I'm contemplating brain surgery.
I won't be the one doing the surgery, but I've already started to look for the right surgeon, ask people who've had the surgery done whether they would do it again, and start thinking about the ramifications of whether or not I agree to do it.
You see, one of the major things on my brain lately (heh) is the fact that I am not going to go to American University. Pretty much a miracle would have to happen for me to decide to go ahead and go there. How disappointed am I about this? Immensely. After all, this program is already advertising the authors who will be part of the visiting writers program this academic year. I got through what I thought was the hard part - admissions. But now, with the health issues, I know in my heart that I cannot make that drive twice a week (3 times some semesters) for 3 or more years. There's the drive then the walking around campus, then the drive home, then the homework. Plus my full-time job? Hmm. I'm not Superwoman anymore. I had that kind of energy in my 30s, but not now.
This isn't to discourage any 40- or 50-somethings out there from pursuing such a step. If you are well, you can do it. I'm not well. See that MRI up at the top? While it's not my MRI, it's similar. I have a malformation at the base of my brain called a Chiari Type I (CM1) malformation, named after Arnold Chiari, the doctor who first described it. They used to define this malformation as a descent of the cerebellar tonsils below the base of the skull, causing crowding in the spinal canal at levels C1/C2. Now they realize that the brains pushing out of the skull are a symptom of an "underdeveloped posterior cranial fossa and hindbrain crowding" (source: Chiari One). What this means in plain English is that for whatever reason that part of my brain and skull didn't develop properly. It can run in families, and I'm encouraging my brother to have a CM1 specialist look at his MRIs, since he has such similar problems as me. It takes a trained eye to see this, but if they begin to suspect it due to symptoms, at least they know to look for it.
Who's the Guy with the Can Opener?
- Headache (esp. if daily or at lower back of head)
- Painful tension in neck
- Visual disturbances / loss of vision / spots in vision / double vision / seeing spots or "halos" / nystagmus
- Tingling / numbness in the extremeties
- General imbalance / clumsiness
- Memory loss
- Restricted movement
- Intolerance to bright light / difficulty adjusting to light change
- Vertigo from position change or sudden standing
- Difficulty walking on uneven ground / feeling ground under feet
- Poor / degraded motor skills
- Difficulty driving
- Difficulty negotiating steps
- Pressure / pain in the neck
- Pressure / pain behind the eyes (soreness in the eyeballs)
- Back pain
- Neck spasms
- Ringing in ears (like the tone heard in a hearing test)
- Pain when changing position
- Tingling / crawling feeling on scalp
- Intolerance to loud / confusing sounds
- Decreased sensation to touch in extremeties
- Decreased sensitivity to temperature
- Pain & tension along ear / eye / jawline
- Difficulty swallowing / lump in throat / sore throat / swollen lymph nodes
- Spontaneous vertigo
- Hand tremors
- Poor blood circulation / cold hands & feet
- Sinus / mucous problems
- Sleep apnea
- Decreased muscle tone
- Pressure in ears / ears feel stopped up
- Difficulty reading / focusing on text
- Depth perception problems
- Burning sensation in extremeties / shoulder blades
- Menstrual problems / severe cramping during period
- Fluid-like sound in ears (like water running)
- Loss of sexual interest / lack of sensation in pelvic area
- Pulling sensation while sitting / standing
- Intense itchiness w/profuse sweating
- Slurred speech
- Gag reflex problems / lack of gag reflex
- Pressure / tightness in chest
- Loss of bladder control
- Frequent urination
- Dehydration / excessive thirst
- Electric like burning sensations
- Unequal pupil size
- Loss of taste
- Popping / cracking sounds in neck or upper back when stretching
- Loss of smell / problems with sense of smell
- Dry skin and lips
- Sudden / abrupt changes in blood pressure due to awkward position of head
- Hiccups associated with drinking carbonated beverages
- Skin problems
There are only a few trustworthy neurosurgeons who routinely do these procedures. They are risky. They open up the back of your head, remove some bone, grind down the vertebrae (in some cases), put in muscle tissue taken from an animal to act as a new hammock, and sometimes burn away some of the descended tonsillar material. It hurts, from what I hear, but in most cases the relief comes quickly and lasts. I suppose the overcrowding isn't the only cause of the symptoms because most people still have some problems even after the procedure, but the constant, painful pressure in the back of the head is eased, the weakness in the limbs is much better, most patients tell me they got their lives back. I might even be able to stand airplane travel after the surgery, no longer getting the swollen, intense pressure-like feeling in the back of my head and neck during take-offs and landings. (People who have told me I just need to pop my ears have NO CLUE as to what this feels like. It leaves me blinded with pain and in tears).
So I'm considering brain surgery. I may go up to NY to see the doctors of the Chiari Institute for their opinion. I would really like to have my life back; maybe that's too much to ask?
And then...a miracle happened...
But God did answer a prayer of mine. When I realized that I couldn't do the drive to AU, I felt like a million doors were closing. I had been praying about it for at least a week, asking God to help me with this momentous decision, whether to try the drive or not. While reading an article on technical writing that night, I saw a Google Ad (yes, one of the little worthless ads that never earns any of us any money on our blogs) for an MFA/Creative Writing program that is 100% online through the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I had been looking for such a program for Y E A R S. Literally years. Nothing existed. Now, true enough, there are low residency programs in which you have to travel to the college twice a year for a week or so each time. That would mean traveling (hard for me) and spending all my vacation on school for several years. Not exactly friendly. So imagine my reaction when I saw my prayers answered in black-and-white pixels. I wanted to put a sacrifice on the altar or something, but the answer that came back to me was "write, just write." My book is calling.
Now to get through brain surgery ... Hm, maybe I should finish the book first.
Peace - D