What’s a “Bur Hole” Anyway? (Surgery No. 6)

There are a ridiculous amount of medical terms you learn as a cancer patient.

There are about 130 different types of brain tumors alone. Never mind having to learn about the areas of the brain the tumor may affect, then what part of the body that area of the brain it controls, and on and on. I practically feel like we, as cancer patients, should be awarded medical degrees!

As an attorney, so much of my job involved research. Since my diagnosis nearly 6 years ago now, I raise issues with my doctors to the reply of, “Oh, that’s a very good point.” I’ve sent my doctors articles about new research, trials and information they admittedly were not aware of prior to me bringing it to their attention.

Yet, after receiving my discharge papers following my sixth surgery, I learned a whole new phrase, “bur hole craniotomy”!

Obviously, prior to the procedure I knew what I was going in for – a needle was going to be inserted into my brain to drain the lesion/cyst in my head that’s constantly filling with fluid, causing swelling and pressure to build up in my brain. That pressure then causes me to lose my balance and fall, causes unbearable fatigue, increases my seizures and makes me a prisoner because I cannot leave my home safely.

On December 5th, I underwent the procedure. Immediately after, I felt great. I regained use of my left hand. I walked around without my wretched cane. However, I experienced and am still battling intense migraines. The recovery was short-lived because the fluid has returned.

Operation Day and the Surgery

Operation Day!

toonvectors-15455-140

I vaguely remember waking up that morning, getting to the hospital and walking onto the surgical reception floor.  I also vaguely remember, practically whispering, “I am here for surgery.”  I waited in the reception area with my husband and parents before they called me back.  My mother would not sit still.  So, I was the one who kept having to calm her down, never mind that I was the one facing surgery.

I was the first scheduled case, so there wasn’t too much time before they called my name.  I walked into a whole new world.  The pre-op room was huge with lines of curtained-off beds.  Could all of these people seriously be going into surgery this morning?  I felt very lucky to have a nurse from Ireland.  It led to easy-going conversation about what parts of Ireland we were all from, and what brought us all to the States.  It helped me forget just a bit where I was and what I was facing.  However, I stayed very quiet.

At that point, I was still scared of needles and IVs (oh, how times change!).  So, they were not fun.  The anesthesiologist came back to talk to me.  He was also comforting and calmed me as best he could.  However, when the moment came to send me into the operating room, I completely and utterly lost it.  I was hysterically crying and found it hard to breathe.  The nurse immediately told the anesthesiologist that they needed to IV some meds ASAP.  It probably wasn’t a good idea to send a patient into the operating room like that.

The meds did work fast, thankfully.  However, I remember being wheeled down the hall and into the vortex of the operating room.  I could hear the MRI machine, as it was yet a noise I was used to – oh, that would come with time.  I stared up at all of the fluorescent lights.  I saw numerous people hurriedly walking around in scrubs.  Then, I saw the anesthesiologist looking down on me.  He asked me to start counting, but I think I got to about the third number before I lost consciousness.

The Surgery

Obviously, I remember nothing of the actual surgery.  That’s surely a blessing, as I’ve heard some patients actually do recall slight moments.  As far as I understand, they used a twilight anesthesia so that they could test my neurological functions with the MRI.  I vaguely remember it coming up, but I can’t confirm that at this moment, nor do I really want to.

So, I underwent a 3-hour craniotomy, defined as “a surgical operation in which a bone flap is temporarily removed from the skull to access the brain.”  The entire tumor was removed, referred to as “full resection.”  A titanium plate was placed in the area and I was then all stitched up.  They placed an awful, horrible gauze turban around my head to prevent swelling.  Amazingly, just a line of hair was shaved, so it was barely noticeable once the turban was removed.  (Getting that turban removed after 3 full days was an incredible physical and mental release).  Then it was off to the post-op recovery room, where I would remain for several hours.