It's not a tumah, it's nuttink like a tumah, it's just a headache
08.22.2003

I've made use of Diaryland now for approximately the same length of time it takes for a human embryo to gestate. What I thought was a backache turns out to be contractions, signalling that the time has come to heave wet and screaming into the online world a bouncy baby biography.

No, no, not that. Put that down. That's the placenta.

As some of you may have surmised by now, I had brain surgery a decade ago in order to remove a rare type of tumour known as a central neurocytoma, for those of you who like naming things. Essentially, that's where my biography should start. In actual fact, this biography is not as much the biography of Smoog as it is the biography of Smoog's tumour. However, I shall also provide you with a spotty prologue to lead into this festering neurological event.

I am a woman in my mid 30s, born in Canada to English parents who had just returned from living in a village just outside Gulu, Uganda, a place were my older brother and only sister were born. Ooh, exotic. I also have one other brother, born approximately a year and half after me. Frankly, I know very little if anything about my siblings, a little more about my father, and more still about my mother, with whom I've built a relatively solid friendship, mostly via phone. Although family may appear in my writings, those appearances will likely be about as rare as they are in reality. My biological relatives simply don't figure into my present life all that much, largely due to the aforementioned tumour, which I'm getting to.

From all accounts, I was a very bright albeit rather strange little girl. My mother nicknamed me "the changeling child". There is an Irish myth that faeries sneak into the nurseries of newborn babies, steal them, and leave in their place a faerie changeling child. That was me. My mother recounted a story that, when I was about 4 months old, the family went camping in the Canadian Rockies. While everyone else was setting up camp, my mother placed my basket at the base of a tree. She didn't hear a sound from me for hours. Supposedly she kept getting occasionally nervous, would peek into the basket to make sure I was all right, and there I'd be, smiling, staring at the leaves moving in the wind. In other words, I was a little off right from the word "go".

I do have some vivid, albeit rather sporadic, memories of my early childhood up until the age of about 10. I lived in a small town of about 2,500 in central Alberta during that time. I remember the catholic church two doors down. I used to sneak in to light all the candles and, if I was really lucky and the door to the stairway was unlocked, goof off at the pipe organ at the top of 2 flights of stairs. Obviously I was a little heathen from a very early age. I was also one of the few children of English descent in this town. The majority were French, with names like Rénée Lamareux and Michel Tellier. I was quite fluent in French in my early years, although I've lost a great deal of it now, along with quite a few other noggin thoughtstuffs.

I remember also my fifth birthday. My mother had invited over all my little friends. There were games and cake and all the fun birthday stuff one gets as a child. Except the birthday girl. After about a half hour or so, one by one, they all realized I was no longer there. I had gone up to my room, closed the door, lay down on my bed, and started reading a favourite children's book. They were all so damn noisy, after all. I liked them, for a while. Then I didn't. So I left.

That essentially sums up the nature of most of my interpersonal relationships.

My teens are a very large blur. I know I was heavily involved in theatre and music, and went on to perform in a number of quite successful plays. I know I was an honours student. There's evidence I suffered from severe bouts of depression at times. However, I can't say for certain, because I can't remember.

I suspect the memory is there, intact. After all, the human brain stores memory throughout the cerebrum. No one large chunk of memory is obliterated without also obliterating one massive swath of cognitive function as well. I suspect, instead, that the ability to access those memories is what has been damaged or destroyed. Honestly, I feel no great loss, especially after listening to all of you people talk about your teens. Holy jesus fuck.

At eighteen, I up and left for Toronto on the other side of Canada to pursue acting by taking a 3-year professional theatre program. I graduated top of my class, acquired one of the better agents in town, and became quite sick.

The year leading up to diagnosis is hazy, but not in the same way that my teens and early twenties are. The year is hazy the way the world is hazy when you're hammered. I know some of what I perceived in that year, but I also know that much of what I perceived was a complete figment of my imagination. Whatever the case, I can safely say to you that during this year, 1992, a tumour was festering deep in the centre of my brain, a substantially large tumour that was steadily growing larger.

I obviously knew something was wrong but obviously couldn't get a doctor to believe me; there were numerous trips to first, second, third, and fourth opinions, according to my medical records. I can't blame them, really; my symptoms were generalized and ever-changing - one minute, vertigo, the next no vertigo but headache, the moment after that a horrible pulsing sound in my left ear, and so on. What's more, the type of tumour I had was quite rare, and therefore the evidence of its existence not readily remembered by physicians. It doesn't grow into the actual tissue of one's brain, but instead grows out of the tissue lining the interstices of the brain, the ventricles where craniosacral fluid pools and travels down the spinal cord.

The reason my symptoms were so generalized was due to the increased pressure building up inside my skull. The tumour was growing; my head wasn't. Where brain was once, tumour was now. The ventricle into which it grew - the right lateral one, should there be medical geeks like me among you - expanded to about 3 times its usual size, in order to accommodate the growth. My cerebrum was slowly being squashed against the inside of my skull, as were my optic nerves. My eyes were literally being pushed out of my head.

I started to lose the ability to swallow. My speech began to slur. I hadn't slept normally in months due to the constant sound of my heart beating within my left ear, a lack which I'm guessing led me to hallucinate and suffer delusions, rather than the tumour directly. Much of this I hid from others - that was part of the delusion, that if anyone found out they'd kill me. I hid it so well, in fact, that when I was finally diagnosed, I was working full time during the day plus performing in a lead role in a play at night. I had surgery 4 days after the play closed. My employer at the restaurant in which I worked told me I wasn't being fair, giving him no notice. I told him I thought having a brain tumour was notice enough. What a tunahead.

There was a mad rush, which I barely remember, to get my affairs in order in the few days between diagnosis and surgery. My mother flew in from the west, took one look at me, and panicked. It turned out that those who saw me every day didn't really notice the problem with my eyes bugging out. My mother, who hadn't seen me in over a year, noticed right away.

I must admit, I didn't like my mother being there. It was enough trouble for me to keep track of what was going on in my own life at that point without having to worry about comforting her. Let's all admit it: those who visit us in the hospital when we're ill or injured are not there to comfort us. They are there for reassurance from us, that we're OK, that they're doing all they have to, that we don't resent them for not doing enough, that we're not dead yet. All of those things which scare someone when a person they care about approaches death in some way, they take with them to the hospital or death bed or what-have-you. It's exhausting. I understand it, and I know they care, but - fuck, is it exhausting.

I had surgery on February 11, 1993. That's one specific moment in my past I remember very, very clearly. In order to remove the tumour, the neurosurgeon removed the top of my skull, cut apart the two hemispheres of my brain, pulled them apart with a device similar to a rib-splitter for heart surgery, only far more delicate, severed a large amount of my corpus callosum, the mass of what's essentially network cabling that facilitates communication between the brain's hemispheres, dived underneath and a little to the right, found the right ventricle, and hacked that baby out of my head. I'm gonna wash that growth right outta my brain! La la la la.

The surgery took approximately eight hours, I believe. I can't say for certain because, well, I was just a tad unconscious at the time. I regained said consciousness in ICU, where I could swear to this day that the lights were on a dimmer switch. It looked like a candlelit restaurant to me. Of course, my eyes were obviously not working so well, but I barely noticed. There was silence. Blessed silence. No more heartbeat pounding on the inside of my skull. No more stabs of pain going through my right eye into my head. No more delusions, no more hallucinations. The change was immediate. Even with tubes sticking out of every one of my orifices, along with one tube sticking out of a new orifice in the top of my head, even after just having had my brain pried open, I felt better than I had in at least a year.

By the way, if you've ever watched a daytime soap opera, you've probably seen one of those hospital scenes were some poor chickypoo is lying on death's door after having suffered some horrible brain trauma. You see the door to their room open, and there they are, lying on the bed in a provocative pose, lips just oh so slightly pouty, no oxygen mask or respirator, maybe just one of those nostril arrangements but even that's unlikely, and a wee tiny gauze patch affixed to their forehead with a wee tiny drop of blood staining its wee tiny white expanse.

What a load of rabbit pellets.

When I woke up, I thought I'd been attacked by a psychotic orderly with a mummy fetish. I swear there were at least 3 full rolls of gauze on my head. It was a fucking football helmet. What's worse, the inside of said football helmet was rather moist and squishy. Any time I tried to turn my head slightly to one side, my head would turn - but the football helmet would stay in exactly the same place. Sliiiiiide, sliiiiiide. And it made a sound as it slid, too. *Shhhloorfff* There is nothing even remotely provocative about head dressings, let me tell you.

Supposedly I kept losing consciousness in mid-sentence, then 10 minutes later would regain consciousness and pick up the sentence exactly

where I had left off.

It took me quite some time to realize what I had seemed to misplace. According to all quantifiable medical evaluations that existed at that point, I had come through with flying colours. Compared to others who undergo brain trauma or brain surgery, I had. However, although it was akin to trying to see the backs of one's own eyeballs, I began to realize I was no longer the same person. My interests were different, more left-brain oriented than before, far less "froo froo" and "artsy fartsy" as the pumped up gym jocks might say. My memory was substantially smaller. I couldn't even remember my best friend's name when he came to visit me. I knew who he was, generally, but could not come up with a name.

It's this abrupt chasm severing early childhood from post-tumour that keeps me on one side and my family on the other. Perhaps the loss of personal connection would not have happened if I hadn't lived thousands of kilometres away from the rest of them. There was no way to reconnect, to relearn who they were. What's more, because there was no recognition of who they were based on what I remembered of them, there was no real desire to get to know most of them either. They were strangers, and as such, had the same chance of registering on my companionship radar as anyone else. In some ways, though, there's a huge benefit in that. There are no tacit expectations written within my brain, no voice of Mom or Dad scolding me for having not performed according to how the child within me thinks they would want me to. There is no tension, no pushing of my buttons, none of that familial niggling that seems to drive so many people insane. What's more, I had the opportunity to get to know my family members without me putting the same expectations on them. They're human, with human flaws, just like the rest of us. Some of them I want to know. Some of them I don't. Although I've lost something, I think I've gained something else that others never have the opportunity to experience: a truly fresh start.

There are other, little things, things only I notice, that were lost after surgery. I came out of surgery with a slight speech impediment. Well, it wasn't so slight initially, with all that swelling. In fact, I rather sounded like a mutant cross between Elmer Fudd and Humphrey Bogart. My grammatical censoring mechanism between thought and speech was a little on the slow side, and messed conjugations as well as "verbal dyslexia" would pop out of my mouth occasionally. For example, I'd say "hychopondria" instead of "hypochondria", that sort of thing.

I also have questionable short term memory, particularly auditory short term memory. That means whatever you tell me, I'm likely to completely forget within 15 minutes. Write it down, however, and you're screwed. I'm awful with names. I occasionally have left/right brain communication problems. Sometimes, especially if I'm quite emotional, I lose the ability to find words to communicate that state of strong emotion. It isn't that I don't want to talk about it, although I may well not want to; I literally can't. I suspect that on occasion, my right brain is called upon to put out on the emoting front and takes over as dominant ruler of Smoog's brain. Unfortunately, the right hemisphere is without language. Whoopsie.

Oh, and I have some neat parlor tricks. If I close my eyes and put both of my hands up, palms facing each other, then you touch two fingers on my left hand in succession, when I try to touch the same fingers in the same order by using my right thumb to tap the same two fingers on my right hand, I'll get it right maybe 50% of the time. The other 50%, I'm sure I have it right, but I'm totally wrong.

I can also think two completely different thoughts simultaneously. Now, we all do that, in actual fact; the difference is that I can be consciously aware of each thought that happens as it happens simultaneously with the other one. Thing is, only one of these thoughts is in silent voice. I know that thought comes from the left hemisphere. The other thought will almost always be in pictures, although sometimes it occurs in sound. That thought I know comes from my right hemisphere. Right hemisphere thoughts are the thoughts not to be trusted. They're the rash, emotional, "let's all go jump off a cliff like lemmings" thoughts. It comes in handy, knowing what thoughts are generally illogical ones based on how they occur in my head. You're missing out. I can tell. I watch you as you let your right hemisphere fool you into doing stuff. Poor things.

Let my tumourous past be a lesson to you, children: don't even believe your own eyes, or skin, or ears. Sometimes, just sometimes, they can be out to lunch, a very long lunch with 4 courses and wine and dessert and those little mints they serve up with your bill.

My life since surgery has been, well, life. I can't really go into too much detail because detail tends to elude me these days. I live more in the present than I think many around me do, not by choice but simply by necessity. It doesn't bother me all that much. From what I can tell, most of our lives are spent doing much the same things as the person next to us, so I'll just watch the world askance with the many Eyes of Smoog and learn about who I am and what I've done that way, thanks.


Since we're on the subject of brains, once again I bring to you - Smoog's entry-related doggerel corner.

Head Cheese
or how to dispose of one's critics

"Good gracious, girl!" a pair of three-toed sloths
exclaimed. (They snuck up on me unawares
while I was eating lunch.) "Excuse our stares,
but brains do not belong on tablecloths,
yet with a slushy plop you've let yours drop.
Medullae oblongatae shan't be fed
through monstrous gaping blowholes in one's head.
If you possess propriety, please stop."
Who knew edentates cared so much for tact?
Not I. Although no summons had been sent
for either one to chat with me, they bent
my ear, insisting I should face the fact
that I was empty-headed. I replied
by having them for supper, lightly fried.


make idle gossip (7 comments so far)

come hither - back off


Last 5 entries:
01.14.2007:Finally, a support group we can all get behind
01.09.2007:The City That Ever Reeks
01.08.2007:Waiter, there's a uterus in my soup
01.03.2007:Long Lost Mummy of Nefertiti Found in Smoog's Apartment
12.30.2006:New Year's resolutions we can actually keep



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