So I just had brain surgery…

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Society, Technology
September 15th, 2013 • 2:09 pm

I don’t usually share personal stuff here, but it went well, and it’s done, so I feel fortunate to be able to talk about it and share some of my (slightly amputated) thoughts on the whole process, especially when it comes to the “user-friendliness” of the thing, and boy, they sure could use some help in that department.

The context in a nutshell: Through a routine IRM of my head a few years ago, a suspicious area was spotted in my brain, above the right eye. I didn’t have any obvious symptoms of anything, so the decision was made to simply monitor the thing with regular IRMs and revisit the decision if necessary.

Three years later, there appeared to be enough of a change to justify intervention and so… under the knife I went. The tumour was removed on Thursday and I am here at home typing at my computer, so obviously things went quite well as far as the surgery itself is concerned (although of course I am a bit, let’s say, stunned and will still need to pace myself for quite a while).

The neurosurgeron is reasonably confident that he got “the whole thing” out (as far as that is possible), as was confirmed by the IRM that I had the day after the surgery, but we have to wait for the results of the biopsy to see what kind of tumour we are actually dealing with (there are many kinds, apparently). However, chances are that it is of the “low grade, slow-growing” kind, which will require on-going monitoring for the rest of my life, and hopefully not much else.

As for the process, a sure sign that my brain was functioning normally after the operation was that I immediately started thinking about all the things that could probably be easily improved in the recovery process, especially when it comes to technology (of course).

One of the most annoying aspects of being stuck in a “step-down” ward with other recent victims of surgery is that you are all hooked up to all kinds of monitoring devices that emit all kinds of signals. Easily the most annoying one was the arterial hook-up monitoring the heart rate. The thing is obviously configured by default to beep every time there is a sudden change in your heart rate. But apparently this happens so often that nurses have learned to ignore the beeps, unless of course they become persistent. (They can change the settings, but I suspect it’s too much of an annoyance to do it systematically and so… You know the rest.)

The stupidest aspect, as far as I am concerned, is that, at least in my case, the simple fact of falling asleep apparently causes enough of a change in my heart rate to trigger the alarm. As you can imagine, falling asleep is not the easiest thing to do in a busy ward at the best of time. When you’ve been put to sleep for six hours and have a bit of a headache, it’s even harder. But really, it does not help at all that, right at the time when you finally fall asleep, the idiotic heart rate monitor emits a beep that is, of course, close enough to wake you from your not-quite-asleep-yet state.

Next on the list are the IV pumps. These things sound exactly like inkjet printers going about their business or, worst-still, dot-matrix printers from the 1980s. Given that they have to be running permanently, you’d think they would put more effort into coming up with quieter designs. Yes, it is a repetitive sound and you eventually get used to it, but surely it’s one more thing that it should not be necessary to inflict on patients trying to regain their strength and get some much needed sleep.

Then of course you add the usual rudeness and general impoliteness of other people, including other patients and their visitors. For the first night after the surgery, my four-bed ward was, from my perspective, a Bosch painting come to life. Between the alcoholic/addict woman that had been hit by a car, with a broken hip and pelvis and something to her head, who kept pulling her tubes out and swearing in some incomprehensible language (there were enough “shits” and “fucks” in there for me to be able to tell that she was swearing), the aneurysm patient who had been driving all the nurses crazy for ten days straight by refusing to comply with their orders and attempting to get up and go away, himself releasing an endless stream of “oh my fucking god”s and other choice words, not to mention innumerable burps and farts and what not, and then the poor old soul who showed up at 5 am with a broken neck that, with his history of lung cancer, prevented him from breathing properly, instead making sounds that clearly indicated that he was drowning in his own phlegm and requiring the nurses to suction stuff out on a regular basis, all with nice, appealing noises for the rest of the room as you can imagine, it was quite a scene. Of course, I am not ignoring the fact that the people moaning and swearing were in real pain and clearly the morphine drips were enough to shut them up for a while, but it was never a very long while and I just did my best to enjoy my own morphine silently and keep my farts low-key.

The surgeon got word of the general ambience of the place and was kind enough to have me moved to a different ward for the next night, which was less apocalyptic, but the IV pumps were still active in their sonic ImageWriter-like majesty. (Fortunately, no one was hooked up to a heart rate monitor any longer at that stage.)

And then I was allowed to go home, which is of course a much better place to recover, under the care of my wife and with my familiar luxuries. I am not supposed to stay at the computer for too long, so I think I’ll keep it at that. I just sort of wanted to explain why things had been rather quiet for me on the blog/Twitter front lately.

One Response to “So I just had brain surgery…”

  1. Michael Tsai - Blog - Design at the Hospital says:

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