Recovery part 2…

——– Like Me ———-

I have been shocked at the number of people that have told me that they have a loved one that was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor. One of the Case Managers of my insurance company said to me during our first conversation, “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but my husband was also recently diagnosed with a brain mass that was thankfully benign, but he also had to have surgery to take it out. His recovery process has been long but he’s back to a 100% now.” Whenever I speak to her today I ask how her husband is doing. Our nanny, when she learned of my condition sent me this email: Holy $*!t Chris! I went through the same thing with my sister in law. She had a full recovery. We now make fun of the crazy things she would say after the surgery but that was easily the hardest thing I’ve ever sat by and witnessed. Her vision was the slowest to recover but she is now able to drive and leads a completely normal life. She just got married last summer and is planning a family. I send all the good vibes I can out to all of you. I know it is a difficult process and extremely frightening. What a year you guys have had. You’ll easily be some of the strongest humans around given that saying… What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger. And a new baby too. Incredible. All my best! I also learned of a Michigan State University surgeon who went through the same type of ordeal as me.[1] Apparently she too suffered from a benign brain tumor that had to be excised. I have been in contact with her. She no longer performs surgeries due to the residual effects of the tumor but still continues to see patient.

MSU Logo
MSU Logo

Prior to this, even in my days in the clinic, I had never come across a patient with a brain tumor. I had seen them in case studies but not in practice. It is for this reason I assumed I was alone in my situation, but to hear so many different people that have gone through my similar ordeal made me both sad and comforted. Sad that other people had to endure this, comforted in that I wasn’t alone.

————– Mood —————

One aspect of my recovery that my mother worried about the most was my psychological well-being. She is a smart woman and knows that the physical effects are being worked on already through various modalities (therapy, pool work, weight lifting, etc.). But to her, one of the worst conditions I can develop from this is depression. In medicine, there are generally two extremes when it comes to thinking about depression. One school feels that depression is simply a weakness of the mind, that ‘strong-minded’ people cannot become depressed. The other school of thought believes that the origins of depression are purely chemical. They feel depression is simply a derangement of the chemicals in our brain. To them, someone with depression would be analogous to someone with schizophrenia: the problem, while in the mind, is purely a chemical one. I find myself more in the middle when it comes to this debate. I feel that depression is a chemical imbalance that everyone is capable of having. However, I do feel that there are certain situations that can push us to have this imbalance. For example, let’s say someone has to go through the unfortunate experience of losing a loved one. Even if this person has no previous psychiatric history I feel that they are now predisposed to falling into depression. The stress of the loss results in the release of a hormone called cortisol, and throws off the balance of that person’s brain chemistry, therefore leading them to depression. How does this relate to me? I have no history of depression myself, but I do have a strong family history of it. Furthermore, if I were predisposed to having the condition, I had just received a pretty strong push in that direction. My mom went as far as constantly trying to make me laugh, bringing in friends of mine in an attempt to ‘keep my spirits up’ (as she puts it). But throughout this whole ordeal my spirits have been high, and while the laughing and visitors have helped, initially I did not think they were necessary to prevent my slipping into depression. Now that I find my days filled with solitude I am not so sure. I have developed a tremor of my neck muscles that has seemed to worsen over the past several weeks.[2] It seems to get worse when 1. I am tired, 2. When I eat, and 3. When I am in any social interaction. It got to the point that during one of my appointments the clinician stopped mid-sentence and asked me, “Are you okay?” “Yeah, sorry about that. It’s an ataxia of my neck.” I explained. “Well did you tell your doctor about it? What’d he say?” “He told me that it was part of the recovery process and that it should get better.” The tremor has gotten bad enough that I avoid any social interaction, even trying to anticipate any events where I might see someone I know. Throughout this whole ordeal, the only question my son has asked me about my condition is, “Dad, why’s your head shaking?” I realize that there must be an anxiety component to this, but meeting or conversing with people never made me anxious before. I didn’t realize that seeing others and socializing did work in ‘keeping my spirits high’. Being patient and accepting the slow pace of improvement have emotionally been the toughest part of the recovery. While this neck tremor has decreased my desire to see others, it is this very socializing that seems to improve my mood creating quite a catch-22. My hope is that the ataxia will improve in time, and that I will resume my regular socializing activities. I have been asked what my mood is now. I feel hope. Hope that my condition changes, hope with every day of improvement. Being able to write this blog has given me hope, hope that my story is heard. When I initially began to write it was for therapeutic purposes, but now as I write I constantly keep the reader in.

A great website for depression

—————- Religion —————-

Another question that I am often now asked is whether I have found God through this. If someone were to ask me today what religion I practice my response would be that I do not practice a religion. Does this mean I’m an atheist? No, like over 1 billion other people in the world I consider myself an agnostic. What is an agnostic and what do they believe? According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of an agnostic is: a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable[3] Basically, it’s someone who doesn’t really know if they believe in God or not. According to the Pew Research Center 16% of the world’s population is agnostic, which ranks it the third most popular belief (behind Christianity and Islam). You would have thought that going through an experience like this would have at least nudged me in the direction of another religion, as you often hear of people who go through intensely traumatic experiences and come out with strong religious beliefs. This did/has not happened with me. My beliefs in a greater being have remained the same. Throughout this I have come across many religions. From someone saying something as nice as “You’re in our prayers” to being offered to take part in a prayer session, I have experienced the gamut of religious immersion. My father, a Buddhist, spoke to me of the teachings of Buddha and even gave me a statuette of Buddha to keep by my bed. I have two friends (one in the Emergency Medicine program, and one in my Family Medicine program) who go to the Church of the Latter Day Saints and offered to come to my hospital room to conduct a prayer session. My in-laws (Amy’s husband’s family) who practice Islam often keep me in their prayers and even gave me a necklace with a pendant that contains writing in Farsi. I’m often asked what it means. I respond by saying, “I have no clue, it’s written in Farsi and I can’t read it.” “Then why are you wearing it?” is the natural response. “I’m not sure. I guess I wear it because my in-laws were kind enough to give it to me to let me know I am in their thoughts.”

The necklace I mentioned- you can't see it in the picture but there's Arabic writing on it. If you look closely you'll notice the end of the chain is broken, my son pulled at it while I was changing him, it is for that reason that I no longer wear it.
The necklace I mentioned- you can’t see it in the picture but there’s Farsi writing on it. If you look closely you’ll notice the end of the chain is broken, my son pulled at it while I was changing him, it is for that reason that I no longer wear it.

I by no means feel that the other religions ‘have it wrong’ but I just have never found myself drawn to religion, even after this ordeal. I suppose my ultimate feeling on religion is this: I feel that organized religion has a lot of power to do good and in countless instances can and does help people. Unfortunately, I am also aware of the destruction it can cause (i.e. war, murder, and death). Thus for this reason I am ambivalent when it comes to religion. According to Donald Meichenbaum, a clinical psychologist who studies the effects of trauma on spirituality:

Following Hurricane Katrina, 92% of those who survived and who were evacuated to shelters in Houston said that their faith played an important role in helping them get through.[4]

I hope I am not downplaying the effects that faith can have in recovery. I am simply stating that in my particular case I did not rely on activities such as prayer or meditation, or on a firm belief in a greater being to guide me through this. Who knows, maybe if I had I would be jogging down the street, seeing normally, while on the phone speaking coherently today.

[1] The hospital I work for, Sparrow Hospital, is in Lansing and is closely affiliated with the local college, Michigan State University (MSU)

[2] This condition is called titubation. And it causes my head to bobble like a doll. I plan to devote the next two posts to it.

[3] Merriam- Webster Online Dictionary,


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