Freezing and bright. That is what I remember the operating room being like right before being put out for my surgery to remove my tumor. Sort of reminiscent of an alien abduction – or what I imagine it would be like. I’m not sure which I would prefer – the abduction or the surgery, but I do remember trying not to look around too much in fear that I would see the tools and instrumentation that would be used to rip into my skull and remove the tumor. I was greeted by smiling faces from the doctors and neurosurgeons, giving me reassurances that all was going to be okay. Within minutes of being there, the anesthesiologist was ready to get started and I was instructed to begin counting backwards…
“10, 9, 8” is all I can remember. I was confident going into the operation, but I would be lying if I said I was not scared that I would not wake up, so when I opened my eyes and saw my family by the bed, it was exhilarating. Everyone can relate to that moment where they wake up from a deep sleep and you have someone talking to you, but waking up from anesthesia after nine hours of brain surgery was overwhelming. Despite my joy that I actually woke up, it did not take me long to understand what a hurdle this was going to be.
Within a matter of a month, I had gone from taking law school final exams to trying to string together a coherent sentence in response to the hospital’s favorite question: “are you in any pain?” I felt like responding, “No, no pain at all. I just had my head cracked open and rummaged in. I have tubes and a catheter protruding from my head, but no, no pain.” Normally, I would whip out this sarcastic response in a heartbeat, but even attempting to actually verbalize this response was impossible. I remained confident and did my best to mutter something, anything. My naming (ability to identify people and objects) was intact and my strength was average. However, my speech was minimal and it was clear that I was suffering from hydrocephalus, also known as “water on the brain”, a condition in which the cerebrospinal fluid builds up within the ventricles.
It’s crazy – to me, everything that I said to my family and the doctors at that time made perfect sense to me, but I was later told that what I was saying was not making any sense whatsoever. I can relate a lot to someone who suffers from locked-in-syndrome. But I’ll save that for another day.
On the morning of July 6, 2008, four days after the tumor was removed, my father came to the hospital early in the morning to check in on me, just as he had done the previous three days. One day earlier, the drain that was put in to drain the CSF fluid and the catheter were removed and I was progressing better than expected. The doctors were so pleased with my progress and everything was on schedule for me to go home within a day or two. And to top things off, my uncle came to visit and brought breakfast – yes, Italian pastries. I watched as my father and uncle devoured them. I could only watch.
As I sat in bed reading words that I recognized in the sports section of the newspaper, things suddenly began to deteriorate. I started having trouble conversing and began having severe headaches, nausea and vomiting, and my heart was racing as if it was going to beat out of my chest. The room was spinning and I was sweating bullets. I suddenly could not move the right side of my body. Thoughts were racing through my mind at such an alarming pace that I cannot even begin to spell them out, but I knew something was drastically wrong. I heard my father shouting for the nurses and the sound of the brain activity machine was beeping manically. Within a span of a few minutes, I had lost all of my motors skills and was manifesting the symptoms of a stroke.
At this point, my mom had arrived at the hospital along with my sister and brother. I saw everyone crying and yelling as I lay in the bed with my body seizing and unable to communicate or express myself in any meaningful way to let them know I would be okay. I had only wished I had a way to tell them not to worry, even if I did not believe that myself.
As I was wheeled out of my hospital room, my brother and sister said their goodbyes to me because they were afraid they would never see me again. Both my mom and dad were running down the hall next to my bed as I was wheeled into the OR. Just as we parted ways, my mom gave me a kiss and told me she loved me and my father took my hand, squeezed it and asked me to squeeze his hand if I understood. Pathetically, I squeezed his hand and it was at that moment that we all knew I was going to make it out of this procedure and live to tell this story.