Alive and kicking

Five months ago I walked into U-Hospital for what I assumed to be a straightforward craniotomy to remove the 8-centimeter tumor wedged atop the left side of my brain. I blame the massive meningioma — which, my surgeon explained matter-of-factly, had been in my head for years — for my simplemindedness about the risks. Add it to the list of things I have misjudged. Mistakes? I’ve had a few.

I still laugh at my own jokes when I can remember the punchlines.

Brain surgery ain’t rocket science, but it is brain surgery, and it can be tricky. A pre-op procedure revealed that my internal carotid artery, which supplies blood to the brain, was 90% occluded — likely a congenital irregularity — making the surgery significantly more complicated. During the 12 hours I was on the table I lost 4 liters of blood (the average human has five). My surgeon told me weeks later that I was fortunate to survive. That I was able to walk out of U-Hospital 15 days later, with my wife, Danielle, by my side — as she has been throughout this ordeal — is testament to her love and encouragement, and to the quality of care I received from my Michigan Medicine team. It also speaks to my privilege of having first-class health insurance, provided by Danielle’s employer, and to living within walking distance to one of the world’s best hospitals. Hurrah for the Yellow and Blue!

I’m not out of the woods yet. Meningiomas are typically benign but do their damage by pressing against the brain over time, which can effect cognition, movement, and speech. Most meningiomas also return, the only question is when, and to what degree. My brain continues to have swelling — not unexpected after such a trauma, my doctors tell me — and they remain hopeful that it will subside with time. My right shoulder, arm, and hand bore the brunt of the damage. Full recovery of their functionality remains uncertain. I wrote this piece left-handed, which is frustrating, and something former newspaper bosses regularly accused me of when I was on deadline. My cognition is mostly fine, and I still laugh at my own jokes when I can remember the punchlines. My ability to spell complex words — carefully honed during a lengthy career as a copy editor and journalist — is a struggle. My speech on good days sounds somewhere between Hugh Grant and Alex Trebek; on bad days, like the lazy-tongued Michigander I am, after having had one too many bottles of Stroh’s.

I am a lucky man, this I know. Although my world has shrunk for the moment, as it has for so many during this awful pandemic, I am focused on what I can control and what I cannot. I have people in my life who love and need me. I am grateful for that. And I am happy.

Growing up, a favorite aunt used to playfully chide me when she questioned my decision making. “You should have your head examined!” What I wouldn’t give to tell her she was right.

Night before surgery.
A moment of weakness.
Heading home.

21 thoughts on “Alive and kicking

  1. Emily Everett says:

    I wasn’t planning to cry this afternoon but you changed all that. I am thrilled to read this. And tempted to say that I, too, have a hard time spelling big words but I don’t want to minimize what you’ve been through. You sound just like the guy I sat next to at the Freep all those years and walked the line with. Billdog is back and I couldn’t be happier! Look forward to seeing you one of these days and meeting the wonder Danielle in person. Love and happy holidays to you both ❤️💚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kate DeSmet says:

    What a story, Bill … grateful to see this happy turn to it. Made me LOL: “…wrote this piece left-handed, which is frustrating, and something former newspaper bosses regularly accused me of when I was on deadline.” haha…humor intact; brilliant sign of recovery…With more healing you’ll get even more hilarious — a side-effect when the brain has had some time to let go of non-essential bs. Kudos to your mate for all her support & love for you through this too…Thanks for sharing your experience with us; very kind of you, Bill…sending you healing vibes & smiles from here. Carry on with your fabulous self … Go Blue, Go Bill! 💙

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sue Chevalier says:

    What an experience, and what a year to go through it. I’m glad you’re recovering well and your sense of humor is intact. Your gratitude is an inspiration. Best wishes for continued recovery and good cheer.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Audrey McKenna says:

    Brother, I’m so sorry for everything you and the indomitable Danielle have been through. I’m taking this all in, and your perfect writing makes it so visceral, but I’m processing it so slowly. My heavens, Bill. I’m so thankful you’re on the mend. There are a lot of people in your corner (including me). I wish you both – all good things.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Douglas Benjamin Levy says:

    Willy – You have Bobby Mitchell to thank for this reply because he shared with Sparky and Joey and I the link to “Alive and Kicking.” I cannot read anything about someone I know, or tangentially know, without having a comment. Thankfully (for me) I can reply in an attempt to my express my feelings of optimism and good cheer. Thank goodness you are on the mend and that you have such a strong support system to help you through this challenge. Think of it this way, you will be that much more interesting when we meet in heaven (Ann Arbor) to celebrate Sparky’s 61st or 62nd birthday. And, as Bobby commented, and Joey agrees: “Danielle is a total babe! How did that happen?” GO BLUE. Sparky is the greatest! — Douglas B. Levy, LS&A ’85 [just in case my little photo does not come up when I click send], and a fan of great writing and better friendship.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Darin McKeever says:

    Bill – I’m so glad you got such good care and support, from the medical professionals and all the friends and family who love & need you. Sending continued strength to you & Danielle and best wishes for a full & speedy recovery.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. AJ Hartley says:

    We rejoice in your continued recovery, Bill. 2020 will forever be noteworthy (and infamous) for all sorts of reasons depending on how people feel about life, love, politics, race, liberty and facts. But I doubt that many Top 10 lists will have “married a saint” and “survived brain surgery.” So glad you’re alive and kicking. See you for real in 2021.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Conan Smith says:

    This last week of 2020 needed some good news, and this post cheers my heart, Bill. I am so glad your recovery is going well. My aunt Nancy suffered some severe aphasia following a stroke and while it’s sometimes a struggle for her with come up with the right words, we do have a bit of fun searching for them together. The benefit of a literary mind is that you’ve got a much larger vocab to draw from than most! My advice: next time you’re trying to come up with “lackadaisical”, try describing your former local politicians until it comes to you. 😉 Good health and a great New Year to you both!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Carolyn Bloodworth says:

    I am so grateful you’re able to maintain your sense of humor – and that you’ve had terrific care at home and at the U. Thinking of you as you face this journey — wishing you well and a whole lot less drama in 2021!! Take care!!

    Liked by 1 person

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