Celebrations and frustrations

Last week provided occasions for both relief and renewed anxiety. With surgery now almost a month behind me, I am beginning to absorb the long-term repercussions of the procedure. My surgery followed so quickly after my diagnosis that it left me little time to process what was happening. Now, with a better appreciation of the consequences, I am starting to assess the impact surgery has made upon my sense of self and overall wellbeing. While I’m grateful to be alive, adjusting to life after such a serious procedure is a gradual process involving mixed emotions.

First, the good news. The recently acquired pathology report indicates a Type I meningioma with some troubling irregularities, but nothing too aberrant to warrant a Type II classification. This is excellent news, as Type I tumors are the least likely to recur. All meningiomas can recur, even after complete surgical resection (removal), but Type I’s are statistically less likely to do so. My surgeon believes he achieved a total resection and is confident that my follow-up MRI in three months will show no regrowth.

Also reassuring is my latest CT scan showing no post-surgical complications in the brain. I appear to be healing well, and a nurse removed my 16 staples and many sutures on Wednesday. I’m told that the incision looks good and is rapidly fading. My hair has grown back and has begun to conceal the surgical site.

As the wounds recede, the emotional toil and residual symptoms take prominence. The constant burning, stabbing pain in my arm and hand resulting from improper positioning during the seven-hour procedure drains me physically and emotionally. It is unclear whether I can expect eventual relief as the nerve heals, or if the motor and sensory deficits are permanent.  It will likely take months to learn the long-term prognosis. The prospect of chronic pain frightens me, especially given the limited pharmaceutical resources available for treating neuropathy. I remind myself that it could be so much worse – I retain sufficient hand function to type this blog entry, and while I am operating on little sleep, I am confident I can find a pain-management solution that will permit me to get enough rest. Others suffer worse than I do, and I will eventually adjust.

Besides the physical pain, the cognitive impact of surgery alarms me. I invested four years of my life attending graduate school and have always measured my self-worth in terms of intellectual and artistic achievement. My cognition doesn’t seem directly impaired, thank God, but my expression of ideas is marginally compromised. I speak more slowly now, and occasionally require several attempts to make myself clear. Nothing but my vanity suffers from this minor inconvenience, but suffer it does. I will need to develop other means of expressing wit or cleverness, too, as I lack the swiftness and precision to land jokes as I once could. It will be an adjustment.

I’m also a bit physically deformed. The injury to one of my optical nerves left my right eye wandering and I occasionally appear “googly-eyed.” My glasses do a fair job of concealing the embarrassing disfigurement, and the nerve stands a good chance of healing with time. In the grand scheme of life, this doesn’t matter very much, but it’s one more vexing nuisance to contend with.

If these bothersome issues weren’t enough, I caught a horrible cold. I don’t recommend catching cold whilst recovering from brain surgery – it’s miserable. I look forward to resuming regular walks and continuing my slow recovery. I’m even going back to work on a limited basis. I have so much to be grateful for, most of all you, my supportive friends and family.

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