Oh! for the Good Old Days When They Stapled My Head

When you have staples in a shaved head, you get three reactions. Two of them occurred in my freshman bible class, which I taught six days after surgery. The guys thought it was pretty cool, the girls not so much. They looked like their meal had just been ruined. The third response is from medical professionals, like the nurses in our nursing program, who say things like, “they look great, really clean.”

And truthfully, they never gave me any problems and they came out a few weeks later with no pain. I’m not sure what the criteria is for choosing staples over sutures, but in my limited experience, give me staples.

The first surgery often creates what the doctors call the “lesion effect.” As I understand it, the placement of the wires in the brain creates a little bit of swelling which has the effect of correcting the tremors. Unfortunately, when the swelling goes away the tremors come back. But I had a nice 10 day lesion effect period. I could sign my name. I could grade papers, take notes, make circles, play my guitar. Typing was easier. I could pass things. Hold a full drink without worrying about it sloshing over the side. It was amazing.

IMG_1534I did the second surgery in the procedure 9 days after the first. After the first surgery they leave the end of the wires that will eventually go into your chest coiled up under your scalp on the top of your head. Talk about a weird feeling. In the second surgery, they make an incision on either side of the back of your head so that they can go up and grab the ends of the wires and then push them with a metal rod under your skin down your neck and into your chest. Do not try this at home.

They also make twin incisions on either side of your chest just under the clavicle. There they place the batteries and connect the wires. I was surprised how big the batteries are and how much they protrude from my chest. Under the skin, but on top of the muscle. You can see them under some of my shirts.

This surgery is a day surgery. Went in that morning. Left in the afternoon. That fooled me into thinking that the recovery from the second surgery would be easier or as easy as the first had been. I was very, very wrong.

I had four new incisions that all hurt. And the sutures in the back of my head made it impossible to rest. No matter what position I tried to rest, I was lying on a wound. I got very little sleep for several days, and most of that was sitting up. My chest was very bruised and my neck very sore from the pushing of the wires down into my chest. This surgery was more traumatic to my body. And I failed to take into account the accumulative effect of having two surgeries within a week of each other. I ran out of steam fast.

I tried to work 6 days after the surgery, but had to go home after a few hours. We had graduation and semester ending activities 10 days after the surgery, and I put in two eight-hour days back-to-back which was too much and so I spent the next two days in bed. This was the hardest time for me in the entire ordeal, and I ran out of vicadin which not only helped with the pain, but made sleeping easier as well. I know I could have asked for more, but I thought I was pretty close to having my pain manageable with just Tylenol, so I passed.

At this point, my tremors were coming back. The batteries were not yet turned on (something my neurologist will do and monitor). I’m dealing with all the negative aspects of two surgeries without any of the benefit related to the tremors.

And looking back on it, all of this without the reassurance of medical professionals that I had when I stayed two nights in the hospital the surgery before. I have an awesome girlfriend who came by every day and fixed meals and kept me company and kept my spirits up (thanks, Donna), but I had very little medical care.

The instructions they sent me home with were a joke. No instructions about wound care. No instructions about anything. A few days after the surgery the incision behind my left ear was more swollen and red than the incision on the other side. The top of my left ear was numb, as was that part of my head all the way down into the jaw line. It’s a very weird feeling to shave something that you can only partially feel. I called my doctor’s office and they put me on an antibiotic, but no one looked at the wound. So, I went to the college and had the nurses on our nursing faculty look at it. That was very reassuring. (Thanks, Jaime).

In looking back on things, I’m realizing the importance of human care in healing. Healing is very much related to communities of care, how they are present as much as what they provide. I know the difference between a good nurse and a bad one or no nurse at all. (The nurses in recovery from my second surgery seemed determined to get me out of the hospital and on my way home as soon as possible, not as soon as I was ready). And much of that has to do with attentiveness, not just expertise (though expertise matters).

So, again I am struck by how life doesn’t just happen to people, but among people. And how there is the possibility of healing in those interactions. And I think that’s where the Spirit of God dwells.

About Mark Love

I am the Director of the Resource Center for Missional Leadership at Rochester College. Part of my job includes directing a master's degree in missional leadership, a situated learning degree. I am married to Donna and have a son, Josh Love, who lives in Portland, OR. With Donna, I have also inherited three great daughters and three amazing granddaughters.
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2 Responses to Oh! for the Good Old Days When They Stapled My Head

  1. Kerry Jones says:

    The medical philosophy you describe is called “treat ’em and street ’em.” It’s an unfortunate side effect of having insurance companies and Medicare write the rules on hospital stays. Technology is getting better and better (e.g., your procedure.) But the healing human touch is often shortchanged unless some home-health providers are involved. So glad you are on the mend.

  2. Mark, the importance of human touch is vastly underrated. I have had a few episodes where I ended up flat on my back, on the floor, and the one thing in my mind was BREATHE! A couple of times this has happened when people were around and on those occasions someone held my hand. Just being touched made me feel more secure, which I think relaxed me a little, which I think helped on the road to recovery.

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