The Coconut Has Been Cracked

Photo by Tijana Drndarski on Unsplash

Well, I have to say, I am happy to have that behind me!

Thanks so much to everyone who has been sending good wishes, healing vibes, goodies, cards, jokes, and cheers. I never fully understood before this just how vital it is to live with so much love and support.

Today I just want to say, HI! I’m alive! So far the brains seem relatively unscrambled and I am on the mend. It won’t be a deep or philosophical post because, you know. I just had FREAKIN BRAIN SURGERY.

So let’s hit the funny highlights, shall we?

Key lessons learned from brain surgery.

  1. You have to laugh. You just have to keep that sense of humor. And when you are an old lady with her eyeballs spinning in her cracked head, lying in a hospital bed in a baggy blue johnny, just picturing yourself is enough to make you laugh. When you open those blurry eyes and find your old self surrounded by bright and beautiful young nurses and doctors, you damn well better stay humorous.
  2. When they tell you that you will “sleep” through your surgery, believe them. In my case, I was chatting with the nice anesthesiologist(s) and breathing in the little mask. Just as I started to drift off, it seemed to me that about 50 people started yelling my name and shaking me. My reaction, naturally, was perfectly calm and logical. Luckily for the lovely young folks surrounding me in my moment of vulnerability, I was unable to articulate my thoughts. Because this is what I was thinking, “What the FUCK is wrong with you?!! I’m supposed to be unconscious!!!!” For a few seconds, I thought they were calling the whole thing off and I was plenty mad. I have a vague memory of trying to smack one handsome young man in his handsome young face. In reality, I had been “asleep” for 12 hours while they sawed my skull, poked around my nerves, dug out the tumor, and stitched me back up again.
  3. This is not the best weight loss plan, but it works. When you have your vestibular nerve removed (cut? killed? sliced?), every movement of your eyeballs makes you feel sick. Even the thought of your favorite food makes you erp. Ah, the joys of sucking on a piece of ginger all day…….
  4. When the nice nurses tell you to “rest”, do not react. They mean well. They do. It’s just that they are doing their jobs when they wake you up every 14 minutes around the clock in the ICU. They really do need to check your heart rate/temperature/blood pressure/blood sugar/platelets/blood count. You do need to wake up to take your pain meds, blood pressure meds, steroids, laxatives and pepcid to offset the side effects. You get the idea.
  5. Neurosurgery means that every morning for the first few days, you will open your groggy eyes and find yourself surrounded by approximately 125 eager young faces who want to “check your neuro status”. They will ask you very difficult questions like, “What is your name? Where are we? What is the date?” All of this info will be written on the board across from you, and you will have been staring at it endlessly for hours (as it is the one thing that isn’t jumping around). You will answer. They will shine lights in your eyes, ask you to smile, stick out your tongue, raise your eyebrows, make a pucker. They will tell you you’re doing great. Four minutes later, another group (this time for ENT) will go through the same thing only this time they add a tuning fork. Four minutes after that, one of your surgeons will repeat it. And four minutes after that, your other surgeon will have a turn. You are sure to know you name by the time you leave, I promise.
  6. Being deaf in one ear is not all bad, believe me. When you are in an ICU with all the bings, bells, dings, voices, hisses, clicks and bangs, it is a GREAT gift to be able to sleep on your good ear and make it all go away.

Most of all, what I learned from my coconut cracking experience is that I am one very very very lucky woman. The doctors and nurses at Tufts Medical Center in Boston are absolutely amazing. Especially those nurses, who are absolutely tireless as they calm, medicate, clean, soothe, assess, feed and monitor patients. My admiration for each of them is endless.

Now I need some good podcast and movie recommendations. Reading makes me nauseous. And I am supposed to stay relatively still and not lift anything heavier than 5 pounds for 6 weeks.

Pray for my poor, wonderful, supportive husband who has to deal with me!

Trying to be thankful

Dentist with PatientI recently read an article in a woman’s magazine about fostering a more positive attitude.  I was sitting in a clammy waiting room before a  doctor’s appointment when I found the magazine, so I needed the little boost of positivity.  I’m pretty sure that I was gritting my teeth and tapping my foot by the time I turned to the story.

Anyway, the writer talked about having an “attitude of gratitude” and how you should really make it a point to write down three things, every single day, that made you feel grateful. It could be anything, she wrote, anything from a delicious sandwich for lunch to a negative cancer test.  The point was just to open yourself up to the little things in life for which we really should feel grateful, instead of always focusing on the negative.

It struck a chord with me, for sure! Lately I have found myself becoming somewhat mired in the world of negativity, and it seemed like a relatively easy way to pull myself back up into a happier mindset.

So I started a little journal.  Some days are really easy: “The sunrise was absolutely spectacular this morning as I headed into work.  A glorious column of gold and orange rising into the slate blue of the morning sky.”  (I was feeling very literary that particular day).  Or something more prosaic, like this: “Both boys sent me messages today to tell me that they love me.”  Yeah.  Easy!

But yesterday I had a root canal. The whole gratitude thing wasn’t quite so easy yesterday.

First of all, I had a bad reaction to the local anesthesia given before the procedure, so the whole thing took almost 4 hours.  (And this was only visit number one out of three.)

I wasn’t sure I would be able to find my gratitude when I finally got home.

The thing is, I knew before I went in to the office that I have a history of bad reactions to too much novocaine.  The nice endodontist explained to me that local anesthesia contains a high percentage of epinephrine, which no doubt explains my racing heart, sweaty hands and shaking muscles after only one shot.  For a root canal, I had to have four shots in my jaw.  I was shaking so badly after that last one that I looked like a marrionette.  My cell phone rang at one point, while I was waiting for the last shot to take effect; I pulled it out, but my hands were shaking so violently that I couldn’t manage to complete a text message. All I got was ‘blblkkkk’ before I finally gave up and put it back in my pocket. Man, was I ever reacting!!

Speed will never be my drug of choice…..

The doc finally realized that he would have to use a different local anesthetic around the tooth whose canal was being rooted, telling me somewhat curtly that “it might wear off before we are done.”

Say, WHAT? The anesthesia might WEAR OFF?

The fear that followed that comment only added to my tremors, and by the time he was ready to begin the big dig, I was vibrating like a guitar string.

He put my chair back to get me in the proper position.  And by “back”, I mean that my feet were in the air, my head was two inches above the floor, and my hands were engaged in a death grip on the arm rests. Where they shook and vibrated at about 1000 cycles a second.  Sort of in time with the drill that was boring a hole in my skull.  I closed my eyes and tried to breathe deep as my thighs and calves shook and shivered.  What a weird sensation!  I couldn’t tell if I was freezing, scared to death or having a drug reaction.  Or all of the above.

If you have ever had a root canal, you will no doubt be familiar with the “rubber dam”.  This is a device that is designed to isolate the tooth being treated, to make it easier on the doctor who is drilling within a centimeter of your brain.  (For obvious reasons, you don’t want to complain about anything while this drilling is going on.)

In my case, the rubber dam was somewhat disconcerting.  It smelled like a latex balloon, and it stretched so tightly over my entire mouth that I felt like I couldn’t take in a good breath.  This is because….well….because there was a big old piece of rubber over my airway. I actually couldn’t take in a good breath. To make matters worse, that little spit sucking hook thingy was wedged in the corner of my mouth, right under the rubber. I had to concentrate to keep my tongue from being sucked right out into oblivion.

I tried hard to relax, really. I did!  I began to engage in a series of mental exercises designed to distract myself from the shakes, the freezing, the upside down position, the rubber dam covering my entire mouth and the drill digging into my cranium.  I pictured my students, one by one, seeing each sweet face in my mind’s eye. I thought about the births of my babies (OK, now THAT was pain, right? This is nothing!).  I tried to envision my best beach day ever.  I counted backwards from a thousand. I dreamed up new recipes including vodka and limes.

It was all going great for the first couple of hours. Especially if by “great” you mean that I didn’t actually shiver my way out of the dentist chair and onto the floor on my head.  I didn’t feel too much discomfort other than the sensation that my jaw was being dislocated and my right eye was bulging out of its socket.  I kept telling myself, “You’re fine!  This is nothing!  You’re fine….!”

And I was more or less fine.  Until for some reason the doctor decided to readjust the rubber dam.  I don’t know what he actually did because I couldn’t focus on the green piece of latex that was pulled like a drum skin over my lips, which were mashed beyond recognition against my teeth.  I just know that I felt a little stretch and then heard a deep, resonating “twang”! and the rubber was pulled even more tightly over my open mouth.

“OK.  No worries”, I told myself. “It’s cool”.

Then I swallowed.

Instantly, something inside my mouth, some structure or other (tongue? palate? tonsils? what the HELL?) was sucked up to the roof of my mouth where it started to helplessly flap up and down a mile a minute.  I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t stop the suction.

“Brrrrlllllppp!” I pulled with every tongue muscle I possessed, and I managed to unglue whatever the hell it was.  Oh, sweet sassy molassy, I can breathe again!!

The next hour was spent like this: “Don’t swallow, don’t swallow…oh, crap, I feel tooth chips in my throat, I gotta swallow….Brrrrlllllppppp!!”  And I’d wrench whatever it was back down and the whole process would start again.

Breathe.  Swallow. Brrrrlllllpppppp!!!

Breathe.  Swallow. Brrrrlllllpppppp!!!

After the fourth or fifth time it happened, I just couldn’t help myself. I started to laugh.  Head down, mouth open, shaking like a freakin’ leaf, I just started to laugh.  Which made my stomach lurch. Which made the doctor jump a mile and ask, “Are you going to be sick?!” with absolute horror in his voice.

Which made me laugh some more. Brrrllllllpppppp!!!

“Guh, nuh, huhuhuhuh!”  That was me trying to explain my hysteria through a rubber dam, with a spit sucking hook in my mouth.  The more I tried to restrain myself, the more I wanted to laugh. And the more I tried to hold in that laughter, the more my legs shook. Which, of course, made me laugh.

Luckily for me, the doctor in question has an amazing sense of focus. He never wavered as he bored holes in my jaw bone, dug out the canals and jammed a bunch of packing peanuts into the empty spaces. I managed to keep on breathing and to restrain the giggles and the swallows long enough for him to finish the job.

Unfortunately, the procedure lasted a bit longer than the anesthesia, so the last twenty minutes were way less fun than eating a frosted brownie, but what the hell.

At least on the way home I found my three reasons to be grateful.

1) I didn’t inhale the rubber dam and block my lungs forever

2) I managed to dig my nails into the arm rests, so I didn’t slide out of that damn chair

3) You just have to be grateful for a good belly laugh, no matter how inconveniently timed.