What was I thinking when the Dr. told me, “you’re going to have brain surgery”?

brain surgery

Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash

A year ago I had a procedure called a craniotomy.

What is a craniotomy?  Here’s a short definition:

A craniotomy is the surgical removal of part of the bone from the skull to expose the brain. Specialized tools are used to remove the section of bone called the bone flap. The bone flap is temporarily removed, then replaced after the brain surgery has been done.

Even after reading that previous paragraph it’s still difficult to grasp I had that surgery!

Why did I have a craniotomy?

Dr. Spetzler from Barrow Neurological Spine (who at the time was the #1 brain surgeon in the world – wow – check out this website) performed my craniotomy. I had the surgery to remove a small aneurysm in the front right part of my brain. My dad and mom each had an aneurysm in the same location in their brains and had brain surgery to remove the aneurysms. Upon my dad’s surgery in 2009, his neurosurgeon strongly encouraged my brother, sister and me to get the appropriate tests to discern if we had an aneurysm. And as is turned out, I did have one.

What did I think when I discovered I had to have brain surgery?

I went to meet with Dr. Spetzler and was fully prepared to hear him say, “We’re just going to monitor the aneurysm; there’s nothing we need to do right now.” However, he and his 7th-year neurosurgery resident looked at me soberly and told me it would essentially be medical malpractice for them not to pursue treatment given my parent’s history of aneurysms. Immediately, I quietly voiced to my heart, “Nate, you can handle treatment. No big deal.” So I quickly responded, “Treatment? Such as meds or eating particular foods?” The last part was an attempt at a joke, which I thought might bring some levity to the situation. They both looked at me and said, “There’s only one way to treat an aneurysm: surgery.” Just to be clear, I muttered a response: “Are you telling me that I’m going to have brain surgery?” They quickly and forthrightly said, “Yes.”

Wow. I was stunned.

I have described myself to some close friends as having an uncanny ability to not be emotional about certain circumstances, in particular when something very troubling or serious takes place. It’s not that I don’t care or have compassion; it’s very simple—in those moments, God in His kindness gives me an overwhelming sense of His providence. When they rattled off the words, “You’re going to have brain surgery,” I was dumbfounded. In the minutes that followed, I cried. I was even a little scared. I remembered what my parents went through, and though my circumstances were markedly different than theirs, I knew this was a big deal. For starters, they had caught my aneurysm; it had not ruptured or bled. And the surgery had a proactive posture to it rather than the reactive emergency-type posture my parents’ surgery required.

So, what happened?

Dr. Spetzler was retiring on June 16, so we scheduled the surgery for June 15. In God’s kind providence, I had the #1 brain surgeon in the world. The surgery was supposed to last anywhere from 4-6 hours. My surgery actually lasted 1-½ hours because the specific location of the aneurysm made it easier to reach and clip.

My surgery was on a Thursday morning, and I was discharged Saturday afternoon. Read the description of a craniotomy one more time in the first paragraph above. Then read this sentence again: My surgery was on a Thursday morning and I was discharged Saturday afternoon. Pretty amazing!

How did I feel? What did I look like? What was recovery like?

I felt horrible. I was in constant pain that was made bearable through strong pain meds. What did I look like? Hmm…have you seen the classic movie Goonies? Do you remember the dude named Sloth? Yeah, it wasn’t that bad, but the right side of my head was crazy swollen. It was so mesmerizing that it was hard not to stare at myself in the mirror!

Recovery was much more difficult than I had anticipated. They said 4-6 weeks, and I foolishly thought, “I’ll bounce back in a couple weeks.” I even had the audacity to voice this to friends and family members! Nate, they were going to open your skull! Yeah, I forgot about that.

For almost three weeks I did nothing but sleep intermittently on the couch and watch Blue Bloods and House Hunters. Seriously. Donnie Wahlberg and I became good friends. Sleeping at night was hit or miss as one or all of my prescribed meds wired me. I couldn’t read. I could barely walk from one room to the next without a feeling of complete physical exhaustion. It was difficult to put my thoughts together. And when I attempted to engage in conversation I stuttered like a champ. At one point my sweet bride put her hands on my face and said, “Honey, you’re having a really difficult time talking aren’t you?” When she said that I broke down crying in a way I hadn’t in a long time. Think ugly cry. It was the first time anyone had said it out loud. I honestly thought it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be since no one had spoken about it. In fact, months later several friends who had stopped by to see me during my recovery told me they were worried. Why were they worried? They were concerned due to my inability to speak coherently, my inability to focus and engage in conversation without long, awkward pauses and constant stuttering.

Nate, were there truths or wisdom you learned through this trial? YES! I’ll write on that in the coming week or two. Stay tuned!

4 thoughts on “What was I thinking when the Dr. told me, “you’re going to have brain surgery”?

  1. Love you babe! So thankful for the wisdom of the surgeon’s. Thankful you aren’t walking around with a time bomb in your head.

  2. Pingback: 4 truths I learned from brain surgery – the expert teacher. | Theology Along the Way

  3. Pingback: Flashback Post: What I Learned in the Hospital | Theology Along the Way

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