Saturday, January 26, 2008

Surgeversary II

Amid all the fun of recovering from last night's drunken poker session and preparing for tomorrow's awesome flight to Europe, I need to take just one minute to mark Surgeversary II -- the first anniversary of my second brain surgery, which was a year ago today.

I've written here before about the first surgery, in November, boasting about how I was Mr. Cool even in the prep room before going under. The second time, not so much.

The docs had determined I needed a second surgery because, two months after the needle biopsy and the seizures that prompted it, they still hadn't been able to determine what was causing the problems ... even whether the masses showing up in MRI scans were in fact tumors. So the plan was to operate in the same area -- cutting along the existing scar on my scalp, in fact -- only this time instead of pushing a needle through a small "burr hole," they would saw through and lift out a triangle of cranium, do another biopsy and, assuming it appeared cancerous, remove as much of the tumor as possible.

As chill and optimistic as I try to be, this didn't sound good to me. I don't know whether it was the reading I had been doing about brain operations, or the not-so-fun experience of recovering from the first one, or just dumb superstition, but I had a bad feeling about the upcoming surgery. That's not like me. Michelle even said just the other day it was the only time she's ever seen me seem superstitious. But I really didn't like my chances all that much.

When we got to Swedish Hospital at the ungodly hour of 4:30 or 5 a.m., whatever it was, we were placed in a small, curtained surgery-prep waiting area, along with a bunch of other people including, I remember, a guy who had been in some kind of horrific logging accident.

While we were waiting, an ancient nun (this was a Catholic hospital) came in and asked if she could pray with me. She was dressed in white, with a deep-wrinkled face and knobby little hands; she looked like she might have been Mother Teresa's mom. I remembered her name for a long time but can't recall it now ... something that fit her looks, like Sister Carlotta. I know a lot of people would take comfort from this. It had the opposite effect on me. I'm already freaked out enough, I thought, without Mother Teresa giving me my last rites.

The good thing about the surgery was that my doctor, Marc Mayberg, inspired much more confidence than the University of Washington dude who did the first one. They determined that the mass was in fact cancerous -- oligodendroglioma -- and removed a large chunk, about the size of a Ping Pong ball, I think, from my right frontal lobe. (I can now testify, firsthand, that the old joke is true: I would rather have a bottle in front of me.) A second, larger tumor in my left temporal lobe -- about the size of a lemon -- was deemed to be inoperable, and that's what we're treating now with chemotherapy.

So, a year ago today at about this time I was out of surgery and in intensive care. The recovery was hard. Although I was pretty out of it, I remember one horrible, painful night in the hospital when I threw up on Michelle (sorry, baby) and really wasn't sure I was going to make it. (The above photo was taken at home, a few days later.)

All of which gruesome details serve, for me, to inspire appreciation for the long way that I've come in the last year and, as I've said before, the incredible love and support of so many people, notably the readers of this dumb blog.

It's hard to believe that exactly a year after my low point of fear and pain I'm packing my bag, along with the amazing partner of a lifetime, for a high point of joy and pleasure.

We'll be thinking of you all in Rome and Paris.


Michelle said...

What a nice post! I think I'm going to put "Partner of a Lifetime" on my next set of business cards.

And re: the vomiting incident, to get a little more precise: Mark tossed his green cookies on my purple running shoes -- well just the right one. A year later, the right shoe still has a slightly different coloring than the left.

freda said...

wow, wonderful post, I am so proud of you both, happy for you both, envious of the wonderful relationship you have, have a wonderful holiday, I know you will. Will be thinking of you and waiting to hear all about it. bon voyage.

mich said...

How appropriate that you're packing for your trip today, one year after such a huge and scary day. I feel bad because I've known this date for the entire past year, but I got busy today and didn't realize this was the anniversary.

What a difference a year makes.

You two have a wonderful trip!

kateco said...

Quelle année, mes amis.

Mais, bon, bon, trés bon voyage. Have the best trip ever. Taste everything. Photograph liberally. Play victoriously. Write it down.

I miss you already.

Love K

Rita said...

Good talking to you tonight, Mark.
Live it up, write it down, and take pictures everywhere you go.

Happy flying.

I'll miss both of you AND the blog.

sandyman said...

Great post . Can't wait to hear about the trip. You all are gonna have so much fun. I'm gonna miss the blog though. There is a great flea market on the northernmost stop of the metro line in Paris- Port de Clingnancourt or something like that. I almost bought a Jules Charet poster but I think it was too cheap to have been real. Who knows? Have a wonderful time....

katie jones said...

What?! Are there no internet cafes in paris? I need a fix of M&M.

Ronelle said...

My thoughts exactly!