A blog about the life of the Balentine family: Adam, Amy, Teddy, Simon, Thomas, Peter and Goldie

Friday, February 10, 2017

What this is like (brain surgery)

It feels like fog is slowly lifting from my mind, allowing me to string together consistent and coherent thoughts.  Slowly weaning myself off of pain meds is assisting my mental clarity as well.  Nine days ago I had a brain surgery called "Chiari Decompression."  My neurosurgeon cut open a 5-inch incision on the back of my head and neck, retracted the opening, and then drilled-out about an inch or inch-and-a-half size piece of skull.  He then reattached the skull and covered the opening, leaving plenty of room for cerebral spinal fluid to flow through the opening between the base of my brain and spinal canal.  The procedure lasted around 4 hours.  I was intubated and catheterized.  And very anesthetized.

Incision 9 days post-surgery
The four nights in the hospital were a bit of a blur.  I was doped up and coming off of anesthesia.  One thing I remember quite clearly was the hours following getting my catheter removed.  I felt like I had to pee, but I just couldn't make it work.  This is apparently fairly common after getting a foley catheter removed.  My nurse came to scan my bladder after Amy told her I was getting agitated and she confirmed that my bladder was 90% full (you typically feel the urge to pee when you're about 40% full).  The nurse gave me a bottle and said, "You can give it a shot, but I'll come back with a straight catheter in about 10 minutes."  Man, I gave it hell for about 8 1/2 minutes with a lot of deep gut-breathing and straining and my 90% full bladder was emptied into that plastic bottle.  Never have I been so proud and miserable.

Cognition, thought-forming, remembering, and normal brain function are no issue whatsoever.  If anything has affected the clarity of my mind it is the pain.  Pain strangles creativity.  Pain turns you inward and all you can see, all you can worry about, is yourself.  Pain steals time and it wounds relationships.  Pain is what got me in this whole mess in the first place.  Now I'm battling the pain of my incision, my head renovation, and the re-adjustment of my body to its new structure.  The only thing that helps mask the pain is narcotics.  And well, narcotics make you drowsy, loopy and constipated.

I've had a few moments that were emotionally significant.  I remember hearing Amy's voice crying out to God in thanksgiving when she saw me in the recovery room post-surgery.  The only time I've ever heard her (or anyone) with such an authentic cry of thanksgiving is when she delivered Simon.  I felt joy and told her, "This is a miracle."

There was another time - just a day or two after we got home - in the shuffle of our boys playing, people talking, and me feeling awful, that I sunk into a moment of deep despair. I felt like a sideshow, a freak, that nobody was listening to.  I was just existing - like a barnacle stuck to a boat.  Nobody made me feel that way, it is just where I was at the moment.  I bit my lip and used my tear retracting technique, staying as silent as a barnacle.

The last very emotional moment that comes to mind is when I was laying in bed and Peter scooted up to the edge of the bed and started whining for me to pick him up, as he so often does.  At just 16-months old, Peter has no idea why I can't pick him up, wrestle him, love on him, and do things we normally do.  I can tell it has been hard on the little guy.  Well, I put both my hands out, directing him to do the same, and he put his hands over his head.  I used my body weight to drag him onto my bed next to me. He let out a small whimper and then laid his head in my armpit.  I rubbed his back while we both laid there silently for about 10 minutes.  This wild little boy - "Bronco," as Teddy has aptly nicknamed him - healed my aching soul as he snuggled up to me and lay motionless, completely contented to be in his Daddy's arms.  There certainly haven't been another 10 minutes in Peter's life up to this point where he hasn't stopped moving - making this moment that much more special.  My heart was filled by this small, sweet act.


I'm so thankful for all of the prayers and encouragement from so many friends and family.  I'll continue to write as I walk this journey.  Hardships and struggles take me deeper, and force me to ask tough questions, and force me to look through a different lense.  My hope is that it might help someone else who is in a similar trial.

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