August 07, 2015
We woke up yesterday at 4:00 am after a few hours sleep. The night was spent working on begeting tasks, which subtract by 2 and add by 10. It’s the impossible list to be accomplished before risking my mind. This ratio holds fast in frustration as well, 1:5 versus satisfaction as the brain storms critical items.
It’s time to go in.
My oldest brother gives me a long hug at the door. It feels too brief. It was basic in form. You cannot add adjectives or the specialization will reduce its reference. It wasn’t happy, sad, enthusiastic, or supportive. It was just love, and purity held its value. We kissed on the lips. I understand why humans kiss on the lips. I was walking off to lose the person I had been, and he had no words for me to fail to remember.
We went to the hospital and did some more tests and prepped for surgery. It is a stress-filled time. I try to project as even-keeled but its impossible not to note the sway from irritated to chatty. My wife and mom are tense.
I can’t stop the minutes from expiring. It seems like we are being rushed away. I’ve had many surgeries but they keep getting harder. With each surgery I have lost the bliss of ignorance, when I spend time thinking how serious the last one was. And here we are again.
As I am wheeled into the surgery room, the anesthesiology staff run through their checks. Its a roll call of trumpeted jargon in drastic contrast to the quiet of the pre-surgery murmurs. A couple of things happen when you are going under general anasthesia: 1. You will retroactively lose your memory. You will forget the period of time from before you entered the surgery room, before the intravenous flow began, until you wake up post-procedure. Through repeated exposure this effect has disappeared. I now remember everything to the point of unconsciousness. 2. You will lose control of your thoughts and words and blurt out subconscious expressions. Experienced staff pay it no mind, they have heard everything. Rookies may take notice and re-tell stories at lunch. I remember my words as the medicine took hold and my consciousness cedes to the roll and pitch.
– Tell my kids I love them
– Tell my wife I love her and please forgive me
– Please give me a second chance
Back in the land of the conscious, an “L” is incised from my left ear, over the void my left eye once dwelled, and ended on top of the right. Brain surgeons have an 8 year residency after medical school. They practice their incisions thousands of times on pig skin and produce, developing a craft to match their knowledge of our mind’s function and form. After peeling back my skin, they had to remove the prosthetic skull installed 6 years ago after I received the largest dosage of medical radiation recorded to date. Radiation is measured in rads, an x-ray is .5 rad, a CT is 3 rads. I received 13,000 rads to my head 6 years ago in an effort to kill the cancer that had grown through my tear duct and into my nervous system. The recent swelling in my brain was the delayed effect of this damage, and had appeared by MRI to have developed its own tumor. Dr. Chandler rolled back our convertible top and began removing sections of brain tissue that have long been dead, deftly avoiding areas which would endanger life and function. This “necrotic tissue” is sent for immediate testing to give the team information to decide how or if there is need to continue.
woke to indecipherable voices. No idea of time or location, but high certainty in purpose: “what’s the outcome?” I said to the person standing near me, speaking garbled words to me. “what’s the outcome?” I repeated.
“Negative is the preliminary, Mr. Schrank, but we have to wait for final results”
I heard her, but the words don’t make any sense yet. I just needed to get the task completed, apparently before I had my wits in order. As my mind unfuzzed, I asked her again, she repeated the same outcome. The room and the nurse and my life resolved: I don’t have brain cancer. I know I know I know, preliminary findings, etc. However, Dr. Chandler does not button up your noggin and exit the room if he is not certain that you are either completely well or thoroughly condemned. It’s the vast uncertainty of the middle 90% of that spectrum that consumes time and produces vague, imprecise, liability controlled outcomes.
I don’t have brain cancer.
This was not on the spectrum of prepared outcomes.
Can you imagine planning your own imminent mortality, only to be granted asylum? Can you imagine the scope of this opportunity? For a month, I made peace with losing my life or cognitive capacity. Each day was torn between maximizing a moment or building future ballasts. Can you imagine setting such a high bar for endeavors to clear, only to receive notice that your impending expiration has been normalized to the standard human rate? I am working hard to habituate these priorities; harness them moving forward.
This extraordinary development was driven by a unique environment, but this environment holds no stake. My own flaws demanded the magnitude of imminent mortality to drive this behavior. You can do all of these things under no threat.
– You can build for the future (actions, not plans) and bask in the peace inherent in stability.
– You can help someone you have hurt to heal, and feel humility when that service repays tenfold.
– You can embrace someone, hug and kiss them, without the dilution of added purpose. Just love.
– We still have surgeries and scans next month for other suspicious areas. We have until then to enjoy this gift. I didn’t earn this. I have no right to this, I had better use it.
So here we are, pulled from the sea and wheeled into recovery; family waiting and chance granted. It is time to live.
This blog was originally published on Life from a Dead Man found here.