Monday, June 12, 2006

Life of Brain

I'm out of Vicodin. This could be a problem.

Now before anyone starts thinking that my resemblance to TV's Dr. House extends to a years-long addiction to painkillers, I should probably mention something that I've neglected to up until now.

A little over a month ago, I had brain surgery; had a tumor the size of a pinball removed in fact.

I realize that some who've read my past posts will now nod their heads in recognition, saying to themselves "Ah, that explains it." Understand though that the personality that I've exhibited on the computerized pages of this little experiment of mine is the same personality I've had all my life. I've always been this way. Probably always will be. See what a childhood spent idolizing Bugs Bunny and Hawkeye Pierce gets you? Unfortunately though, I can't truthfully say that the surgery has had no serious effects on me -- nor can I say that these effects won't last for quite some time.

Today was my first day back at work after a two-month medical leave.

Maybe it would be best if I rewind a little, knock chronology for a loop like a Tarantino movie.

The first week of April, I noticed the first tremors of a headache. They began the morning after an exceptional dinner here in New York with Drew Curtis of My first thought was that Drew had once again poured so much great wine down the throats of myself, my wife and everyone else at the damned table that I was simply nursing the appropriate hangover. A little sleep, a couple of aspirin and I'd be fine. Except that I wasn't. I woke up the next morning with my head pounding even harder. The pain was fucking excruciating. In deference to T.S. Eliot, in short I was afraid.

I made it through about an hour of work before going home and trying desperately to sleep. Not a chance. That night was without question the worst 12 hours of my life -- and I've sat through David Lynch's "Dune." I felt like something was trying to claw its way out of my head by gouging out my eyes from the inside. For awhile I remembered a story I saw about a guy whose sinuses were riddled with strep bacteria, and in a matter of days it had eaten away his face. I honestly figured that was what was happening to me.

I didn't sleep for one minute that night. I spent the entire time crying and counting the hours and minutes until I could go to the doctor.

I have bad sinuses to begin with, so I chalked the immense pain up to a nightmarish infection or case of sinusitis. The next morning at 9am sharp I was at my doctor. It's worth mentioning by the way that at the time, my wife and I lived in Brooklyn and the closest hospital to our apartment provided the kind of care you might've recognized if you'd ever seen the movie "Jacob's Ladder" -- hence why I didn't go to the emergency room. One bad experience there for Jayne was enough to steer me clear. Either way, when I arrived at my doctor's office in Lower Manhattan, the nurses literally thought that I was trying to milk the office for good painkillers, as some are apt to do on occasion. They found it hard to believe that the crumpled pile in the waiting room could really be as messed up as he purported to be. A CT scan and a bottle of codeine capsules later, still no answer as to what was causing the headache.

It took three days of still unabated, gut-wrenching agony before I could get in for an MRI.

It took the technician conducting the MRI about thirty seconds to figure out what was wrong with me.

"You have a brain tumor, and it's hemorraging into your head." He told me; even drawing a crude sketch to show me just where the tumor was -- directly between my eyes, resting on my pituitary gland. I was in the emergency room at Cornell Medical Center about an hour later, fetally curled up on a rolling bed, begging someone to please turn the fucking lights off. Over a period of about two hours, they readied me for surgery and walked me through exactly what needed to be done to remove this alien egg from my brain. As far as everyone was concerned, I was going to be cut open and it was coming out that night. That was the thinking anyway -- until God showed up.

I realize that a lot of debate has raged throughout the centuries over the exact name of God. The Hebrews called him Yahweh; The Muslims, Almighty Allah; The Christians, the Lord Our God -- or simply "I am who am." As it turns out, his name is actually Ted. Okay, so I have no idea if that's his nickname. It may very well be Theo for all I know, as that sounds far more scholarly.

Dr. Theodore Schwartz walked into my room like Elvis taking the stage in Vegas. The guy just owned it. He grabbed my chart and my MRI, asked me how I was doing and got a couple of pained mumbles out of me, then basically told me that the plan had changed. As it turned out, I was the perfect candidate for the kind of surgery which he performed exclusively -- that being minimally-invasive endoscopic tumor resection. Translation: they go in through your nose instead of opening your skull like a tuna can. Who was I to argue.

For the next couple of weeks I was on platelets to stop the bleeding, steroids to shrink the fucker and vicodin to kill the pain; all the while concerning myself day and night with the upcoming surgery which could -- despite the "minimally-invasive" reassurance -- leave me permanently stroked out and drooling on myself while the government fought to keep a feeding tube jammed down my throat. I wasn't scared, I was fucking petrified. I spent my nights watching my wife sleep, trying to accumulate as much of this simple experience as I could in the hope that it might somehow stay with me should my world suddenly go dark and everything I know to be me slip away into oblivion. I prayed -- yes, prayed -- not to survive or remain the person I'd always been, but rather to hold onto her image and keep it with me wherever it was that I went. I wanted these moments to be the trail of breadcrumbs that I could somehow use to get back to her.

She was the last thing I thought of as I went under.

There is no darkness by the way. No peaceful fade to black. There's just a complete excising of a period of time. A jarring, faster-than-light hyper-jump. One flash of white and I was in ICU -- choking on a nosebleed and seeing my wife, family and nurses through a fish-eye lense. I was alive though. The operation was a success. They got it -- and got it all.

My few days in the hospital were eye-opening in ways I'll explain at a later time. There are too many intimate intricacies to get into right now.

For the past month I've spent most of my time indoors, hence the creation of this blog as a way to pass the time and keep my mind somewhat active -- although some readers might argue that the amount of brain power I've used here has been negligible. I've seen a lot of doctors in an effort to regulate the hormone levels which the alien egg threw completely out of whack by destroying a good portion of my pituitary gland. My body does things that no one younger than Bea Arthur's lesbian lover can fully understand. I've taken a lot of pills. A lot. I've suffered through three infections which required fluid to be drained from around my eye, two back teeth to be pulled, and my stomach area to be treated for shingles. I've played a lot of games of Black and Hitman: Blood Money (a helpful tip: it's more fun when you just kill everyone in sight).

Which brings me back to the present. I'm not fine. I don't much feel like myself these days, but I never lose sight of how much worse things could've been and could still be right now.

I'll take hot flashes over years of physical and mental therapy any day.

I'm humbled and grateful, and glad to be back at work -- and especially glad that I never had to use those breadcrumbs, although I'll never regret having had them with me.

Come to think of it, I still keep them close to my heart.


theodicy said...

Yeah, all the pain and shit sucks, but damn-it, you're going to LIVE. Eventurally--hard as it to believe right now--the pain is going to be mostly forgotten, and life will go forward. It always does.

I've known far too many folks who had a tumor, and one or two year later, they are now either very FIRM believers in God, or wondering why they are constantly on fire.

Here's hoping for a speedy recovery.

God bless. (Or Ted bless...whatever...)

musashi270 said...

I already liked your attitude, but this is one of the most real posts I have read in a long time. That level of sheer unreasoning terror can only be understood by someone who has been there. Wish you and your wife the best.