The most dreaded day in life – The Craniotomy
We couldn’t make such a huge decision without consulting a second opinion from a highly recommended renowned neurosurgeon, Dr Lee Foo Chiang. We managed to squeeze in an appointment with him the next day, on a Friday, to catch him at ANOC. He is usually based in Sunway Medical Centre but occasionally has consultation hours at ANOC. If you are aware of, he also publishes articles on The Star newspaper once in a while on his profession.
His vast experience in the field is a plus point, but on the downside, the similar craniotomy procedure would cost more than double the amount of UMMC. However, given the skill he is equipped, along with the advanced technology in Sunway Medical Centre, it sorts of justified the cost, I presumed. The similar procedure in UMMC may costs only RM30k with high probability of the previously mentioned side effects as compared to Dr Lee’s professional charges of RM 60k++ with no noticeable aftereffects. Which would you choose; will you trade off your health to save money?
To add to the point, Sunway Medical Centre offers a more advanced technology – the gamma knife radiosurgery, which is a very precise and effective instrument that focuses radiation directly, and very precisely, on the tumor in the brain without affecting the surrounding healthy tissues. The traditional, conventional approach is nowhere compared to this gamma knife technology. The moral of the story is if anyone of you or people around you requires a major procedure, it is advisable to seek a second opinion before proceeding, to compare and contrast the former and the latter options.
Based on Dr Lee, this was just another bread and butter surgery, which he had seen and conducted numerous uncountable times of this kind of procedure in life. He did not offer me any option, only to remove the entire tumor at one go. He sounded very convincing and we definitely have more confidence in the facility Sunway Medical Centre offers. On top of that, he mentioned that he may need to insert a permanent cerebral shunt in order to control the pressure in the brain to settle the hydrocephalus problem. A shunt is a narrow piece of tubing inserted into the affected part of the brain, passing beneath the skin, to the abdomen, with the intention to relief cranial pressure by draining extra fluids to other parts of the body where it can be absorbed more quickly. We were more comfortable after speaking to him, but were pretty concerned with the insertion of shunt, wondering how it will affect my daily life.
We did not make any harsh decision right away, went home to think over it. Unfortunately, on Sunday, that weekend itself, things turned sour. The intense headache revisited, and without hesitation, after changing into a more proper outfit, I was promptly sent to Sunway Medical Centre for immediate medical attention. The craniotomy was scheduled the following day. I had no choice, but to have faith in the medical team as my life was solely in their hands.
My best buddies contacted my fellow uni mates and some ex-colleagues to gather at Sunway Medical before the crucial procedure. I was overjoyed by all their presence even though it was a very last minute and unexpected notice, providing me the essential strength to face the biggest hurdle in life. The astonishment was that my younger brother so happened to come all the way back from Australia, making a surprise unanticipated entrance, further boosting my spirit.
The most dreaded day has finally arrived. First thing in the morning, a medical assistant wheeled me into the diagnostic and imaging room, shaved the bottom right portion of my hair. The radiologist in charge did a quick 10 minutes MRI to identify and place markers on my head as points of reference for the later surgery.
Approximately 10am in the morning, I was pushed into the operation theatre and was put to sleep soon after the general anesthetic was administered. It was supposed to be a three hour surgery, but was completed only within two hours. The surgery was a major success; everything went smoothly and the good news was no shunt was inserted!
After the surgery, I was placed in the Intensive Care Unit for comprehensive monitoring. I was required to lie flat with the highest inclination of 30 degrees the most, to avoid dizziness and vomiting after the surgery. I felt very uneasy to lie still on the bed, kept having the urge to move around and to get to the toilet. I was then informed that they inserted a urinary catheter, a thin flexible tube, to temporarily drain and divert the toxic waste from the bladder into a collection bag beside me as I was not allowed to get down from bed. On top of that, I also had a tube placed beneath the skull, attached to a medical device to monitor the intracranial pressure, ensuring the hydrocephalus condition is no longer in existence.
The lights in the Intensive care unit were brightly lit the entire day even when patients are sleeping at night. Being a light sleeper, the noise, movements and lights were of total annoyance. It was so difficult to fall asleep in that kind of condition. Also, imagine if you are totally shut off from the outside world without any mobile devices. For your information, any electronic devices are strictly prohibited in critical care settings as the electromagnetic radiation may interfere with the functionality of medical devices. What can you do if you have insomnia? Count the number of sheep? I requested for painkillers, just to get drowsy and sleep, but it will only be given every six hourly and not more. I asked for sleeping pill but was also not permitted due to the surgery I had just undergone. The only thing I could do was to daydream until my painkiller comes, while at the mean time, drinking cups of milo and observing the changing shifts of the nurses with my eyes widely opened.
The next day, Dr Lee examined whether I portray any aftereffects post surgery with a “hippopotamus” tongue twister to check on the fluency of my speech, and did some basic neurology tests, such as pointing my other fingers towards the thumb, which I handled them with no difficulty. No side effects were present; the surgery was indeed a smooth sailing one.
Since my recovery progress was excellent with no complication, I was transferred to HDU, High Dependency Unit, a class lower than ICU for a day. I myself may not have heard of this term before, in case you wonder how it looks like, this is it, sharing an open area with many other patients.
Both the urinary catheter and the tube on my head were removed the next day and I was transferred back to a normal ward for a period of two days, discharged on the fourth day after the surgery. How miraculous was that!
My hair was gelled and tied up very neatly by the surgeon with the partially shaved portion at the bottom right covered with a huge plaster. I wasn’t allowed to wash my hair for up to a week plus, making it very irritable and uncomfortable. My mother would willingly help to clean my body every time I bathe, without touching my head until the subsequent week when the dressing was removed, I was only allowed to wash my hair using the antiseptic wash provided.
My recovery phase from the surgery was remarkable! Do you know that in the brain itself, there are no pain receptors? The pain only comes from your scalp and the coverings around the brain. Being proud of my recovery, the biopsy results supposedly due on the 26th of June 2014 just slipped out of my mind until the determination day came closer. The only thought in mind was that I had recovered and there will no longer be any headaches in the future.