Surviving is more than your heart beating in your chest, the breath in your lungs and a functioning brain. It means choosing to see beauty through ugliness, and finding hope on the bad days. It also means allowing yourself to acknowledge that not every moment can be perfect; the bad days are inevitable.
Brain surgery is hard. It’s tough on the person having their skull removed, and for the person in the waiting room. My husband, Josh, and I have learned to lean on each other; when I am weak, he is strong for us both; and when he struggles, I hold us up.
A few weeks after surgery, Josh told me, “everything they do to you, I’m doing to me.” That day, he had a replica of my incision tattooed on his own head.
When he was done, he came home and proudly showed me his tattoo, still covered in plastic and red from irritation. He said, “Now I have an idea of what you feel like all the time.”
What an honor it is to be loved by someone like that. His compassion filled me with purpose during some of the toughest days of my life.
Most people don’t know it takes several weeks for anesthesia to really wear off after a major surgery like that. Once the anesthesia fully left my system, my body realized something was seriously wrong. My lymph nodes were swollen, I ran low grade fevers all the time, and pain radiated from my incision. I couldn’t even turn my head from side to side because the pain would shoot up toward my incision, and crawl down my neck. There were many days that I couldn’t even get out of bed.
I was re-hospitalized three weeks after surgery, and misdiagnosed with Shingles. There was no other explanation as the CAT scan showed no sign of infection, and I didn’t have any traditional signs of infection (redness, or high fever).
I had never had brain surgery before, and after the doctor sent me home, I thought maybe that kind of pain was normal after a craniotomy. Maybe I just needed to be patient and get used to it. So I tried.
I tried for eighty two days after surgery to ‘get used to it.’ I went back to work, began cooking for my family again, went to a wedding, took our boys to the Punkin Chunkin festival, watched them ride bikes down our street, and even drank a glass of wine with a couple good friends (doctor approved).
No matter how much pretending I did, or how seemingly ‘normal’ I appeared to look, I knew that something just wasn’t right. I’ve always believed in trusting your instincts, and I finally decided to trust mine; I saw my neurosurgeon after discovering a swollen welt near my incision.
I’m including a photo because if you’re a fellow NF2’er, or have ever had brain surgery, I want you to get to your surgeon if you ever experience this;
During that visit, my surgeon asked if I was comfortable undergoing another surgery to “explore the area.”
My first reaction was, “hell no.” Were there any other options? I was terrified of going into the Operating Room again, knowing what could happen, and how tough recovery is.
But, then I remembered a little deal that I had made with God; when I prayed for my children not to have NF2, I had said over and over and over that I would graciously have a thousand tumors and surgeries if it meant my kids didn’t have to have one. I held up my end of the bargain, and my second surgery was scheduled.
Later, we would learn that hesitation or delay could have cost me my life.
This time, with surgery just one day away, I didn’t have time to go on a nice weekend getaway with Josh, or take our boys to do fun things before surgery. I had just enough time to call my family, pack a bag for the hospital, and make arrangements for our kids (I seriously have the best mom-in-law ever).
The morning of surgery, just 2 days before my 32nd birthday, Josh and I took our boys to school and did our best to pretend it was just like any other day. My surgeon had told us that he wasn’t 100% sure what to expect on the day of surgery; we had been told to prepare for a 15 minute outpatient procedure, but knew it could be longer depending on how things went. We decided to think positively, and didn’t want to scare our kids, so we told them that I just had a doctor appointment. I squeezed them tight, kissed their faces, and then Josh and I headed straight to the hospital.
This time, when my IVs were inserted, and my surgeon came in to sign his initials on the right side of my forehead, it felt a bit like deja vu. He discussed the risks with us again, introduced us to an anesthesiologist again, I signed the paper on the clipboard again, and then it was time to go. Josh and I prayed with our good friend, and then we kissed goodbye.
This time, when the mask was put over my face, I welcomed sleep, thinking I would wake again in a mere 15 minutes. I was wrong.
Sometimes, surviving is hard, but it is always worth it.
This is my story, and it is not over yet.