The operation was to be performed on June 30th, 2011, in New York City. I had to come down on the 29th for a little preparation, which was precisely orchestrated by an administrator (let's call her Dr. Administrator. I'm not sure she's a doctor, but worry she might track me down if I accidentally call her Ms.).
Dr. Administrator is great at her job. She makes sure everything runs like clockwork, and if a gear slips she's right there with a replacement. Even if that replacement works for a living and can't spend even five minutes in the city without the commute sucking up the entire day. Such was the case about a week before the operation, when there was a problem with one of my blood tests. My platelets tend to clump on the slide, making it impossible to get an accurate count. Dr. Administrator insisted we return to the city right at that moment, and when my father protested that we couldn't simply drop everything and come in, she exclaimed, "this isn't for convenience, this is brain surgery!" So, something of an intense woman, enough to gain sufficient fear and respect to keep things running smoothly.
The agenda for the 29th was simple. They needed an accurate, up to date MRI, along with a series of external reference points to make absolutely sure they could line up that ghostly white outline with my actual brain and body before they started carving.
To begin, they glued six foam circles to my head, each one looking like a cream-colored washer a little larger than a nickel, with a hole in the center. One went in the center of my forehead, then one on either side of that, then one on either temple, and finally one in the very back of my head. They had to cut away a little hair a bit for that last one.
I hadn't had anything more than the slightest trim for 15 years at that point. More than half my life. My hair reached the small of my back and I tended to keep it tied up in a ponytail. When I was younger I got a lot of compliments about it (along with shocking accusations that I permed it), though over the years it had lost some of its thickness and luster. To be honest, I'd been thinking of cutting it anyway. I simply wasn't looking for such a good reason as cancer. The man administering my little foam circles had a ponytail as well. When he needed to cut away that bit in the back he apologized with the understanding only found in other ponytail-owners, and encouraged me to grow it back.
After the circles were firmly fastened to my head, he traced the outline of each in purple permanent marker, with a dot in the very center, so if any fell off they could reattach them in the same exact spot.
I've spent my entire life living in the countryside. Cities seem impossibly crowded to me, more-so when people are constantly staring at me. The city took a great interest in my new accessories, which isn't surprising. I had only just learned what the circles were myself, and had definitely never seen anything of the sort before. If I have learned one thing from this experience, it is that to get through it, one must set aside their pride. I have had a nurse remove a catheter. Another nurse ask me in detail about my bowel movements. An ultrasound technician rammed a scanner so hard into my naked groin that I thought she was trying to dislocate my femur, looking for blood clots. I was allowed to feel human maybe once during my hospital stay. I'm getting ahead of myself now; the point is, looking funny would be the least of my problems.
As I've noted earlier, MRIs aren't a whole lot of fun. They are much less fun when you have a foam dot on the back of your head and must hold perfectly still. With the full weight of my head upon that one foam dot, it soon started to feel completely solid. If the audience would care to participate, find a nice hard surface to lie upon, set your head down on a nickel, and hold it still for 45 minutes.
Afterwards we - my mother, my father and I - checked in to a nearby hotel. All I wanted to do was relax and sort through my thoughts, the same sorts of thoughts I covered in the "Who am I?" post. However my mother is a very light sleeper, and even though I was less than a day away from brain surgery, we still had to spend two hours trying to get her the perfect room. The first one wasn't good enough because she saw a child run down the hall. The second, because it was near the elevator. And of course I had to be right next door, so every time they moved, I had to move.
Surgery doesn't get much more dangerous or serious than removing part of the brain. I could have died on the table, and was struggling with the idea that even if I didn't, I'd no longer be the same person. In other words, the "me" who I was had less than a day to live, and I was forced to waste two hours of that precious time watching my parents argue with a fucking receptionist because Mom wanted to sleep slightly better that night.
We did finally get settled in, and I did finally get some time to myself. I'm an amateur photographer and had brought my camera, figuring there were few things more worthy of documentation in my life. I took pictures of the view from my window (when you live in a town where the tallest structure is about three stories, viewing a cityscape from the 16th floor is kind of a big deal). I took pictures of myself, with my long hair and those dots glued to my forehead. I felt oddly calm at the time, but looking at the pictures now I appear terrified. I did eat dinner with my parents - I had some tacos from the local Mexican place - but even as I entered there room Mom was arguing with Dad over returning a bottle of vitamins. Vitamin C, to be precise. She was eating them as a snack and didn't like how they tasted. She wanted better-tasting Vitamin C tablets. Yeah, I don't really get it either. After we'd said our goodnights, I went back to my room and ordered a movie through the hotel's entertainment service. Battle for Los Angeles, a profoundly stupid action movie, delivered at poor quality for about the cost of an actual DVD. I'm a fan of stupid action movies, though maybe subconsciously I was thinking that the fates that were cruel enough to give me cancer would not be so evil as to allow that to be the last movie I ever saw.
Surprisingly, it was not difficult for me to fall asleep that night, even in a strange place, in a strange bed, surrounded by strange sounds, confronted by a strange and frightening thing.
My mother still didn't get much sleep. Figures.