Today, a friend of mine is having surgery to remove a brain tumor. We talked about it a little bit last year, not long after my surgery. His doctors were able to confirm right away that his tumor wasn’t cancerous (which is all kinds of YES), but in the last few months, it started growing at a rather unpleasant rate, so they elected to pull that sucker out. 

I meant to write this post a while ago for him, about what he could expect after his surgery. But instead I’m writing it right now, which means that he’s going to read it after his surgery, and really, what good is that going to do him?

“Here’s what you can expect … from the experience that you are going through right now!”

Oh, well. Better late than never. And who knows … maybe some other fool with a hole in their head can benefit from my “wisdom.”

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Hey Dingus!

(Do you see how I am being affectionately mean to you? That’s just my way of letting you know that everything will be okay. I could have opened with a “Hello, My Dear Friend” or some b.s. like that, at which point you’d know that you were in some deep shit. But you aren’t. Your brain is going to be just fine. Not sure the same can be said of your haircut. ZING!)

If you are reading this, congratulations! You’ve pulled yourself together enough to get on the internet. That alone is a pretty huge step; it took me nearly a week before I could find my computer, and then another week before I could actually write something coherent (if you can call what I write coherent, that is). I’d start composing an email or a post, and then forget was I was talking about after half a sentence.

HELLO? Are you still awake? It’s cool if you dozed off. That happened to me a lot.

Anywho, I figured I’d share with you some of the things I noticed after I had brain surgery – things that struck me as weird or unusual. I spent a lot of time online trying to see if my experience was normal. I found that there wasn’t a lot of information out there, so I don’t really know.

You might relate to a lot of this stuff. Or you might think that I’m off my nugget. Either way, I wrote this post for you, dorkface, and I hope that you feel better very, very soon.

Here’s what you expect after brain surgery (according to me, at least):

  1. It takes a long time to recover. I know that probably sounds obvious, but this point took a long time to sink in. I got really impatient with myself. I kept wondering, after just a week, when I’d start to feel like myself again. At two weeks, I started to panic. In the end, it took months – months! – before I felt normal. It’s been more than a year now, and guess what? Things still aren’t exactly where they should be. And that’s okay. Healing takes time. Be patient with yourself.
  2. You will be stoned out of your gourd. I was loopy from the medicine, and slept for days. DAYS. I could barely stay conscious for more than  a few hours, but I kept fighting it, which was dumb. Just sleep it off. You’ve earned your rest.
  3. You will have the attention span of a goldfish (because of the aforementioned medicine). TV shows will be really difficult to follow, and reading books or email will be absolutely impossible. Even the plots of movies you’ve already seen will be absurdly confusing. Have you tried watching Adventure Time? The episodes are only 11 minutes long, and they don’t really make sense anyway, so you might want to check them out.
  4. It might hurt. A lot. This should probably fall right into the “obvious” pile, but I did not anticipate this. The thing is, getting your head drilled actually causes pain. People will tell you that the brain doesn’t have any nerve endings, but your scalp and your skin do. Now is not the time to wait it out or to be tough. Because you could end up with a headache that lasts for – I kid you not – days. Take your damn painkillers. You can be macho at a more appropriate time, like at the grocery store or your child’s birthday party. (Also, if you start feeling really badly, or if cerebral fluid starts leaking out your nose or ears, call your doctor IMMEDIATELY).
  5. Nerves take a long time to regrow. When your surgeon cut into your skull, they also cut into a lot of tissue and nerve. Over the next few months, as these grow and heal, they’re going to be crazy sensitive. Every time I shivered, it felt like it reverberated straight across my skull and down into my brain. I’ve found that the best way to calm things down was to gently press a hand onto my head. Just a bit of pressure helped soothe my nerve endings. Also, consider wearing hats to ward away chills.
  6. Your senses might reset. Rand told me about this, and it still amazes me: whenever the brain is touched or traumatized, your senses are affected. In my case, I noticed that my already strong sense of smell (this nose ain’t for show, buddy) was now basically super-human. I could smell things that hadn’t happened yet. I also became acutely aware of the sound of my own voice, which sounded strange and foreign to me. Sometimes it still does. Things normalize after a few months, and I’ve got to admit: this is one of the cooler after-effects of brain surgery.
  7. You ain’t gonna poop for like, a week. The lower intestine is the last thing to wake up after major surgery. So take all those stool softeners the docs are giving you, okay?
  8. Steroids can you turn into a hormonal, rage-filled beast. The good news: they stop your brain from swelling, so you don’t die. The bad news: they transform you into the Hulk. But with acne. And a huge desire to eat everything in your fridge. Here’s a tip: try eating lots of lean protein and veggies, and accept that you might gain some weight, anyway. Be responsible, but don’t try to limit your caloric intake or diet (I can’t remember why – but I think it actually has a negative effect on muscle mass). Remember: it’s not permanent. You’re feeling weird because of the medicine, not because you’ve become Phinneas Gage or something.
  9. Scar tissue is a bitch. Check with your doctor on this one, but after you’ve healed completely, consider massaging the site of your incision to help break up the scar tissue that forms around it (I think that you, like me, will have a hole in your skull as opposed to a metal plate. So, please, be gentle). A little bit of scar tissue protects your skull, but if you have a lot (like I have) you might feel an uncomfortable pulling across your scalp. Do be careful: even now, a year later, I get headaches if massage my suture spot too much.
  10. Your head is going to look like a medieval dungeon. There’s the matted blood in your hair, and the weird jelly they put on your head, and the metal staples holding it all together and … ugh. Oh, and you’ll have weird scabs on your scalp, as well as some bruising. As gnarly as all that sounds, it is, apparently, normal.
  11. Obviously, this goes without saying, but you shouldn’t pick at anything.
  12. Your throat is gonna hurt like hell from the breathing tube.
  13. You are going to wake up crazy thirsty from the anesthesia, and no one is going to give you water, because they are concerned you are going to throw it up. So instead, you get to much on ice chips in an attempt to quench your crazy thirst. And then you will probably throw up anyway.
  14. Do you speak more than one language? I’m pretty sure you speak French. Anyway, you might get confused as to which language you are speaking, and to whom. I did that – kept talking to Rand in Italian, and getting mad when he said, “Baby, I can’t understand you.”
  15. Get someone to do your laundry. It’s amazing how quickly you will go through every single pair of pjs you have when you are wearing them non-stop. Ditto for pillowcases, which you will need to change nightly. And towels. You will basically amass a military barracks’ worth of soiled clothing and linens, but you will be too out of it to remember how to work your washing machine. Ask someone for help.
  16. Actually, for that matter, get someone to take care of you. Swallow your pride, and rely on other people. You will be in a daze. Making yourself food, getting dressed, washing your hair, are all going to be impossible without help. I was 31 when I had brain surgery. I can’t remember ever needing my mother more.
  17. People in your life are going to react to this in different ways. The crazy thing is, you won’t be able to predict who’s going to do what. Some of them are going to be amazing. They will come to the hospital and visit you and send you chocolate-covered fruit and call you to see how you are doing. They will stop by your house with food and presents and if they are grossed out by your head, they won’t show it. And some folks … well, some of them will drop off the face of the planet. They’ll say or do weird and insensitive things. They’ll dismiss what you’ve been through. It may hurt your feelings, it may be infuriating, it might just confuse the hell out of you. Whatever the case, try to go easy on them, okay? Some people are just bad in a crisis. Besides, you’ve got bigger things to worry about.
  18. Friends are going to look to you for cues on how to act. If you don’t want to talk about it, they won’t ask. If you are really open, they’ll be receptive to what you have to say. Decide how you want to deal with this thing, and you’ll find that everyone else will likely fall into step.
  19. The entire experience will be weird and surreal. My surgery was more than a year ago, and I still haven’t completely wrapped my head (heh) around what happened. Things seem to fall into two categories: “before my brain surgery” and “after.” That’s just how it is. It’s a weird thing.
  20. For a very brief window of time, everything in your life is going to make sense. The petty things that bug you will fall away, and you’ll just be really grateful to be alive. Enjoy that feeling for as long as you can.

That’s about all I have for right now (if more things come up, I’ll add them). In the meantime, I hope you are feeling better, buddy. And welcome to the club.

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