[past]: the operation and off to rehab

the night before surgery, my family and Troy gathered in a small staff room so we could have family prayer and so my dad could give me a priesthood blessing. i knew if the surgery was to go well, the Master Physician, Jesus Christ, could make that happen. just like He healed so many people when He was on the earth, i knew He could heal me. in my church, we believe the priesthood is the power of God given to his children to use worthily. in essence, a blessing from my dad, if he was worthy and if i could have enough faith, would be as if Christ himself were saying the words my dad said in the blessing. among those words, i was blessed that the surgery would go well, that the surgeon would take out everything from my brain that didn't belong and that i would one day be able to run and move like i used to. what wonderful promises if i can have enough faith in Christ!

although i was still nervous for the surgery, i was actually beginning to feel at ease. i realized that everything was in God's hands, and that whatever He wanted to happen to me would happen.

originally scheduled for early afternoon, my surgery did not take place until the evening of March 2. the day before, a doctor measured my head and marked it with colored lines and dots that would help him place specialized equipment on my skull so he could assist Dr. Weinand with where to touch my brain and where to avoid. the morning of the surgery, my sister Angela woke me up early to remind me to eat one last meal before i couldn't eat or drink anything. i tried to eat cold cereal, but my stomach was a tangle of nerves. i spent much of the day sleeping, praying and trying to relax.

as the surgery drew closer, i felt more calm. i remember praying and asking Heavenly Father to help me live though the surgery. i promised that if He would let me live, i would spend my life as a witness to the healing, miracles and peace brought about in my life through faith in Jesus Christ. that is one of the reasons i started this blog. :)

i was wheeled to the pre-op room, where i waited with my parents for over an hour. i managed to stay remarkably calm. i had a very kind nurse who was from India. she put a cap over my hair, searched my arms for places to insert new IVs and an art line, explained the timeline of the operation and chatted with me. an anesthesiologist briefed me on the drugs she would give me. young med students flitted around on the other side of the room while tending to an obstinate (and hilarious) old man, and i felt a twinge of jealousy for their good health.

sporting a sweet cap and waiting for my turn in surgery

finally, it was my turn. the anesthesiologist gave me the first round of drugs that were meant to relax me. i was then wheeled out of the pre-op room to a spot above which hung some mistletoe. this was where i was supposed to kiss my parents and go on to surgery. "see you on the other side!" i joked. whether the other side of the surgery or the other side of death, i figured i would be correct. it was then on to the operating room. i vaguely recall a few details: lots of people. metal tables. bright lights. someone addressing me. and then, sleep.

according to my family, i was in surgery for about 3.5 hours. Dr. Weinand had estimated it would take twice that, so my family and Troy were surprised and pleased when he came back early with the good news that he "got everything" -- meaning bits of tissue and the blood that started this entire journey. he further explained that he didn't know what the mass was, but that he would send it to pathology to be evaluated.

everyone came to see me in the recovery room. i apparently said some things, although i don't remember this part at all. Troy tells me now that i got a CT scan, but the first thing i recall was what came next.

i guess i had expected to go through the whole clawing-my-way-back-to-consciousness process in a hospital bed, so i was somewhat surprised and pretty dismayed when i woke up while being loaded into the MRI machine. i wasn't with it enough to protest, but i remember being nervous nonetheless. my dear mother tried to plead my case to the doctors; she knew how difficult MRIs had been for me and didn't think it was fair for them to put me through it again right after surgery. despite her efforts, i wasn't getting out of the MRI. like it had done in the days leading up to surgery, my right leg began violently spasming before the MRI commenced. the MRI attendants were finally able to bend my leg and tape it in that position so i could remain still during the procedure. while inside the obnoxiously loud machine, my mom stroked my left foot -- her way of telling me she was there for me and that i was going to get through those tense 40 minutes.

i woke up again on March 3 in the late morning. this time, i was in a room brightened by a few rays of the Tucson sunshine, and a male nurse was offering me a plastic cup of some suspicious orange liquid. "your potassium is low, so you need to drink this," he said. to my own amazement, i didn't ask any questions, but instead took to swallowing the rather nasty orange-flavored drink. Troy soon came in, along with a few family members (i think!) to greet me. i found out i was in the pediatric ICU and that just a few weeks earlier, Gabby Giffords had recovered in the very same room after her miracle surgery.

between my noddings off and wakings up, my male nurse made sure i was comfortable and lightened the mood with his heavily sarcastic jokes. i was in pretty good spirits until…dun, dun DUN!…they said they were going to remove my catheter. (side note: i had never had a catheter before, and the feeling of releasing liquid but not really peeing was crazy!) instead of the male nurse performing the removal, a CNA was asked to do it. by this time, my sister Alicia was in the room, and thankfully so! since she is a nurse, she noticed that the CNA was about to yank the catheter out without properly deflating the balloon. Alicia stepped in, guided the CNA (who had never removed a catheter, come to find out) and saved me a whole lot of pain down below. gotta love having a nurse in the fam!

with less than 24 hours of ICU time under my belt, i was returned to my hospital room on the 6th floor. there, i got a glimpse of myself in the mirror: the left third of my head was completely shorn, and the rest was covered with a gnarled, bloody mess of hair. i still had colored marks on my scalp and forehead, as well as a small bloody hole in the center of my forehead -- which we assumed was where some sort of measuring or monitoring device was anchored during surgery.

once i started feeling more with it, i asked my nurses if i could have a bath. i wanted to get the stinky blood out of my hair, and, oh yeah, take care of the more than two weeks of leg and pit growth that had accumulated. (now when i tell Troy that i really need to shave, he reminds me that he has seen much, much worse!) a wonderful CNA named Katherine offered to give me a bed bath, and my mom volunteered to do her best with a crappy hospital razor. together, they then tried to comb through my matted hair and wash it without disturbing the fresh, five-inch scar on the left side of my head. eventually, scissors were brought out to cut off the sections of hair that were way too matted to save. in the end, i was left with uneven yet reasonably clean hair on my right side. apparently, according to Troy, my head smelled like sawdust despite the wash. better than blood!

on Saturday morning, less than three days since my surgery, my discharge paperwork was in the works and i was being prepared to move into a rehab hospital where i would undergo intense therapy for about a month. after learning about the various rehab hospitals in Tucson, my parents and i decided on Oro Valley Hospital, mostly because it was close to my parents' house -- a welcome change from UMC.

in the afternoon, i said goodbye to my nurses, my family and Troy and was loaded into a medical transport van driven by two middle-aged men. i tried not to let me nerves show, but my heart pounded all the way to the rehab hospital. i was so scared that my body would turn on me again; after all, i was barely out of surgery and wasn't completely convinced that i was in good enough shape to be moved yet. i was familiar with the route the drivers took and pleaded with traffic to abate and lights to turn green so i could quickly get to safety. finally, we arrived at OVH. i was wheeled to the third floor, inpatient rehab unit, room 343: my home for the next month where i would struggle immensely but also make more progress than i would have ever expected.