Monday, November 24, 2014

Surgery anniversaries: 20 years ago...

In November, 1994, I underwent my most serious surgery to date: Brain surgery to relieve brain stem compression. After nearly a year of doctor visits and medical tests, we discovered that my spine was growing up into my brain stem and compressing it. That, as you can imagine, resulted in a whole mess of problems. Since this month marks the 20th anniversary of that surgery -- and because I celebrate medical milestones like this, obviously -- I thought I'd share the story of that journey. Look for part two tomorrow, friends!

Your mind’s a funny thing. It’s your internal camcorder. Sounds. Smells. Tastes. They all evoke powerful memories. Your own private trip down memory lane, if you will. A typical Saturday for me in high school consisted of two things: Jack’s Pizza and a classic ‘90s medical drama a la ER or Chicago Hope. The scene played out the same week after week. Around noon, my mother would plop those thin pizzas in the oven. Thirty minutes later, I’d start to smell the aroma of grease and gooey cheese practically oozing out of the kitchen. Then my family would gather around our living room TV, my father stretching out on the floor with his head resting on a pillow and a blanket over his feet.

You see, we needed to brace ourselves for all those stats and code blues. To us, it wasn't just an hour of mindless TV; it was instead like watching a home movie. We felt the heat from the sterile lights of the operating room. We knew all too well the medical jargon. We even felt the fear and confusion of the patients. For a good portion of my life, we were those very patients, and I couldn't help but wonder: Would I be the person I am today if not for one scary, life-altering medical crusade? My own private episode of ER, minus a ruggedly handsome George Clooney, if you will.
It all began when I was a wide-eyed 13-year-old. One night, I was eating dinner. I was watching Wheel Of Fortune and eating macaroni and cheese. The big wheel whirled around in all its glorious color. I tried to swallow, but suddenly, my food wouldn't go down. I took another bite. Gulp. Swallow. Nothing. It was like my esophagus had just stopped working.

Over the next few weeks, my condition became progressively worse. There were more and more foods that I couldn't swallow. My parents and I knew something just wasn't right. So in March, 1994, we began what would be our entire lives for the next six months. I first went to a gastroenterologist to examine my esophagus and digestive system. I underwent a battery of tests, including multiple endoscopies, where they stick a tube down your nose with a camera on the end to examine your digestive track; I also had multiple radiation tests, where I had to swallow barium so they could get an x-ray view of food going down my esophagus -- what little food I could eat at the time, anyway. All the tests came back clear. My digestive track was in perfect working order.
By this time, I had lost so much weight that I was down to 49 pounds! My mom even had to start blending my food because there were virtually no foods left that I could swallow. The digestive doctors were running out of tests to run and were still clueless as to what was happening to me. One doctor even told us: “Your daughter will have to be tube-fed for the rest of her life. I’m surprised she hasn't had problems before now.”

My parents were extremely medically savvy and wouldn't settle for this answer. They knew there was something medically wrong with me, so they asked the doctor if I could have an MRI of my spine; I’d had surgery to fuse my spine two years earlier. For some reason, they just had a hunch that the problem might be neurological...

Look for Part Two tomorrow, friends! xoxo

[Photos via We Heart It]

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