  Long pause as I fumbled for the next sentence, as I lost track of what we were talking about.  “Also I’m taking pain medication for any headaches I might have.”  Whew.  Got that out.

“And what kind of medication would that be?”  

“Um…something…that sounds like a whale?…Nor-something?…”  

My husband had returned, realizing I had been alone with his mom for an unacceptable amount of time.  I gave him my best stink eye, or what I could manage with a partially swollen face, and that was the end of my conversation with my mother-in-law for the evening.

Day three of my return home had gone well.  Well enough, anyway.  Maybe tomorrow my head would feel back to how it was and this teeth-tapping thing would stop.

Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap switch! tap tap tap tap tap tap tap….

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!

April 10: Home Again, Home Again, Diggety Dig, Part Two

In my last session with my social worker, I described the uneasy feeling that overcame me whenever I came upon a certain patch of tree shadows during our nightly walks.  From a distance they were harmless and unremarkable, but as we approached and our angle under the streetlights shifted, they morphed into something alien and menacing. My steps would become apprehensive and I would cling more tightly to my husband’s arm, the anxiety quickly escalating as we got closer then disappearing altogether once we crossed into safer territory.

She said a physical therapist would give me advice about vestibular issues, which I seemed to have been plagued with as I had mentioned balance problems before.  She suggested I look at a stable, vertical object such as a house,  and not at my feet where the evil shadows were.  Which actually made sense – I would try that instead of avoiding the street or being guided to safety, eyes tightly closed, being guided by my husband’s voice.  Sure it was cute hanging on to him like that,  but also it made me feel like a blind person being assisted across a busy intersection.  I vowed to take her advice and conquer this new fear, like everything else that had been an issue since my brain surgery.

Was this really the last thing I had to deal with?  I had run out of incidents happening out of nowhere, and I was feeling quite confident about my general well being and ability to cope with life.  She seemed to read my mind and asked if I had thought about stopping.  I said I had, which was true. I didn’t feel the therapy was necessary in my current state, which as previously mentioned was as close to normal as it had ever been since this whole affair.

We both agreed it was the right time, and so it ended up being my last session with this wonderful woman who had helped me get through the mysteries of my recovery.  I was truly grateful for her advice and guidance, and so glad I swallowed my pride and put myself in the hands of another person more experienced with head traumas.  Somehow through the magic of emotional intelligence she understood my intentions, and all my damaged brain attempts at explaining things. It was so rare to meet someone like that, who could just figure you out with minimal effort on your part.  It was a very comfortable relationship we had, and so I wasn’t surprised that she picked up on my contemplations regarding ending my sessions.

I wasn’t scaring her, as she put it, and she was totally comfortable with me taking the wheel and driving the rest of the way on my road to recovery.  She also mentioned that some people taper their sessions off, or stop for a while and come back when they need a “tune-up”.  I said I was fine  with ending things immediately, and so she agreed to give me a discharge from her services. Fortunately, this was towards the end of our time so we wrapped it up by expressing our mutual fondness for each other, and she gave me a hug and wished me good luck.  

Or parting was a little bittersweet.  I had come to look forward to our Wednesday sessions, describing new neurological oddities I was puzzled or upset about, and getting some kind of plausible explanation from her.  I could tell she enjoyed her job,and I found this inspiring. She was damn good at it.  But she was a comfort that I would no longer have, because now I would have no one to talk to about my brain surgery that would really understand things from my point of view.  I had gone to group therapy and found it a little wanting, as no one there had my specific head trauma and I really just wanted to find someone – anyone – who had also undergone a craniotomy.  So despite the fact that we all shared similar experiences, I just couldn’t connect, though perhaps I should have given it more time.  Plus there was 11-14 people in the room, which was far too many for an introvert like me to be comfortable communicating with.

Therefore, I felt a little panic as I drove away, wondering if maybe I had made the right decision to stop.  Or maybe it really was time for me to move on and this would all become an unpleasant memory, soon to be forgotten by the gentle erosive fingers of time.  Even now, certain details and timelines are lost that I swore I’d never forget, but you know – life happens.  And some things need to get tossed to the side to lighten the load.

I walked carefully up the stairs, steadying myself on the railing.  I headed straight for our bedroom, holding on to the walls until I laid down. I was feeling light-headed from the medications and still a little unsteady.  

“I’ve hidden your laptop, just in case you get any ideas,” he said. Oh, he knew me so well.  I’m sure he thought if he hadn’t taken this action I would defy my doctor’s strict instructions and peek at my Facebook once he left. 

“Will you be okay?” I detected a hint of worry in his voice. He had to leave for a round of afternoon meetings, which I knew he was hesitant to do.

“I’ll be fine.  I’m just going to sleep now, I think.” The doctor had said sleep would encourage healing so I was keen to get on with it. He kissed me on the head, and left.  I laid there, in the quiet of the sunny early afternoon, grateful to be back in my own bed.  The comforter was comforting,the air was clean and free of hospital smells. But something wasn’t quite right.  I felt an odd crookedness laying there, like I was being tipped backward. I checked my position and there was nothing wrong – nothing had changed in the mattress.  Weird, I thought.  

Octavia, my darling little ragdoll cat, had been observing from a distance when I came in.  I had been gone for quite a while by cat reckoning, and she sensed something wasn’t quite right with me.  When she jumped up on the bed, she sat a little distance from me, observing, processing.  Just looking at me, as the silence grew around us, human and cat.  Was she going to come up to my face like she usually did, and give me a playful nip on the cheek or eyebrow?  I was actually terrified that she would, because I didn’t have the strength to deal with it.

She seemed to come to a decision and simply laid down, not too far away from me. I drowsed for a bit, then when I woke up she was still there.  She had concluded that I was wounded, and that needed to be respected.  Perhaps the white gauze taped over my six inch suture was her first clue, but I’m sure my smell and body chemicals were all different to her now.  

We slept.

A little later, I was wide awake and the sun was shining, diluted but cheerful through the blinds. I still felt crooked and wondered if I should just keep lying there (um, yes) or do something. I looked at my cell phone, and thought, oh, what the hell.  Just a few seconds. Just a quick peek at my Facebook to see what everyone was saying about me.

I ended up checking my Facebook (something close to 300 Likes from my husband’s last update, which was astounding and some touching messages) looking briefly at my emails from work (they had started attempts to survive without me) and a quick look at some texts that had been sent since I went under the bone saw.  I don’t know how long I took doing this, but it didn’t feel like any more than maybe five or ten minutes.  I wondered what the big deal was about not looking at my phone or the internet, as nothing serious happened after I put the phone back down.

My husband came home and commenced making the best pork chops I had ever had.  Maybe it was the fact that it was the first non-hospital food I’d eaten for a while or maybe he’d finally gotten the hang of cooking without my guidance, but they were perfectly seasoned and barbecued to juicy perfection.  I hadn’t felt hungry until I took a bite, and then I was suddenly RAVENOUS.  I ate off a breakfast tray as we decided to wait until the next day before I moved into the dining room. My husband was so pleased with my appetite which thankfully hadn’t been affected, and brought me sliced apples with honey drizzled on top for dessert.   Each bite was perfectly sweet and crunchy, and the honey was a bonus parade in my mouth.  I’d never eaten anything so wonderful, it seemed.  Flavors and textures were insanely and blissfully magnified.

With all that sleeping during the day, I thought it would be difficult to sleep through the night, but I had faith that my Norco and Keppra would put me out about a half hour after taking them.  My husband came in with a glass of juice for my pills, and as I sat up to take them I suddenly got incredibly nauseous and faint.  I broke out in a cold sweat and felt like I was going to pass out if I hadn’t lain back on the bed.  It scared me how it had come on so fast, and I tried to figure out what could have caused it.  Maybe I ate too quickly?  Or maybe I shouldn’t have disobeyed my doctor’s instructions to not look at my phone or any internet.  Obviously my brain really wasn’t ready to be that stimulated yet.  The overstimulation must have made my body behave in this manner – it was frightening how quickly I had gone from normal to almost losing unconsciousness, which I had never experienced before. I didn’t tell my husband that I had disobeyed instructions earlier, as he would have been quite upset with me.  After this, I vowed to follow doctor’s orders until I saw my neurosurgeon again in two weeks.  

I asked for a cold washcloth for my forehead, which eventually calmed my nausea and took care of the cold sweats.  Back to being excited about tomorrow. More sleeping, eating, maybe even a real shower (Huzzah!).  Also my nephew’s hairstylist wife had offered to shave my head to match the incision area, or at least cut my hair close enough to ensure that all areas were reasonable close to the same starting point.  I actually had planned on cutting it in a pixie style that Saturday, but of course I had to cancel that appointment the day before my surgery,  hoping my voicemail sounded like it came from a sane person.  

But I couldn’t sleep.  My husband had turned on the TV in the kitchen, and it was making me crazy.  He turned it off, and I put in my ear plugs to keep out other sounds – the house, the cars passing outside, everything.  I wanted silence. About 30 minutes passed before I was in drugged slumber again.

I dreamt of darkness. Somehow I knew I was in Maui and sensed it was our honeymoon or ten year anniversary trip.  It was pitch black until we started climbing up a narrow mountain path.  Suddenly the path upwards was illuminated by a glowing salmon-orange color.  There wasn’t much else in the way of imagery – some shops appeared, set up against the mountain side, but only two or three and they were simple thatched roof affairs. The dominant dreamscape was the angled salmon-orange slash against inky blackness which I found quite beautiful in its simplicity but profoundly eerie at the same time.  These were the only things that my previously fertile imagination could come up with.  And also, I didn’t recall ever dreaming in the hospital – probably because I had never actually fallen asleep long enough to get to the dream state.

I woke up at about 4:30 am, super awake and enthusiastic about telling my husband all about my dream.  At first he was happy I was awake at all, then not so much.  He asked for the time and when I told him he expressed surprise at how talkative I was, and asked that we continue the conversation in the morning. He rolled over, snoring fitfully seconds later.

It would be a few hours until the sun came up.  I never really fell back asleep, but that was fine as I would have a whole day of it.  Sleep, and the silence I had longed for since my predicament.  I couldn’t wait.

April 10:  Home Again, Home Again, Diggity Dig

Six months later, and my injured brain can’t get enough.  It is voracious for new experiences and new information, anything from running my first 5K to rewarding myself with a visit to the local library where I got two books by Oliver Sacks, the famous neurologist who passed away this year, and also the Art of Comforting by Val Walker, a topic I’ve always felt a natural propensity towards.  And, I’m once again excited about trying new foods and experimenting with unfamiliar recipes – including the Lion’s Mane mushroom, which apparently has neuroregenerative properties.  No wonder I was attracted to it!  My social worker said this renewed gusto for living is typical of people who have just survived life-threatening experiences – a result of their recent reminder that life is short, and meant to be lived fearlessly and fully.

One strange thing going on, though – I seem to start dreaming before I’m asleep.  The name for it is hypnogogia, and it’s hard to describe. Crazy but plausible scenarios pop up in my mind just before I’m unconscious, like Sean Connery being my father’s brother or something like that, and then my sensibilities interrupt and tell me “This isn’t real – wake up!”.  It’s kind of fun when the script is harmless, but sometimes it can be unsettling.  Very interesting since I’ve never experienced it before the surgery.

My follow up MRI went without incident, though I didn’t quite remember the experience as well as I thought.  The noises had been similarly industrial sounding, but I was still half-asleep during my first two as they had occurred at an ungodly time of day – one at midnight and one in the early morning after my surgery.  I did notice that each image had a different tone, and I pondered how their waveform would look on an oscilloscope.  Very Aphex Twins, I observed, or NIN.  This was sufficiently entertaining for about 45 minutes, then I found myself getting cranky and eager to get the hell out of there and in a quiet place.

And as I suspected, my follow ups with my oncologist and neurologist were uneventful.  MRI images revealed things were stable and unchanged since the surgery, and no radiation therapy would be necessary.   A yearly MRI was recommended, which I would most likely instigate on my end.  Whew!

Also did much better than I thought I would in the 5K I had signed up for.  It really does make a difference when you run with another person – I actually shaved off three minutes from my regular time!  Amazing what you can do when you have a goal and a rib dinner the night before.  And amazing where I am, six months after my brain surgery.  I was feeling quite alive as I sprinted hard toward the finish line.  I was loving the Universe for balancing itself in the positive this time around – it had been a long time coming.  High five, Universe!

This brings us to one of the highlights of my story – the part when I come home from the hospital.  Read on, and celebrate the highs and lows of my return!

The following morning, my mom and sister-in-law arrived sometime after breakfast to help me get ready for my release.  They were there and witnessed the following before my husband arrived to take me away.

First, Todd the occupational therapist had to deem me fit for release.  He was a bespectacled stout fellow, sporting a van dyke and looking like he’d be comfortable in a plaid flannel shirt over a Pixie’s t-shirt.  He took out a brand spankin’ new white therapy gait belt, still stiff from being unused, which he tied around my waist.  Then he instructed me to accompany him to the hallway for a preliminary stroll.  

My enthusiasm undermined me.  I went slowly at first, then got over confident and moved too fast resulting in me losing balance and almost taking a tumble onto the linoleum.  This made him a little skeptical as far as my release went.  We continued our way around the hallways, his hand a little tighter on the gait belt and as we approached my room, we were surprised to see about eight or nine doctory looking people in white lab coats.  They had stopped in front of my room and were all there to see me!

“Hello, there!” said the doctor in front, with a thick Nigerian accent.  “We are here from oncology doing our rounds and wanted to meet with you and see how you were doing.”  When he said “oncology”, I thought, in my inner Yosemite Sam voice that I reserved for such occasions, “Aw, no – ya ain’t comin’ for me, ya dang varmints!  Dr. G said it was benign so go on, git!”  But they all stood there, smiling, being awkwardly friendly and the Nigerian oncologist said “Here is my card. You make sure to visit us!”  I stood there, befuddled by it all and unable to speak my mind because I was still finding it difficult to talk.  I think it was Todd that finally moved me through their collective vulturous gaze and back to my bed where my mom and sister-in-law were equally puzzled at the presence of such a multitude of cancer doctors.

“Jeez!  It’s like the paparazzi!” Todd joked.”Ok, get rested and we’ll try it again.  Sometimes the first time up after surgery is too much at first.”  

I sat on the edge of my bed and recovered, then after a few minutes I was ready to go another round.  I did better the second time, moving decidedly slower and calmer, and avoided turning my head quickly.  As we made our way through the fairly busy hallway,  I told him a little about myself, how I was a musician and been active in the local music scene, and hoped to get back to playing as soon as I was recovered.  We talked about mutual shows we’d been to, which caught the ear of a male nurse as we passed.  I kept walking as a friendly discussion started between them about bands and music and concerts, Todd with his hand on the gait strap around my waist, me in my hospital gown attire moving like molasses, and the nurse attending to whatever he was doing.  It was a perfectly normal, pleasant moment in the neuroscience ward.

We returned to my room and I collapsed on my bed, exhausted but exultant.  “Good job,” said Todd.  “Now I feel better about signing your release.”  My mom rewarded him with one of the beanies she had knit for me, which he promptly put on his head.  “Thanks, it’s really warm!” he said, looking like either a member of U2 or an ex-convict.  I thought, well, I bet he didn’t expect a new hat when he came in to work today, and watched him leave, knowing we’d never cross paths again and hoping we had somehow given him some kind of job satisfaction that day.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t done with oncology yet.  An underling popped in to ask me a few questions, calling out my name before breaking through the privacy curtain.  He asked a few frightening things, which made me paranoid again that my tumor might be cancerous.  He talked about the possibility of it coming from somewhere else, doing another CT scan to make sure that hadn’t happened, and also the possibility of radiation therapy.  (Yipe!  Can’t you people leave me alone already?)

Then my neurosurgeon’s assistant came in to discuss my release, and upon hearing that I was visited by oncology once again stated quite adamantly that I had nothing to worry about.  It was quite a rollercoaster of emotions, which I knew wouldn’t end until we heard from pathology next week.  However, she said it with such certainty that it alleviated some of my fear, and I could get excited about leaving again.

She went over my release instructions.  

“No texting or television for 2 weeks.  If you’re going to watch TV, make sure it’s not mentally challenging.  Try something like American Idol or Judge Judy.”  Oh, boy. Those programs were perfect.  “And no Internet or computer anything, or any reading.”  

I guess they wanted to make sure my injured brain areas weren’t overstimulated in any way.   Sleep was encouraged, which I was delighted to hear. I did mourn the part about not getting on the Internet. What if I had a burning question to answer, like who played the second Darrin in Bewitched? But then again, it would be nice to be unplugged for awhile.  I looked forward to experiencing quiet, both within and outside of my mind.

A very nice male nurse named John facilitated my release, and made sure I had all my papers together and any extra equipment to help with my recovery.  A wheelchair was sent for. Meanwhile, the real oncologist who had been assigned to me came just after my husband had arrived, and he gave us instructions to follow up with him as far as further treatment – whether it had been decided that I should have radiation treatment or not to get rid of what was left of the tumor.  He had a more agreeable bedside manner than his underling and was not so gung-ho about getting a CT scan, which was great to hear as I was really tired of getting scanned by anything by then.  

This was my first experience with multiple doctors being involved – no one seemed to have their story straight.  It was much like the experience my father had before he passed away.  I came to the conclusion that doctors are just trained to make educated guesses, and the rest was luck and good genes.

Finally, FINALLY it was time to go.  I had my release papers, my instructions, my flowers and cards, and any clothes that had been brought from home.  I bid the neuroscience ward farewell and thanked John for all his help.  My mom and sister-in-law wheeled me down to the main floor where my husband was getting the car, bringing me close enough to the doors to feel the warm breeze that was wafting through.  It was all very alien and strange, but I was quietly blissing out. Though I had stayed in the hospital less than a week, I had gone through so much.  I was also unsurprisingly having difficulty processing everything that was coming at me – the interior of the car as I was assisted in, the passing scenery as it whipped by.  I had to close my eyes, as it was all very overwhelming.  Everything seemed a strange yellowy, 70’s Polaroid color, and all the smells were strong but not compared to the sounds that were close to impossible to take in.  We drove in silence, as the radio was too much for me.

We turned into our street, and I stared at the houses, alien yet familiar, like coming back after a long vacation.  We pulled into our driveway, and I hopped out of the van and walked with assistance up to the side entrance.   I’m home, I thought, standing in front of the doorway back to my life.  I’m home!

April 9 – Post Melon Muddling Oddness

For whatever reason, my brain refused to let me write since the last post.  I’ve come up with some worthwhile openings but the grey matter didn’t give a hoot if my posts became erratic and not so scheduled.  It also doesn’t pay to write ahead, as I often change my mind as each day brings some new experience that I feel worthy of discussion. I decided that I can improvise just fine, as long as I have a good start.  Like Hayao Miyazaki, who didn’t quite know how Spirited Away would turn out, I would create as I went along, with no set plot to guide me.  The mind knows what to do if I listen to it.  Things will work out in the end.

So I listened, took some major naps and some time for myself and have had marvelous results.  I’ve actually felt closer to being my old self minus some emotional baggage, and set my attention to other things – like going to my first free talk on transcendental meditation.

Yes, it’s the meditation technique the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi guy taught the Beatles.  But it’s also a thousands of years old practice, and that alone convinced me it’s nothing like scientology.  I wasn’t really interested until a friend of mine from work came up to me shortly after my return and described his experience with such enthusiasm and went into animated detail about how his life had changed. He definitely wasn’t the type to be brainwashed or be conned into something that went against his beliefs, so I thought maybe there’s something valuable about transcendental meditation after all.

This also ties in with finishing the book Stroke of Insight by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. She described her right hemisphere experience during her stroke as euphoric, and felt a oneness with everything.  I had a similar experience in the early part of my recovery, and was eager to regain that blissful wholeness with the universe again.  Which is why I bought the book, hoping to gain insight on how she managed to achieve it voluntarily.  After pages of reading about her recovery, the relationship between the two hemispheres as they function instantaneously to form our perception of reality, and occasional flights of delirious repetition about how wonderful it was to be in a state of right brain bliss, it turns out that all you need to do to drink the happy pink punch of the right hemisphere is meditate.  This was kind of a let down, like some gentle explanation offered by Glenda the Good Witch of the North: “Silly brain tumor survivor,  the power has been inside you all along!  Now off with you, and quit complaining. ” (Or maybe the Ghost of Christmas Present in Scrooged is a better choice here).

Anyway, it’s possible that TM is my portal back to that world.   I had never felt so joyful and complete and capable.  I was actually about to attempt algebra problems just to see if I could figure them out – that’s how confident I felt in that state.  I grieved when I first felt the signs of it receding from my waking life and negative parts of my old self returning.

I also hope to gain back some years that the craniotomy took from me. My social worker told me that any time the body is traumatized by major surgery or illness, you age faster than normal.  I had told her I felt so old, and so tired. But I’ve also noticed that it has gotten remarkably easier to let worries go, which is the bonus of all of this forced aging.  I’m experiencing a certain maturity that I’d never had before – which may have been inevitable but instead of happening in the next five years, it’s happening now.  I’m ok with all of this.  And once I get going with the TM my brain will light up like the night sky on Independence Day, and I’ll really be something else.

I discovered immediately that the back of my closed eyelids were completely different now that the sun was up- which was unexpected and kinda horrifying.  They were no longer the usual orangey  color when a light was on, but had changed to a very faint, light green, with dark blue and dark red veiny lines going across. I opened and closed them again to make sure it was real.  (Oh, yes.  Very real.)  I wondered if this was permanent, and what other surprises awaited me as I recovered.

Meanwhile, Nurse Starlord was replaced with Nurse Ponytail, as he sported salt and pepper long hair tied into a neat pony tail.  He was coldly efficient, lacking the warmth of his predecessor.  I had become very sensitive to such things – which nurses gave me comfort and and security, and who were patient and understanding as I stammered, unable to get my sentences out  They wouldn’t  finish my sentences for me like a few of the other nurses, whose impatience I keenly felt. They didn’t bother saying “I’ll find out for you” and responded with “I don’t know, the orders haven’t come yet” when you had a question about your care.  At this point I had developed an intuition about who was truly in the moment of caring and who was distracted by life things that kept them from being more devoted.  Call it a new empathic skill, I guess.  Or heightened sensitivity.

My mother and sister-in-law came to visit, and I hadn’t seen my sister-in-law for at least five years.  We’d had a little disagreement a while ago, my tendency for holding grudges prevented me from communicating with her up until now. But all that fell away as soon as she walked in and squeezed my hand.  Through this one gesture, I sensed that she was willing as me to start over with a clean slate.  It was one less burden in my heart, which I was glad to let go of.

My doctor and one of her assistants came in to remove my head bandages and discuss my release.  I felt like the Joker as I felt the gauze come off, and hoped I wouldn’t be met with something that would drive me so insane that I fell into a life of criminal mayhem.  Although, it would be nice to have an army of henchmen at my command, wouldn’t it?  From what I saw the bandages were bloodless and clean, and once off she examined the wound.  

“Very nice,” she murmured, gently prodding the sutures.   “These will eventually dissolve, so we won’t need to touch this area again.  Just let it heal on its own.”  My husband asked about showering and she said just be gentle and don’t let any water or soap hit the area directly yet.  I was dying to wash the dried gel from my hair, which at the moment gave my hair a bouffant sort of shape.  Also I was glad to be able to wear my glasses again, and see what was going on.

Much to our collective joy, plans were in the works for releasing me the next day, which was pretty unbelievable as far as I was concerned.  I had expected more recuperation after brain surgery, but this was good news as the whole hospital scene was getting very tiresome.  I was also very ready to be back in my own familiar bed and reunited with my fluffy ragdoll cat.  They told me an occupational therapist would visit sometime in the morning, and the outcome of that visit would determine how ready I was to go home.  

This is probably the closest I’ve ever been to feeling homesick, and I would show the occupational therapist how more than ready I was to be released.  I was getting to the bathroom with little assistance, and I had emerged with my personality intact.  What more could a person want after having their melon muddled with?

Tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough, and as my husband carefully washed my hair that night before bed I realized this was just the first phase of my journey.  The second would come tomorrow, and then I would see how I would get along with life outside.