I am suffering from cabin fever. Sitting home, recovering from a brain tumor is painful. Literally and figuratively speaking. Time seems to move at an unbearably slow pace and you find yourself reaching for painkillers throughout the day. So, I decided to offer-up some tips and advice if you’re gearing up for surgery or are home recovering:
- Take it slow and easy – it takes a long time to feel better. You’re probably thinking “Duh, no kidding.” But if you’re like I was before my first surgery, you may not know what to expect and will find yourself afterwards asking “why me” and “how did this happen?” repeatedly. Over time though, you will feel better and some days will be better than others. Stay patient, stay hungry but do not try to push yourself.
- Your head will most definitely hurt. Though the headaches and feelings of discomfort subside within a few days, you will feel as though your scalp is being pulled in every direction for weeks (or even months – so I hear). This is normal and will get better with time, I swear.
- Speaking of your head and pain – take the prescriptions provided to you. You’ll go home with prescriptions such as painkillers, steroids, acid reflux, not to be gross but digestion problems (thanks anesthesia!) and blood thinners. Between your hospital stay and when you are discharged, you’ll be on more medications than you probably have ever been on but put your fears aside and take them as prescribed.
- Watch out Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire – I’m on steroids too. Okay, so that’s an exaggeration. The steroids you’ll be on won’t turn you into a homerun-slugging monster, but they will make you a raging food-frenzied, sometimes angry monster. After my first craniotomy in 2008, I was prescribed such a high dosage of steroids that I just wanted to eat everything in sight and developed an aggressive personality at times. Yet, the food tastes so good! In a steroid induced rage one night in the hospital, I devoured a dish of pasta carbonara in a matter of minutes and had cheese and pasta hanging off my mouth and down my chin. I imagine it was not the prettiest of sights but I didn’t have to witness it.
- You’re not a fire-breathing dragon. Yes, you read that correctly and here is what I mean. After major surgery, you will wake up feeling as though your throat is on fire and any time you open your mouth, flames will come out. This is just an effect of the breathing tube that is inserted during surgery but within a few days, the feeling will subside.
- Water is good. Once you wake up from the anesthesia, one of the first things you’ll want to do is chug a giant glass of ice-cold water. So long as you’re not water or fluid restricted, your nurse should provide you water. My advice though – take it slow. If you drink that icy-cold water too quickly, you could get nauseous. Heed caution.
- You will probably wake up from surgery with all your memories intact. I was startled by this. However, this depends on where the tumor was and the manner in which your surgeon operated. Due to the location of my tumor and with each my five brain surgeries, I woke up from each feeling no different. A recent study claims that the brain can reboot itself after surgery and the administration of anesthesia. The brain is, simply put, amazing.
- It takes a long time for your nerves to regrow. Let me be honest – when your surgeon drills your skull open, your nerves are severed and the surrounding tissue is damaged. But with time,things will begin to feel “normal” again and you’ll start to feel better. Your life will return to normal and you’ll feel like your old self again.
- Rehabilitation may become your new daily routine. Following my first surgery, I could not talk, form sentences, recite the alphabet, read, tie my shoes, etc. I needed intense rehab and even still, came up short on living. Take it day-by-day and do not expect a whole lot out of yourself, especially at first. Recovery is a process and not an overnight fix.
- Treat every trip out of the place that you’re in like a field trip. Seriously. Whether it was going to the grocery store, the post office, outside to test my arm strength, a restaurant or any other place, I was elated. Last week, Ashley got me out of the house and went to Starbucks! I was psyched. If you’re worried like I am that someone will see your scars and look at you differently, grab a hat or ski cap to cover your head and live! You’ll be happy that you did.
Accomplishing these ten things will not only give you a sense of achievement, but it will also provide you a sense of pride and victory. Recovery can be a dark, lonely place but if you’re able to make the best of the days, you’ll find that it isn’t so bad.