Diagnosis night I took my MRI films to show off to my neighbor and friend, Toni. We drank tea and made up the lamest brain jokes we could devise.
Hahaha. Fooled ya! Lights are on but nobody’s home.
We were a couple of adolescents making up ridiculous jokes and spitting tea through our noses with each successive knock knock through comedy land. We did our best to ignore our terrified faces and trembling fingers. The goal was to laugh and forget and make the night go quickly. It worked.
The next morning I met with the surgeon who would remove the top of my skull. He was a gentle person with magic hands that dipped and swirled into the brains of his patients every Monday and Wednesday morning. The rest of his days were spent convincing the likes of people like me that we wanted his hands in our brains.
He explained the procedure, carefully guiding me across the chasm of pitfalls and the sheer gravity of brain surgery. I listened carefully to every sentence. His words were meant to comfort, inform and soothe. In succinct language, he outlined what was to become my new normal:
- If all goes well, you’ll need a permanent wheelchair.
- Your speech will most likely be affected.
- You’ll have seizures the rest of your life.
- The biggest immediate dangers will be brain hemorrhage and swelling.
- You may have personality changes.
- Sudden death is likely.
- I can give you a face lift if you want when I close up.
With the thought of useless legs, slurry speech and sudden death clanging in my head, I stupidly said, “Don’t worry about a face lift. I’m still young and I just want you to save my life.” WHAT? What woman in her right mind would turn down a free face lift? Already, my mouth was betraying me and I hadn’t even entered the hospital.
Surgery was scheduled for three weeks hence, which would give me time to give autologous blood for the transfusions I would most likely need. At least two pints would be my own blood returned back to me. I ordered a nice blue wheelchair to match my eyes … and carefully wrote out my will.
Except for during the initial shock of diagnosis, I didn’t cry. Not once.
Over the next three weeks, I stayed very busy. My first task was to reconcile the disappointment that I wouldn’t be going on to finish my law degree. Although I’d completed my AA with a 4.2 average (with an undetected brain tumor squatting in the bottom of my brain, I might brag), my college days were over. I was to be a word-slurring, wheelchair-riding flunkie … IF I survived.
If I survived.
I arranged for temporary disability payments and, swallowing hard, informed my office of my condition. All this time, I’d quietly kept my medical issues to myself. My colleagues were stunned. They offered to loan me the difference between the puny amount of money the state would pay in disability and what I was currently receiving in my paycheck for the next six months. We created a legal agreement (leave it to attorneys!) and I gathered my desk items together just in case I didn’t return.
Then they gave me a cake and a Get Well Soon card. Nothing like a brain tumor party to perk up the ole spirits.
Still, those pragmatic California water law attorneys sat with me in the conference room, fidgeting with their feelings, but nevertheless smiling, patting my back and passing around slices of triple chocolate cake. Damnit! Those suckers made me cry — they gave me a loan to help me survive financially.
These unlikely people helped me forget all the pondering over who and what I might become once the lid of my brain was pried open and all my contents were revealed.
They gave me a cake.
That afternoon I called the surgeon’s office and requested that he play classical music in the operating room. I said I wanted gentle stuff. I also asked him not to utter “oops” at any time, for any purpose. I reminded him that my brain would hear everything he said.
Next, D-Day minus one.