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Recovering @ home January 24, 2010

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My head was sliced, drilled and sawed open on the 20th between 2:30 and 7:30pm on the 20th. I was back at home recovering 48 hours later. Through an amazing combination of fortunate events, luck, divine intervention etc.. I can say that I survived my first (and hopefully only ever) craniotomy for excision of my 4cm meningioma. Dr. Q said that the surgery was a success, and that it’s about 100% resected (about 100% of total removal)

Pretty amazingly, the only painkillers I’m on are Tylenol 650 mg! I’m on steroids also (not the Mark MacGuire kind), to keep my brain swelling down (so my head doesn’t explode).  There’s a lot of swelling near my eyes because of fluid drainage from the surgical site, and just a mild headache behind my eyes.

I can honestly say that I don’t feel half as bad as I thought I would have coming out of this procedure. Would I do it again? HELL TO THE NO! :-), but I can offer some words of confidence to those about to go through this. Just get yourself to a damn good hospital. INTERVIEW your doctors.. the whole damn team. Make sure you’re comfortable and know what to expect when you’re going in. Get lots of rest, and don’t try to do too much soon afterward. I actually came out of surgery making jokes!

Well, time to rest up again.. but I figured I’d I share some appropriate PVD tracks with you that are helping me recover. Enjoy!

Day 0 January 20, 2010

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Time to go. I’ll be back on after I recover! Thanks! Hugs kisses and daps!

‘Twas the night before surgery January 19, 2010

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It’s noisy up in here. Kids are yelling and singing, I have family and friends visiting. I just had my pre-op MRI done today. They just marked up my head. They put these little soft white washers on key locations on my head prior to MRI imaging. Dr. Q is using image-guided surgery tomorrow, so the “life-savers” that are on my head are essentially a coordinate system for the surgeon. He will have my MRI’s available during surgery, and the life savers on my head will serve as reference points. I had gadolinium injected in my bloodstream to provide MRI contrast. I had a mild reaction to it. I produced extra saliva, and I felt some pressure in my throat. It eventually went away though, so I’m cool.

Anyhow, here are the mugshots. Enjoy!

Day -1 January 19, 2010

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I’m just astounded by and humbled at the love and support everyone has shown for me.  Folks have come out of the woodwork and expressed their offers of prayer to help me through this.

Ella just shaved my head.  I get a pre-op MRI today (technically tomorrow) where they check on the tumor and start marking up my head where they plan to make the incisions. The’re doing a bicornial incision and a bifrontal excision – which means they slice my head with a scalpel just behind my hairline to pull my face down and expose my forehead skull. Then they drill bore holes in my skull and use some sort of surgical hacksaw to cut out a bone flap. I’m guessing the flap will be about 4-5 inches across so they can gain access to the thing.

All I know is that those drugs they use to put me out better work!!

Expected recovery time January 17, 2010

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I should be in the ICU for 1 day, recovery for about 3 to 5 days and then it’s rest at home for as long as possible. They say that I can be on my feet again in about a month, but I’m taking off of work and school for two months just to be safe.

Some of the things I should expect after surgery include headaches, seizures (they’ll give me drugs for it), lapses in concentration, and extreme fatigue.

Day -3 January 17, 2010

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So I just posted my tumor status to my Facebook. I planned on doing this all along, since April, but I wanted to wait until surgery was closer and I had some time to actually sit down and write this. Just within 6 hours we’ve gotten an outpouring of love, prayers and support from a variety of friends and family. I just want to humbly thank all of you for thinking about me and keeping me in your prayers. I love all of you.

I finally updated my MRI Images pages. Every time I look at my MRIs I can’t help but think to myself that I should be dead. An object this big  invading my brain, making space for itself between both halves of it should not allow me to live. I shouldn’t be able to write this blog. I should be slumped over drooling at best and definitely not in the middle of a PhD right now.  I’m not much of a religious person, but I’m definitely a believer in God, in higher purpose and the fact that God is the supreme engineer of everything. The fact that I’m alive and well right now tells me that somehow God’s made my brain resilient to this tumor, and that there’s definitely a reason why I’m here.

The other thing is that within the last few months, a new co-worker of mine, also a survivor of a more serious brain surgery has become a good friend. He’s coached me and has given me confidence to move forward with this thing. He is thoughtful enough to poke his head in my office every now and then, just to check up on how I’m doing psychologically. He’s been a huge help – answering my many questions and helping me cope with the fact that I’m going through this traumatic surgery. The fact that he’s in my life right now is no accident. If one is a scientist and accepts the laws of probability, then at some point, this kind coincidence fails to make sense mathematically and there has to be a simpler, more spiritual reason why this coincidence happened. I accept both – the laws of mathematics and the spiritual stuff that as a human race, we’re still struggling to figure out.

One week before surgery January 13, 2010

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Since I found the tumor in April, I’ve been taking it easy, going about work and school like normal. I’ve been at the gym, playing basketball and having fun. But at my third follow up with Dr. Q we found that the tumor grew a few millimeters in diameter. I measured 0.5cm myself on my own MRI data, he measured a few mm. Either way, we were both convinced that it grew. I also saw it start to compress a major artery, so I’m convinced that things may get worse if I leave it in.

I’m ready to get this surgery over with. After seeing many other blogs of the surgery, pictures, video of craniotomies and research on all other things meningioma related, I’m ready to get this done. I think I’ve gotten myself settled with the fact that the surgery is pretty barbaric on the surface, but it’s the best technology we have to do it.

Choosing a doctor January 13, 2010

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Choosing a doctor to perform the surgery wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be. A good friend of mine who’s an anesthesiologist told me that neurosurgeons go though such rigorous training and selection processes, that statistically I’d be hard pressed to find a bad one. But I still did my homework and narrowed my choices to Dr. Arabi at Baltimore Shock Trauma, the head of neurosurgery there, or Dr. Alfredo Quinones Hinojosa from Johns Hopkins Bayview. I chose Dr. Q, after a friend recommended him and because Dr. Arabi gave me the impression that he didn’t care much whether or not he did the surgery on me. I’d probably get delegated to one of his team members. On the other hand, Dr. Q struck me as caring and passionate about taking out brain tumors. Instantly I knew that he is the one I’d trust opening up my head and working near my brain. He made a couple of important points –

1. That he would be the first human to touch such a critical area that was never meant to be opened

2. He put himself in my shoes and said that not only should I trust him, but so should the family if I were to make a decision. He said he would like to take out the tumor, but was very humble saying that it’s truly up to me and that he should earn his trust first before making a decision. That really resonated with me.

I also met his team, they entertained my list of questions (after I had researched the Handbook of Neurosurgery and did my homework) patiently and respectfully. Everyone was courteous professional and confident in their ability to take out this tumor. They made the decision for me. Here is a story about Dr. Q. It pretty much sums him up. He’s a remarkable human being.

Video: The Amazing Dr. Q

My wife and Natasha Richardson potentially saved my life January 3, 2010

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Whats up. Thanks for visiting this blog. Normally, I’d blog about something that our lunatic politicians are doing to destroy the earth or humanity, but it’s not the case right now.  I’m writing this because I have 17 days left until I undergo a craniotomy, a brain surgery to remove my 4.5cm-diameter, frontal lobe tumor called a meningioma. My hope in writing this is that it will help whoever else is dealing with this disease, as well help me cope with it and recover should I survive the surgery.

How and When I found out

The prior weekend I had just celebrated my 30th birthday. I was a little bummed out though because I felt like I was getting old. I was no longer a twenty-something and that sucked. I was headed to work on a Tuesday morning on March 31st when just minutes away from home I got pulled over because my registration stickers were on my front license plate and not my rear. After failing to negotiate with the cop, I just drove on to a stressful day at work. My wife and the kids had left that same day to spend time with a family friend out near Penn State for a few days, so I was looking forward to a few productive days and nights to get some work done.

That evening after work I drove to JHU APL to play some basketball with a few friends. We were really getting into the game because we had some good competition. I must have been going either for a steal or a rebound, but I remember running, jumping and then tripping over some guy who was much bigger than me. I pretty much bounced off of him. The next thing I know, I lost my footing, and ended up falling backwards, hitting the back of my head on the concrete. I remember the fall as if I were in slow motion. I remember my whole head jarring and hearing the dull thud that my head made when it hit the ground. I got up very very slowly, knowing that if I got up too fast, I might collapse or I might make things worse. After I got up, I felt the back of my head and I was cool. No blood, no pain. I just shook it off, took a little time out and then got back to playing some ball. I ended up playing for at least another hour and a half, until it got dark outside.

On the drive home, I called my wife to ask her how her day went and if my girls are having a good time. It came up that I was playing basketball and I hit my head.  My wife insisted that I go get my head checked out. After all, it was around the same time when “that woman” a famous actress or something, had that ski accident, hit her head, felt fine and ended up dying a short time afterward. The story was in the media for a while and still fresh in everyone’s heads for the most part. Ironically, I remember reading the week prior a story like this one, where a little girl hit her head, and the parents rushed her to the hospital to get it checked out and a lesion was found incidentally. The father rushed her to the hospital as a result of hearing the same story.

So after some persistence from my wife, I decided to go first to an urgent care place in Laurel – but they couldn’t do anything so I went to Howard County General’s ER. I was admitted in sometime around 10:40pm – I didn’t have to wait long at all. At the ER, I underwent my first CT scan. I was put into a hospital bed and and was actually left in the hallway (the nursing staff was busy that night) until I was assigned a cubicle. I was moved out of the hall eventually, into the triage area near the reception desk, but not into a cubicle yet because they were all full and there was a code blue. One of the scariest things I saw that night was an old Asian man, very greenish-pale looking and lifeless, on a gurney being rushed with a team of nurses and doctors, right by my bed into a cubicle. The team was administering CPR. Looking at him, I could tell just by how his body wiggled as they did chest compressions, that he was gone. Minutes later, I could hear the family screaming. I said a little prayer for him and the family, but I knew what had happened.

After being admitted to a cubicle finally, I could see the computer monitors of the staff near the reception area from my bed (which I wasn’t allowed to get out of by the way). On one of the monitors, I saw a picture of a brain scan, with some weird symmetric blemish near the front. I had a sinking feeling that was my scan, because I don’t recall anyone else coming in there for a CT scan. Sure enough, around 12:20am, on April fools day, Dr. Morris (ironically the same name as my current PhD advisor) broke the bad news. He said that I have an unknown “mass” on my frontal lobe and will need an MRI. He said it could be blood from a lesion from falling on my head, or something else. Shortly after, he said I have to go to Baltimore Shock Trauma to receive an MRI. Just that quick, I was put on a gurney, lifted into a cold ambulance and sent to Baltimore Shock Trauma, where gunshot and car crash victims are sent.

When I arrived, a whole team of doctors came to my bed with concerned looks on their faces. I joked with all of them. They had me do a variety of movements – arms, legs, follow the pen light.. etc, to see if I was conscious. After they determined that I was fine, they just ran an I-V line (my first) and said that it’s going to take a while to get an MRI. After waiting several hours, after acquainting myself with a very courteous professional staff and a very reassuring nurse named Carmen, I got my MRI. A few hours later, everyone concluded that I had what was called a Meningioma.