What’s it like to have brain surgery? I’ve never been asked that question directly, but many people I’ve talked with about it have implied the question. I can’t answer that question, because I slept through it. I can tell you the entire experience was much better than I anticipated. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect. My biggest fear going into it was the pain that would follow. Well that, and what if my surgeon tinkered with something he wasn’t supposed to and altered me. That was the most pressing fear and then the pain.
Before the surgery, I was a headachey person. I got them regularly; once a month with my monthly affliction. I also got migraines a few times a year. They were never a red flag that something was wrong because I’ve always been a person who had headaches. I got them regularly when I was pregnant for both my kids, and my doctor explained that many women experience headaches with the change of their hormones on a monthly basis.
“Some women are more sensitive to monthly hormone fluxes, and you’re one of them,” he explained when I called him about a migraine I had when I was four months pregnant with my first child. Adding that the hormone changes in pregnancy are worse than the monthly changes.
Not the answer I wanted to hear as I could only take Tylenol. So, when people ask if I had headaches with my brain tumor, yes; frequent ones. Why didn’t I act on them? Because they’ve been part of me and weren’t a warning.
In light of my history with headaches, that is the symptom I was most worried about following my surgery. I was getting my egg cracked open and I couldn’t imagine a scenario where I didn’t have multiple or constant headaches post-op. Well, I can only call myself immensely blessed because I didn’t have a single headache post-op. In fact, I never took more than Extra Strength Tylenol afterward. I had an ache in my head, but not a headache; if that makes sense. My head would be sore, you know, how it feels after you hit it on the corner of the kitchen cabinet. That type of sore. It was nothing like the searing pain that was one of my regular headaches. For that, I was thankful.
What I struggled with the most afterward was the reality that I had brain surgery. I spent too much time in my head thinking about my head. It was weird to think someone drilled into my head. One of my friends came over and visited me after I got home.
“Hey, you look good. How you feeling?” she asked.
“I’m good. Tired, but I feel pretty good.”
“I think it’s so neat you had brain surgery. Do you think they took a video of your operation? I’d love to see it. Did they offer it to you?” She looked really enthusiastic about the process of seeing my head opened up.
The prospect turned my stomach. That’s something I would never want to see and I quickly changed the subject of our conversation. The idea of seeing me laid out like that was unsettling and I’d never want to see myself like that.
The idea of such an invasive surgery never sat well me and to this day doesn’t. What I have more of an issue with is how my head feels now. I have bumps and little indents up there and I have a permanent plate. I don’t like how it feels and I’ve struggled with it since I felt how different my head was the first day I was able to shampoo post-op. The fear of shampooing that first week quickly gave way to revulsion when I felt the anomalies that were now my new anatomy. I had to process that. I still avoid it as much as I can when I shampoo. It’s all good now, though; it’s different but it’s me. I lived through something extraordinary and I can write about it. Change is a part of living. Sometimes it’s thrust upon sometimes; sometimes we choose it, but it’s always there. How we choose to deal with it is what defines our character.
I wrote this poem last year. It sums up my struggles and coming to grip with the changes.
When Your Head Changes
Your head was Dremeled.
You awoke elated. “I’m alive”
Fingers and toes moved; you could speak. Joyful.
“Pain level?” “Low.” Relief.
“He got it all!” Catharsis.
Medication. Wired from one; exhausted from another. Shredded.
The staples are out; shampoo now. Craters. My head; the surface of the moon.
You felt the plate. Nausea.
“I am Humpty Dumpty.” Repulsion; melancholy.
“What is normal now?” Sob.
Exhaustion. Can’t sleep; you wrote miles of words
You wrote to ease the change.
Days turn to weeks.
You descend from medication.
No brain swelling; stop one.
No seizures; stop another. You slept.
Healing. Time. Come to terms.
The tumor impact will sort itself out. In time. Impatience.
Weeks to months.
Hair grew back. Relief.
It grew from a crater. It can’t be tamed. Menaces.
“Does everyone see it?” Anxiety.
“Cover the craters!” Tears.
Your self is altered. Forever.
I am alive; a new me. An alteration of the former.
My surgery removed a tumor. Dispatched with force.
My surgery saved my life. My surgery changed me.
My head is weird! Smile.
My hair is odd. Cowlicks.
My new crown.