Sunday, February 8, 2009

No Visible Cues?

This week will bring the five-month anniversary of surgery, and I’ve begun thinking about the elements of a status report for that milestone. One aspect of this adventure that has become increasingly apparent is the oddity of having its main external manifestation be one I cannot see. Touching the still-raised part of the scar seems to be connected to every mention the surgery: that’s a habit I’d like to break. In recent weeks, trying to reconcile the frustration of my cognitive limitations, I’ve been trying to take the view that, if the external wound isn’t fully healed, it’s not reasonable to expect the inside to be complete either. This is an intellectual concept and I’m working on internalizing it and accepting it gracefully.

I’m a visual person, and always have been. How things look, how my desk is arranged, what hangs on the walls, whether our surroundings are orderly or tidy… all that has always been immensely important. So, perhaps not being able to see the wound is more important than I’ve realized. Maybe it explains some of my difficulties in coming to terms with the slow healing process from the damage to my brain from the long compression caused by the tumor, followed by the trauma of surgery and being exposed to the air for hours. (The latter is evidently a major part of the toll of brain surgery.) Maybe if I’d been able to see the wound originally, there would have been a better emotional and intellectual convergence. Early on, we tried to take pictures of the healing incision. Other than Michael’s photos of the staples, though, none of them really ever turned out. As a result, I have no visual image of any of the healing process. Just the tactile one, from touching it. Repetitively. And now that the scalp is nearly healed (in all but two tiny spots that have been problematic from the very beginning), and the drill hole is harder to find, will this all click into focus? Or, does the next stage require even more discipline of thought on my part, as the brain will still be healing at its own pace while the external reminder of the healing process recedes?

The sense of my brain being broken, and my being diminished, persists. The ability to read fluently vanished as quickly as it had appeared this week, though leaving the hope that it will return, and for longer this time. I can create and sustain the illusion of being my old self for longer periods, especially while doing presentations. While that feels good, it can create a mental vertigo-like feeling to accompany the physical vertigo symptoms that come and go. I’m myself, but not myself. While I can sense the progress, the distance to go is still all too tangible.

Then, perspective and reason reassert themselves, and the fullness of this glass comes back into focus. We have a great life and there is much to celebrate. For example, the time Shea and I spend together, generally characterized by laughter and connection. Lately, we have been watching the CBC series Slings & Arrows, which Kathleen told us about. We’re much enjoying it (thank you, Kathleen), and Shea is particularly happy that it features not only Shakespeare’s plays but Paul Gross, one of her favorites from Due South, another wonderful CBC production.

While some of yesterday’s balminess has waned, the sun is shining brightly this morning. I may go out and sit in the sun for a while and hope the rest of my blasted cold heals up and before the grey of winter returns. I used most of my energy in the last few days doing Friday’s presentation (with the assistance of modern chemistry, thank you, pseudoephedrine), so haven’t been particularly productive in terms of writing in days. Maybe today, before the week’s papers to be graded come in at four?

1 comment:

  1. We all know how useful it is to get medical-type assessments and advice from those with NO medical training, but that's never stopped me from voicing my opinion to you about what I think is going on for you. The fact that you had the reading fluidity at all, even if it flittered away shortly after showing up again, suggests to me that you have this capacity and it will return reliably over time.

    If you weren't going to have this skill post-brain-tumor, it wouldn't have shown up at all yet, but it did. And the fact that it's unreliable is a testament, I think, to how exhausting "healing" is for your body. I base this very scientific assessment on observations from my own life.

    I was an English major in college, mostly because I LOVED reading novels when I was young and didn't have enough sense to realize that no one would ever pay me to sit around reading for a living (at least not reading novels). Like you, I plowed through novels like they were an addictive substance and I was, well, an addict. Then I had kids. And I stopped being able to read novels. And not just because there was no time to read novels. I couldn't concentrate enough to keep up with the plot line, the character nuances, etc. And you know why? Because I was completely exhausted all the time in a deep and profound way, even when it didn't seem like I was. I mean, I was still getting up, going to work, talking on the phone, cooking dinner at night, etc. But I was running on ego and adrenaline.

    Just like kids are incredibly physically demanding is ways that are often too subtle to appreciate until they've gotten a little older and you have to do less of the "heavy lifting" of physical care, the healing your body is undergoing is hugely draining on your physical reserves, even when there are no obvious signs of the toll the healing is taking (such as the fatigue, headaches, etc.). Over time, your body will demand less of your energy to do the healing it's still engaged in. And then, but maybe only then, I bet the ability to reliably concentrate in an effortless way (the "fluid" state you miss when reading) will return to you consistently.