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‚Äôs 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.

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