The Big Lump on my Head

As far as I know, today marks the two year anniversary of my second surgery. I don’t remember if they came in and did the usual morning routine of making sure I knew my name, age and location. In fact, I can’t seem to put my finger on a single memory of that day even though I have several memories of the day of the first, much more invasive surgery.  Maybe I was so mentally gone by May 22nd that there wasn’t enough consciousness there to hold onto an impression.

Compared to my skull-splitting craniotomy, this was a relatively minor procedure. Rock star neurosurgeon was going to place a shunt to finally drain the hydrocephalus caused by the tumor. I don’t remember being medicated. I don’t remember saying goodbye to my children or to Matt. I assume my eldest was still plodding his way though the endless last days of school. I don’t know where the younger two were. So many moms from the moms’ group took their turn with the younger two kids. I know Matt spent the second surgery, like he did the first, in the hospital chapel, praying the Rosary.

The cerebral shunt is on the left side of my head. In a week or two, I will post a picture of me in the Rehab unit, where it is clearly visible, but I am smiling and clearly “with it” in that picture and, judging by the fact that I have absolutely no memory of this entire day, I’m guessing that on May 22nd I was not “with it.”

My shunt is one of many constant reminders of this experience.  I feel the bump every time I touch my head and can’t sleep on my left side anymore. Wearing a headband can be uncomfortable. I was never much of a headband person, but growing back from bald leads you to embrace hair styling options that you might not have considered before and now I wear headbands frequently despite the discomfort.

A tube runs from the shunt down my neck into my chest and, ultimately, empties into my abdominal cavity. I can feel it at my neck. My dentist noticed it yesterday as he was inspecting my jaw (dental exams aggravate my TMJ, which has nothing to do with this experience) and he was fascinated. “Look, have you felt her shunt?” he said to the hygienist. He also made me take a massive dose of antibiotics after my exam because, apparently, having any kind of an implant puts you at risk for an infection after a dental cleaning. I get to do this every time I go to the dentist for the rest of my life. Awesome.

Matt is freaked out by the tubes from my shunt and won’t massage my neck or left shoulder anymore because he’s afraid he’ll break it or block it or something. I keep telling him that it runs down my front, not my back as I can follow it down my neck and over my collar bone. I can feel it emerge below my left ribs behind the skin of my stomach, where the tube must end. Along with the multitude of staples in my head, I also had an odd assortment of staples in my belly button, reminiscent of the navel ring I sported from 1998-2004.

I don’t remember waking up from the surgery. As far as I know there was no panic, no desperation like the first surgery. Everything went as it was supposed to. They took me back to the Neuro-ICU, hoping that I would wake up much improved, so that they could get onto the business of getting me out of the ICU and into Rehab.

It worked. After two weeks of the void, I started to “wake up” on May 23rd. No more hallucinations. No more people who weren’t really themselves. It was just me and the quiet reality of a ravaged body that was no longer my own, that I would have to spend the next month learning how to use again.



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