At the time that my shunt was inserted, the doctors cautioned me that I should prepare myself for the day that it would need to be replaced. Little did I know that that day would come just four years later. While nothing in life is certain, nor should anything be taken for granted, the actual expectation was that the shunt would only need to be replaced every 10 years or so.
I’ll admit, I do not profess to understand all of the complexities and technicalities of the brain, though I wish I did. Ever since my diagnosis, I have become fascinated with the brain, how it works and controls every part of the body. I soak in everything I can possibly learn about it. My doctors informed me of the signs and warnings that I should be on the lookout for that would signal a need to replace my shunt: redness or swelling along the path of the shunt, headaches, confusion, memory problems or any other symptom I experienced prior to having the shunt inserted would indicate there could be an infection or malfunction.
Knowing everything I had learned about my shunt made the results from my six-month follow up MRI in September of 2012 surprising. I was feeling great and functioning normally – none of the signs my doctors warned me about were ever present. Low and behold though, diagnostic imaging showed a buildup of cerebro-spinal fluid in the ventricles and a malfunction with the shunt. But why wasn’t I manifesting the symptoms I had previously, such as trouble with my speech, confusion and aphasia? Had I been so entangled with the bar exam that I lost sight of how I was feeling and lost my ability to assess myself? Despite my optimism that all was well, my surgeon decided that it was already time for a shunt revision.
Emotionally, this was a major blow to my recovery process. I had come such a long way in the span of 4 years and now I had to face the prospect of starting all over. I feared that the shunt might not be as effective as the first one or that complications which I did not experience the first time around might arise. I had finally found my groove and was comfortable with my new robotic mind – and now this. Why couldn’t something, just anything, go right for me for a change? But hey, nothing good comes out of complaining. Glad I can find a sense of humor in these things now.
On October 1, 2012, I headed back to Yale. As I was wheeled into the OR and instructed to lie down on the cold metal slab for the surgery, I was again faced with the question of “what if?” But in my head, I knew everything would be okay and I’d be as good as new in no time. Before Ashley and my parents had the chance to enjoy the spread of food that the hospital serves them while I’m having my head drilled open, the surgery was done and I was back in my room sleeping off the anesthesia. Sorry to them all that they were unable to finish their chocolate chip muffins…
This hospital stay was different from my previous stay, however. Rather than being a complete invalid, I was conscious and alert of my surroundings and life around me. Then again though, how could I not be? I was woken up every hour by the nurse and resident neurosurgeon to take my temperature, make sure that I was sleeping, asking me questions such as “do you know what day it is” or “can you tell me where you are?” My favorite one of that night though was “Chris, have you been walking around?” I thought to myself, “seriously, at 4:30 in the morning?” My response: “no doctor, I’m just trying to sleep.” I had returned to my quick and sarcastic self in no time.
I wrote a text message to my parents at 4:30 that morning to share with them the latest updates. I felt like my life had become a daytime soap opera. Rather than General Hospital, I’d call it “Yale-New Haven – Against All Odds”.
How did my life come to this, I wondered. But it did and I have learned to accept it because after all, life is full of adversity and I had learned to readjust the sails to go with the direction of the wind.