On Thursday, September 2, 1994 at about 1:30 PM, my ‘lights went out’ and I had a meningioma (MD talk for a benign tumor on the brain’s covering membrane) removed. Not only did I survive, but I bounced back in record time thanks to sweat and wise cracks. The tumor doesn’t affect the brain per se, but it does press on it, the pressure causing symptoms.
The symptoms resembled Parkinson’s disease without the tremor: fatigue, depression, slowness of movement, difficulty in initiating movement, difficulty in falling asleep, muscular weakness.
Early that summer, I’d begun to notice that list of changes in myself.
I’m a workout freak, and the workout habit makes one very aware of the condition of all parts of the entire body. Also, pumping iron three times a week, five hours and more of tennis weekly, skiing on winter weekends — all that elegant sweat — kept me in shape even at 64.
The changes themselves were worrisome.
My tennis game also started to decline, but I put that off to not enough time on the courts.
I played more; I never missed a workout.
Still, my game got worse. Finally, one of my tennis buddies asked, “Are you on any drugs or drops or something?”
“No. I just think I need more work on the courts.”
My gym trainer also began to notice that I was stooping over. She prescribed two added machine exercises that could help correct my worsening posture.
My left foot occasionally dragged as I walked. My speech slurred. My handwriting, always bad, became smaller and worse.
Initiating some simple movement took a long time. I seemed to hesitiate — new symptoms all. More to worry about.
These symptoms slowly developed and became more and more apparent. My wife noticed the symptoms, too.
I couldn’t put them off any longer. By early August, I’d made an appointment to see my family physician. I suspected Parkinson’s disease, since my brother has it. The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation said familial ties were unlikely, but they sent their brochure and the symptoms seemed to fit.
My family doctor did some quick, external tests and said, “You’re certainly showing some symptoms. I think you should see a neurologist.”
On August 17th, the neurologist did more extensive tests: rubber hammer on the kneecap, scraping the cold, metal hammer across my bare feet, walking, turning, nose-touching with eyes closed, etc. He said, “You show more than just symptoms, let’s get an MRI,” (Magnetic Resolution Imaging — a picture of the soft tissue or the brain).
I got the MRI’s, one set in black and white and one with a color dye injected. The pictures were taken late in the afternoon of August 18th.
“We’ll send these pictures to your doctor by morning, and he’ll call you,” the technician said.
By 11:00 AM the next day, my answering machine had a call from my neurologist asking that I call him at his Manhattan office by 4:00 PM. I didn’t like the sound of that.
I tracked him down at his Queens office while it was still morning and spoke with him.
“First off, I can see that it’s a BENIGN tumor,” he began, “But it IS a tumor and it is affecting you. We KNOW that it IS benign and that’s the most important thing.”
I was silent.
“Can you be at my New York office at 4:15 PM?”
“Of course.” I was early.
At his office, he showed me the MRI’s, the extent of the tumor, and offered his reason for it not being cancerous: the tumor was on the brain’s outer wrap…a 99.99% chance it was benign.
“It has to be taken out?”
I had visions of my head wrapped in gauze bandages looking like the mummy in the “Mummy’s Curse.”
“Here are the names of two neurosurgeons, both of them excellent men. And, I want you to go on some Parkinson’s medication just to be certain.”
All I could think of was how to break the news to my wife. It would hurt her, and I never meant to do that to my lovely women. I love her. I drove home early to wait for her; I began thinking of other concerns: my small business; how it could survive; how long would the recuperation process take; what would I be like when it was over.
After an hour she arrived from school. She must have seen the trouble on my face. I told her as simply as possible, emphasizing the word ‘benign.’ We both cried a bit, just hugging each other.
“Don’t worry, dear,” she whispered to me. “We’ll win. I know it. We WILL win.”
We phoned our children and their spouses.
My wife’s strength brought added strength to me.
I knew I was in good shape. I was now very confident. Also, I came to a decision: to be bright, cheery, even impudent and wise-cracking with one and all. I would use my sense of humor to make all those around me feel as little tension as possible, as little tension for all concerned, including me.
My wife and I used the weekend to begin the process of selecting a neurosurgeon. We selected one of the two recommended surgeons, and saw him Monday afternoon, August 23rd.
He was exactly what one should expect in a neurosurgeon: a ‘prima donna assoluto’ in a field filled with nothing but prima donnas. He was arrogant, young, supremely confident, filled with nervous energy. There was also a strange and active sense of humor about the man, found in the highly intelligent or the very talented, and always present in those who have both attributes.
‘Perfect’, l thought.
“Oh, I’m not worried about the operation,” he began. “I’ve done many of them and the tumor will come out easily for me. It’s after the operation. Your brain can swell just like any injured part of the body. We counter that with medication. Hopefully, you’ll react well to the medication. If not, we’ll change the medication to a less expensive one which won’t give you as much bragging rights with your friends, but it will work nonetheless.”
Another wise-cracker. This was going to be an inspirational, competitive event if nothing else. I knew I could out-wise crack him handily.
“No swelling,” I replied. “My hats are tight enough now.”
We asked, and he mentioned his fee. “And if we don’t pay, you put the tumor back, right?” We all laughed.
We bantered about tennis a bit and made a date for a tennis match some months after. He also set up an appointment with the hospital for September 1st with the operation set for “first thing” in the morning of September 2nd.
Recuperation and length of stay in the hospital were a hit-or-miss affair, entirely up to me. A 10-day stay or two weeks was about average…three weeks in the hospital was also not unheard of.
Little did he know what I had planned: a record recovery and a record “escape” from the hospital. The Guinness Book of World Records awaited.
As he walked out of his office, he concluded, “I’ve got to warn you, when we play tennis, my serve has been clocked at 90 miles an hour.”
“That’s not bad for a SECOND SERVE,” I shot back.
He and his office staff laughed.
And, so the stage was set. I would present a relaxed, tenseless mind in a solid body on a gurney, after which it was the turn of the professionals to do their thing…and on my tumor, too.
The noon-scheduled operation began promptly at 1: 30 PM. By 4:00 PM the day of the operation — some two and one half hours later — I woke up in the recovery room of the hospital fully cognizant, completely at peace with myself and the world, and saw the beautiful faces of my wife and daughter looking at me.
A nurse said, “Look, he’s awake already. Any pain?”
“No. Must I have some?” I replied. My voice evoked smiles and looks of joy on the faces of my family.
“A wise guy,” the nurse responded. “But did you ever see anyone come out of the anesthetic so fast and so completely?” My plan was working.
I’d wise cracked with all, before and after (no ‘during’, it being my ‘lights out” period): nurses, aides, the daily blood lab crew (I called them the Count Dracula Blood Bank team), residents, surgeons, neurologist — all on their visits — my wife, my daughter, friends, my ‘roomie’. No one was missed.
The staff enjoyed it; it made the time fly; and soon I was to be on my way home.
So, late Thursday afternoon, on the 2nd of September, the meningioma was out and I wasn’t; by Tuesday morning the 7th of the same month, I was out and home. My meningioma stayed at the hospital.
Wednesday, the 8th, I was already pitching a new account by phone from home and taking care of business. The following Wednesday, I saw those principals of that new account at their office and nailed the new deal down.
Was it not ‘fast, fast, fast’? Worthy of Guinness Book entry?
Fast, fast, fast! Sweat and a few laughs helped do the job. No call from Guinness yet.
P.S. The Parkinson’s symptoms all disappeared.
AND NOW FOR A NEW BEGINNING.
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