Before Brain Surgery– Diagnosis and Preparation

It started as a relaxing morning. I sat in my pajamas at the dining room table, chatting with one of my daughters as she fixed her breakfast. My calendar was open, and I made sure my phone alarms were set to give me reminders of the meetings I had scheduled for that afternoon and evening. I still had lots of time to get ready, and I felt unhurried.

The next thing I remember I was sitting in a different chair, fully dressed, with a can of sparkling water in front of me and my daughter and my husband on either side of me. It seemed like no time at all had passed, but in reality it had been over an hour, and I have no memory of anything that happened during that time.

According to my daughter and my husband (since I don’t remember any of this), they realized something was wrong when I walked into our living room, noticed the pretty flowers on the counter, and asked where they had come from. My daughter replied that they were from our church school, and I responded with, “Why would the school give me flowers?” My daughter showed me a photo that I had posted on social media the previous week, and I read the post and wondered why it said I was retiring. Even though I had been planning for retirement for nearly a year, I didn’t remember anything about that.

The gift of retirement flowers, May 2022

I was able to walk and talk without any impairment. I could perform tasks like getting dressed. I knew who I was and who my family members were. But I had no short-term memory and was unable to form new memories. I knew that the current year was “20-something,” but I didn’t know what the date was. When my daughter told me it was June 1st, I laughed and thought she was kidding. Since I couldn’t retain the memory that the question had already been asked and answered, I asked repeatedly what day it was. Then I turned to my calendar and saw that I had three meetings scheduled for June 1st, but since I didn’t know who had called the meetings or what they were about, I became more and more upset.

Busy calendar, June 2022

They call it Transient Global Amnesia. When the episode was over and I was made aware that amnesia had actually happened, I was distressed. Would amnesia recur? Was this the start of dementia?

I did attend all of my meetings later that day, but a family member drove me and stayed with me each time. The first meeting went smoothly. It was a planning meeting for the craft station of our church Vacation Bible school, and I was lucid and organized. The evening meetings were to interview two candidates for the job from which I would be retiring. During the interviews, I noticed I had difficulty forming my thoughts into words, and I felt that it took a great deal of deliberate effort to speak. I also developed a headache and felt very tired. I excused myself and asked my husband to take me home early.

I saw my physician the next day who scheduled me for an MRI of my brain to rule out anything that could have caused my symptoms.

After the imaging was completed and my doctor received the MRI report, he called me. There was a tumor. I was given a referral to a neurosurgeon, but it would be several weeks before I could be seen. During that period of waiting, I could not drive myself, and I worried constantly that amnesia would happen again.

June was a busy time for me at work, culminating in a week of Vacation Bible school, one of the biggest programs of the year for a Children’s Ministry Director. I alerted volunteers that I needed them to be prepared as leaders in case I wasn’t physically able to carry out the program as planned. Everyone did amazing work, and I powered through preparations that month and celebrated a glorious week.

Vacation Bible school was amazing!

I was seen by two neurosurgeons the week after Vacation Bible school ended. It was then I learned more about the tumor, which was called a meningioma and was located at the base of my skull, under my brain, behind my eyes, and resting on the olfactory nerve. It was about 2.5 cm in diameter. Although most meningiomas are benign and slow-growing, because it was already causing symptoms, it needed to be removed. We scheduled surgery for early August because my retirement was planned for the end of July and there were some things I hoped to accomplish before then.

I was taking anti-seizure medication as prescribed by the neurosurgeon as a precaution, and I didn’t feel “myself.” Emotionally I was kind of a mess. I had this uninvited guest called a tumor taking up space inside my head, and it was always on my mind. I felt pretty crummy physically, too. I had constant headaches, blurry vision, and a throbbing pain in my left eye. My blood pressure was elevated. My energy continued to decline. I was still able to present weekly “Time for Children” messages, but I needed to write them out word for word ahead of time. I found that I had a hard time speaking if I had to think about what to say, but I did okay if my thoughts were written down. Since I was unable to do my job well, I admitted that I really wanted the surgery done as soon as possible rather than waiting until after retirement. Thankfully, the wonderful person hired to follow me after my retirement stepped in early and did most of my work those last few weeks.

So instead of August 9, my surgery date was moved up to July 25. I could hardly wait, and I expected that once the tumor was removed I would feel better very soon.

Lots of pre-admission labs and tests later, I was almost ready. The last hurdle was having a negative COVID-19 test 24 hours before surgery. I passed. Whew!

Surgery date, July 25, 2022

On the day of surgery I was called to the pre-op area where all the routine things like changing into a hospital gown, admission exam and paperwork, IV start, and visit with the anesthesiologist occurred. But there was a delay before surgery began because the neurosurgeon decided to take another image of the tumor to determine if he could use a different safer approach. A brain MRI with contrast was ordered and done. Although I had to wait an extra three hours to get started, the surgery was hopefully going to be significantly faster and less invasive than originally planned.

Less invasive, less risky, faster… Great! And with that I said “goodbye for now” to my husband and was wheeled into the operating room to say “goodbye forever” to the brain tumor.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s