Monday, February 14, 2011

Half Asleep

A few days after the neuropsychological test, I had what would be the freakiest procedure I’ve ever done: a WADA test. It’s a test where they go in through your femoral artery and do an angiogram all the way up to your brain. The short version is they go through your groin and run a pipe all the way up to your brain (thus proving what we’ve always known: that men’s brains and groins are connected and it only takes a few seconds for them to communicate). They put in some barbiturates and it was the first time I “felt my brain.” It was a warmth inside my head.

They then put half off your brain to sleep at a time. They have you do some memory tests, some language tests and you’re holding your hands up. When they did the right side, the side that my tumor is not on, I was still able to get all the memory and language question rights. The left side of my body was paralyzed and the arm and hand I was holding up fell (though I did not notice). A few moments later, everything was back and then they were going to put the other side to sleep. They were hoping that I would lose language functions when they put the right side of my brain to sleep. About 85% of humans have language in their left temporal lobe and about 15% have it in their right temporal lobe. The statistics are similar for some memory functions. The hope of this test was that I fell in the minority because if that were true I would have a lower chance of losing speech and/or memory functions if I went with surgery.

They then put the left side of my brain to sleep with the barbiturates. Because I had not noticed my left hand falling asleep, this time I watched my right hand this time. It was weird to watch it “fall asleep” without me having any control or sensation. Out of curiosity, I grabbed it with my left hand and felt it twitching, something I could only feel because I was holding it with the awake hand. And while I was focused on that language was gone… When I had initially been told that an inherent risk of this tumor and/or surgery was losing language capacities, I had misunderstood. I thought it meant I might not be able to talk but could still read and write; this test showed me it was language itself. What was going through my mind shortly before they put in the barbiturates was: “I’m thinking in words, I’m thinking in words. I’m…” and then it was just blank. I had awareness, still recognized people and tried to absorb the room. Cards with words were shown to me but they were meaningless; people talking was uninterpretable noise. I had enough wherewithal to look at the doctor and laugh a bit in a way that meant ‘so this is what it’s like’ except I could not have put together that phrase. I imagine it’s got to be similar to the way animals or children interpret the world before they acquire language. It was freaky both to have it happen and to imagine that this could be a permanent way of life. So the hope that one of my languages would be in another part of the brain did not occur. The nurses, like in so many medical procedures, said that I had been the calmest guy they’d ever seen through this, the I was the one with the most positive attitude. I’d heard phrase so often I was starting to think I was rather unique or that this was like a standard line in nurses repertoire.

After the procedure, the doctor said that I had to go sit in a hospital room and be monitored for a few hours because they had gone in through the biggest artery in the body. My friend Dave sat there and hung out in the room with me and we just chitchatted. The nurse was coming in every fifteen minutes and looking at where they had closed it. This was a bit unusual as your femoral artery is right next to your nether regions and every fifteen minutes she came in to peak under the sheets where I was wearing nothing. Then, something happened that I’m not creative enough to make up.. It was shift change and these two young cute nurses both come in together and explain that it’s shift change and that the other girl will be monitoring me now. They then take a look at my unclothed groin and the exchange was:

Nurse 1: Looks good huh?
Nurse 2: Looks really good.

Then they left to me and David giggling like 7th graders. Maybe you could interpret that as them talking about the sutures but we chose to interpret it differently. Telling friends about the procedure later the jokes just kept getting worse later. My friend Dre had the best one which was that if I did the surgery I should write not this head on what the nurses had admired.

I went home and was told that I needed to lay off running for a few days. Exerting the energy/effort could make the suture come open and since it was internal, I would be bleeding for a few seconds without seeing it, pass out and die of blood loss in a very short period (I took a few days off running). So I had a little bit about extra time to think about the fact that it was a possibility I would not be able to understand those type of important directions or our juvenile. I’d picked such a stupid part of the brain to have a tumor…

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