Monthly Archives: May 2012

Sometimes it Really IS Brain Surgery

Brain surgery is not very amusing.  It does have its moments, though, like when the CAT scan image of your brain looks like Daffy Duck’s face.  Then you realize someone will be cutting through your skull.  By “cut” I mean “ROTARY BONE SAW”, and by “skull” I mean “THE HELL YOU SAY!

I was the caregiver in charge of Daffy’s brain surgery to remove a tumor on her brain near her left ear.  A brain surgery caregiver does many things like researching brain tumors, helping to select surgeons, studying YouTube brain surgery videos in case the surgical team is shorthanded and you’re asked to help, and sending text messages to friends and family during the operation (“Hour 4: nurse says the team is a bit peckish, but otherwise doing fine.  Will resume after dinner.”).

In brain surgery there are almost always complications; for example, sometimes your cell phone doesn’t get coverage in the waiting room.  Daffy developed a spinal fluid leak.  We didn’t notice it for six weeks after surgery, and we figured it was just normal urine leakage that happens when you get older.  But no, the docs said it was brain fluid and scolded us for not noticing it was coming out of her nose instead of her…well…kidney areas.  Another surgery was immediately performed because the doc had his tools in his pocket.  This time they chased the leak path, which meandered around her inner ear, created a waterfall at the end of the eustachian tube, and finally ended in a warm pool near the hippocampus, where many small medical students were studying for anatomy finals in the courtyard.

Recovery from the second surgery took a few more days in the hospital.  Finally, Daffy was proclaimed cured and was readied for discharge when I—Super Caregiver— said, “Maybe we should make sure there’s still no brain fluid leak?”  That seemed reasonable to everyone, particular the janitors who have to mop the stuff up, so a new difficult and expensive procedure was devised in which Daffy had to bend over, and then everyone watched brain fluid drip out her nose into a bucket.

Doctors flooded into the room and planned a third surgery.  One said, “This time we should cut a bigger hole in front of her ear and dam the brain fluid at the source near the temporal lobe, hee hee.”  A second surgeon disagreed, “No, let’s go back through the first hole and use beeswax.  That stuff’s really sticky.”  The third surgeon said, “Somebody was sleeping in my patient’s hospital bed, and look!  She’s still there!”  Which was quickly followed by, “Let’s just sew her eustachian tube shut so the fluid can’t get out her nose!”  Relieved that we had not thought of such a stupid idea, we quickly agreed to the procedure.

During the recovery from the first two surgeries, every few hours of every day nurses came in to do various tests and measurements (not including checking for brain fluid leaks, which is left to the janitor).  On each visit, many questions are asked:  What’s your name?  What’s your birthday?  Where are you?  What year is it?   Eventually, every time Daffy saw a nurse, she preemptively yelled,


Daffy’s hearing had been damaged during the first surgery.  When she was waiting outside the operating room to be wheeled in for her last surgery, a nurse came by to make sure he knew which side of Daffy’s head was to be operated on.  He asked, “What ear is it?”   Mishearing, Daffy blasted away at the poor guy, “TWO THOUSAND ELEVEN!!!!”  We had a good laugh as I pointed out all the stitches and shaved hair on the left side as being a pretty good indication of where to operate.

Recovery from the third surgery was the worst of all.  It wasn’t fun for Daffy either. She was hooked to many tubes and for 10 days they had to keep her brain fluid a quart low to promote healing.  This is dangerous because of the risk of infection and tripping hazards.  Finally on discharge day they did one last test.  Daffy had to hold her breath, pressurize her brain and do her best to get fluid to leak from somewhere.  Imagine our happiness to discover there were no brain fluid leaks!  As we were leaving, though, we heard the janitor loudly wondering how so much pee got all over the walls.