By now, I hope you have noticed one common theme in all of my entries – if you haven’t yet, you’ll have to wait until part two of this post for the revelation…
At the age of 8, I began playing the piano and taking lessons. I grew up with the piano that my mother took piano lessons on and which I learned to play. Those of you who know me, you can attest to the fact that when I put my mind to something, I am determined to do it and do it well; it was the same way with my piano lessons.
After returning home from Rhode Island in May of 2008, I began writing an original composition. When I played the song, my parents asked me what it was and I replied that it was a song I was writing but that needed an ending. My family proposed some names and ideas, but none of them were what I was looking for – I needed to brainstorm.
As Stephen touched upon in his toast at my wedding, one day in late August, the doorbell rang and it was our good family friend, Caryl. Sadly I say that I do not recall much else about Caryl’s visit other than me playing the piano for her. But looking back at it, I am beyond grateful she asked. Up to that point, I had not played too much as I grew far too frustrated with myself and my inability to play. But she did not care – she knew I had it in me and just believed in me. With Caryl and Stephen watching and waiting for me to do something, I sat down at the piano and took a deep breath and began to play. I managed to play as much of the song as I had written. I’m sure it was chock full of wrong notes and whatnot, but I had done it. A major accomplishment? No. But an accomplishment for me? Absolutely.
The date was sometime in late August 2008 and things were still going downhill for me. I was making absolutely no progress in my recovery. My ventricles were still clogged from debris where the tumor sat and the hydrocephalus was acting as a crux in my quest to recover. After all, that’s what hydrocephalus is – a condition in which cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) builds up in the ventricles. Thus, the time had come to decide whether we would pursue the implantation of a shunt.
If you’re wondering what a VP shunt is, fret no more. The easiest way that I can describe it is as a device that allows excess CSF built-up inside the skull to drain into the abdomen. One incision is made in the back of the skull to insert the reservoir and valve deep within the brain and then one incision is made in the abdomen to place the drain where the CSF would release. Tubing was implanted under my skin to connect the valve to the drain. So, to connect the dots…when the pressure of CSF builds inside the brain, the valve opens, the excess fluid flows down the drain through my head, into my neck and eventually drains down into my abdomen. Brain juice!Decision Time
Up to this point, my biggest decisions were what I would eat and which couch I would lay on for the day. When it came time to ultimately decide whether to pursue the shunt operation, I made my voice heard. I was yearning to break free. I knew this was my only hope and the best option. However, my parents had some remaining questions….
On the Saturday before Labor Day, I had a call with Dr. Piepmeier. Karen and I were debating back and forth the pros and cons of the potential shunt surgery, which had been whispered about since the initial surgery. The concern was that when Chris was initially admitted to Yale almost 8 weeks ago, he was already suffering from hydrocephalus. This was the most puzzling part of the situation to the medical staff…how was he even functioning? After 6 weeks of rehabilitation, almost no progress was made and the latest MRI showed that the ventricles were blocked and swollen, and the hydrocephalus was still present. Dr. Piepmeier and I then discussed the options, which were: (1) stay on course to see if the healing process would correct the situation or (2) to have the shunt inserted.
We then talked about odds and percentages. After insertion of the shunt, approximately 80% of the patients will see improvement in their cognitive function within 6 months to up to 2 years…15-20% regain total cognitive function within 6 months…and a very small percentage, 1-2%, has an immediate cure overnight.
We also discussed the potential risks. We were advised that there was potential for the development of a blood clot in the brain, swelling in the brain, infections and seizures. In addition, we were also told that there is a risk that the shunt could malfunction at some point and also that the shunt system would need to be replaced once, twice or even three times throughout Chris’ life. But just what if, in a miracle circumstance, Chris was the 1-2% case and the procedure worked without any unintended consequences and aided his recovery process?
I then asked him what I still believe was the right question: “if Chris was his son, would he do the surgery?” His answer was an immediate yes. My vote was now to do the surgery.
With all that I had been through up to this point, I felt that I had nothing to lose. I considered this to be the easiest decision I had been asked to make up to this point. I understood all of the risks and was realistic that even if the procedure went without any issues, it would still be a long road ahead. I knew that it was likely that no results would be seen for quite some time, but I knew my body better than anyone. The flash cards, ABC chart, workbooks full of addition and subtraction problems, the paper we all used in 2nd grade to practice writing in between the lines, etc. were simply not working. But more importantly, I was getting tired of being trapped inside my own body.
It’s Go Time!
On September 8, 2008, I underwent surgery for the implantation of the VP shunt. The surgery was scheduled to take place early in the day which meant prep for the surgery began very early and which also meant I had to begin fasting the night before. As luck would have it, the procedure continually got bumped as other cases had taken priority over mine…I was getting restless…anxious…and extremely hungry. Finally, around 4:30 in the afternoon, I was wheeled into the OR…