Friday, August 24, 2012

Not playing with a full deck

Confession: It’s become increasingly obvious to me that mentally I’m not playing with a full deck these days. It’s been three weeks since my surgery and while I believe my brain is doing its level best to heal, we’re not setting any speed records. My ability to process is clearly impaired, not seriously enough to preclude writing (praise God for that), but certainly compared to where I was only recently.

I have reason to suspect this dullness is fairly normal for folks who have had their skulls cracked open as I have. That is my sincere hope, at least. It won’t be until Monday when I see my oncologist at Providence that I’ll get a professional opinion on this. It’s also possible that the witch’s brew of drugs I’ve slowly weaned off are partly to blame for my mental lethargy. I’m still wearing a scopolamine patch (to control dizziness) but I got the go-ahead from a physician assistant today to give it up. There’s no telling what the withdrawal will be like, so I’m prepared, if necessary, to spend the day in my recliner to ride this one out.

My concern is that my brain may also have been damaged irreversibly by the bleeding tumor and subsequent trauma to brain tissue. If so, this could not have been too serious or I wouldn’t be functioning as well as I am. As I’ve previously written, I was spared from what could have been horrific brain damage. But was I spared completely? I’m not so sure. I don’t think anyone can answer that right now.

I’ve been doing lots of reading this week about the brain and how it works, and can only marvel at the genius of its design. One interesting tidbit I’ve read is that it’s common when people have an injury to the right side of the brain (as I did) that they “don’t put things together” and fail to process important information. This seems to accurately describe what might have been happening to me in the days leading up to my emergency. As a result of this faulty thinking, people with right-side injuries often develop what neuropsychologists call “denial syndrome” and believe “there’s nothing wrong with me.” This is eerily consistent with what Ellen saw in my behavior prior to our trip to the ER: I was incapable of correctly assessing my condition because the brain tumor was affecting my judgment and yet I still appeared rational. My brain literally couldn’t process important information.
I'm frustrated these days because for reasons I don't understand, I'm not processing things the way I wish I could. I have a hard time concentrating on a task. My memory is faulty and sometimes I can't find the words I want to express an idea. It's taken me far longer to write this blog post than you might imagine and it becomes almost physically exhausting after a while to think. 'The brain is burning up the glucose as fast as I can get it in there. Paradoxically, I'm energized by physical exercise. Ellen and I have been walking two or three miles every evening and it feels great afterwards. Go figure on that one.

1 comment:

Debbie said...

Reading your post brings back such strong memories of what my dad went through after his fall in January 2011. No one, including his doctor, and certainly not me, put the pieces together about what was happening. It's amazing to me now to realize that for three months his brain was slowly being squeezed by a hematoma that made it increasingly difficult to think clearly and logically. Sometimes to comical effect. I recall spending President's Day weekend with him and having a long discussion about the length of a presidential term. He was convinced it was eight years -- so why the need to start thinking about campaigning two years in? I was flummoxed, and couldn't help but think he was putting me on. We laughed about it. Things got worse from there. But never 100% worse. Just enough worse for worry, not enough worse for incapacitation (although my brother-in-law argued that I should have him officially declared as such. A very dark day.) As you note, the brain is so amazing -- on his side, functioning just enough to keep him appearing "normal" 80% of the time; on mine, trying to justify, understand, and seek answers to what was happening. You have the benefit of observing this phenomenon first-hand, knowing what is causing it (somewhat -- medicines no doubt playing a role). There was no happier moment for dad, I think, than finding out he wasn't crazy -- that there was an explanation for what was happening. Anyway, it will be interesting to hear what you find out tomorrow. Thanks for indulging my reminiscence.