*Warning, graphic medical photos ahead*
A few weeks after my cranioplasty, I sat in an exam room in Chestnut Hill. Accompanied by my mom and Matt, we anxiously awaited the word on my post-op CT and follow up with the surgeon. There was a mild buzz of excitement in the room. At my pre-op appointment, I had made a rather odd request. I asked Dr. Stippler if she would be willing to take pictures of my skull bone so I could see it. After following that with an apology for being weird, she chuckled stating that she did not find it weird at all. It was an opportunity that I couldn't pass up. How many people can say they've seen what their own skull looks like. I imagine it is not many.
When she came into the room, we got down to business. My CT was good, clear of any concerns and she was happy with how things were healing. My suture line was well approximated with no signs of infection. I had no pain or neurological symptoms. Then I asked to see this pictures. She quickly took out her phone, and apologized for not getting any pictures of the bone actually put back in place in my head. "It was kind of bloody and messy anyway" she stated, to which I responded "its ok, you were kind of busy anyway." We flipped through the pictures. I was mildly concerned Matt would be horrified, but he like us all were fascinated. We were seeing something almost no one had ever laid their eyes on. I studied each inch of that bone that now sat happily back in its place.
Staring at my cranial bone created an inner conflict. I was both in awe of it, but also horribly aware that this had almost led to my death. Seeing it made the fact that I had a serious brain surgery finally feel real. I had read the medical records repeatedly. Now I was sitting across the room from the the only person in the world who has had their hands on my brain. My mind flashed back to my first post-op visit with her a few weeks after being discharged from rehab. I put my hand out and said with an attempt to at humor "hi, it's nice to meet you, officially. I don't really remember the last time we met." She stared in shock and shook my hand. She was baffled that I had walked into the office under my own power, had no verbal problems, or really any significant neurological deficits only 1 month post op. I knew that day, that judging by her shock, that things must have really been bad. So now, here I was with my last opportunity to ask, and I needed to know the truth. Reading my medical records I could come to my own conclusions, but I needed to hear it from the expert who was in there.
"You saw how bad everything was when you cracked open my head, I want to know how bad it really was. What my chances really were." She looked me right in the eyes, and said matter fo factly "You were basically dead. I thought we might be able to save your life, but I never thought you would work again, or do anything with your life. It would never be meaningful." I took a moment to let that sink in, and responded "so my real chances, single digits?" She quickly agreed. I knew I had battled impossible odds, but now it was quantified. I watched out of the corner of my eye my mom and Matt process this information. They had been told as I was wheeled to the OR the vague estimation of less than 50% chance. But now we all knew the reality. It was oddly reassuring to me. Knowing what exactly I had overcome got rid of the uncertainty that lurked in my mind. It made me feel strong, knowing that I came so close to losing, and winning despite the odds. Matt struggled a lot with the fact that my death had been even closer than he imagined. It was almost certain, and yet somehow had been avoided.
"What do we say to the God death?" -Syrio Forel
"Not today." -Arya Stark