My Second Brain Surgery – What Really Happened in Step-Down

December 14, 1993.

Twenty-five years since my second brain surgery. It’s been a semi-emotional day. I even cried into my coffee. No, it didn’t enhance the flavour.

I like to find humour in unpleasant situations. I pondered, and I chose step-down. Because, what the heck is step-down? And what happened?

My first brain surgery on October 18, 1991 seemed too easy. Drill, saw, scoop, stitch. That 15-year-old girl bounced out of the Children’s Hospital at Winnipeg’s Health Science Centre like a clown on a trampoline.

The second surgery? As a 17-year-old, I awoke from my anaesthesia-induced sleep, puking. Needless to say, I wasn’t off to a strong start. I couldn’t remember my name or the date. I thought I was in the Children’s Hospital rather than the St. Boniface Hospital.

I vaguely remember being wheeled into a holding cell for post-op patients. Step-down. Or post-surgical purgatory with vomiting and crying. It was hell.

My stint in step-down was supposed to last three days, two nights – with the possibility of early release.

My parents peeked into my 12′ by 6′ slice of step-down. “Tammy, how do you feel?”

I just had my coconut cracked into, and that’s what they asked me.

“I have a headache, and I’m hungry.”

“You can’t have solids. I’ll get you some ice chips.”

Imagine a dinner party where the host served ice. Prepared one-thousand different ways. Ice soup; ice crackers; ice croutons. The possibilities are endless.

On the first night, Chaplin John stopped by. I pretended to be asleep. Sorry, but my head was pounding. Yes, you were there to acknowledge that I didn’t die. My primary fear. Yay, frickin’, yay. Feel my enthusiasm.

Late that first night, my boyfriend at the time also visited. And I pretended to be asleep. Sorry, but at that point, my head was throbbing. My neurosurgeon used staples to close the small incision in my skull. Plus, between the physical exhaustion, puking, and facial swelling – I could barely open my eyes.

The second day in step-down was hell. I was allowed to eat green Jell-O and broth. One serving of each, three times a day. Breakfast, lunch, and oh, what’s for dinner? Oh, my! It’s liquid cow and solidified Kermit.

Plus, I wasn’t making progress. I refused to walk. I was dizzy. Off balance. The room was spinning. My attitude was basically, “Nurse, stop telling me to walk to the end of my slice. Because the answer’s ‘no!’ “

On the second night, I almost passed out when I eventually left my bed. With a walker.

The third day, wow, exciting. Please, nurse. You must tell us shut-ins about the glorious hoarfrost outside. Because we’re inside. Without windows. I was bumped up to semi-solid food. Apple sauce and mashed potatoes. With a side of solidified Kermit.

I was not granted early parole, and I spent another night in step-down.

That third night? I almost passed out on the bathroom floor. I paddled my way out of the bathroom with stories of heroism and defeat.  But mainly defeat.

Day four, I woke up. Which you’d think is a good sign. Until my boyfriend at the time dropped by to see me. Before anyone says, “Hey, you just got out of surgery. How come he only saw you twice?” First of all, my ex was a university student at the time, and secondly, he wasn’t enrolled in general arts. No offence to future lawyers (ahem), teachers, and current general arts students.

We broke up. Okay, I broke up with him. In step-down. It was one of those, “It’s not you. But my former God and your current God don’t get along.”

Not long after, the nurses said I could leave step-down. I thought, man, have some compassion. Again, I almost passed out in the bathroom, and I briefly considered Depends for the rest of my stay.

I remember walking towards my hospital room. The smell of squeaky clean air rushed into my lungs. The nurses cooed over my massive white bear with green satin inserts. I squeezed him, starting to feel sick. Maybe I’m walking too fast. I switched to a turtle’s pace. Slow and steady.

“What’s his name,” they asked about my bear. But I couldn’t respond. My eyes went wide. My throat went tight and dry. If I’d ever had a hangover, I’d know what was about to happen.

Luckily, a nurse recognized the look, and she bolted across the hall. We entered my hospital room just in time.

Proof, you can take the girl out of step-down, but you can’t take step-down out of the girl.