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August 29, 2023

Hope is the Wind that Fuels our Souls: Lessons from the Neurosurgery Ward.

I’ve never had to climb a mountain so high as I did this last week.

I was scared.

Petrified.

After a year of diagnostic testing, the week had finally come. I was to have neurosurgery.

For the last year, I knew this was on the table in my future, but there’s something about a surgery date that shakes you to the core.

So many worries crossed my mind on repeat every day leading up to the surgery. This was not just a day surgery or something “light,” this was accessing the outer parts of my brain on either side of my brain stem to remove two arteriovenous fistula(e). The only way to prevent me from having a brain bleed or aneurysm in the future was to have them removed. The doctor had explained to me that the longer I waited, the more the risk increased.

I knew I had to be brave—even though I just wanted to run into a hole.

But I have a little girl with autism who needs her mommy around, and she needs her mommy to do hard things, and she needs her mommy to be strong and to fight for her health.

I had no choice but to move forward with the surgery. As the weeks approached, I knew I could not handle this alone. This was going to take a “team of positivity.” This was going to take all the prayer warriors and positive vibes I could rally up. Even though my love as a mother is strong, it wasn’t enough.

I needed an army of hope behind me. I reached out by email, Facebook, and text to all the people I knew who would give me strength. This was not a time to talk to anyone who would shed fear or worry on my situation.

I needed the “hope-ers”!

And I found them.

I rallied the troops and asked them to pray for me everyday and send me positive vibes and healing energy. And they did.

I’ve always been a spiritual person, but I’m also a science person. And I just love when I can find a pub-med article that confirms what I’ve always intuited. I’ve known in my heart all my life that prayer is important, and I had recently read a research article about the science behind prayer improving health outcomes. It inspired me even more to ask for help in the form of prayer and hope. I needed all the magic of the Universe and my Heavenly Father and the principles of quantum physics to merge together for a positive outcome.

Two days before the surgery, my dear friend from grade school drove me down to Vancouver to hand me off to my incredible sister. It took all my strength to say goodbye to my daughter, knowing there was a huge mountain to climb before I would see her again. After leaving my city in the interior of British Columbia, I just pretended I was going on a fun, summer road trip…and it mostly worked. My dear friend and I had funny banter all the way to the coast and I forgot about the surgery for a few hours…well, not forgot, but it seemed to slide into the backseat for awhile.

When we arrived in Vancouver, we went out for dinner on the Fraser River, watching the planes ascend and descend from the Vancouver International Airport, and I could forget about my impending neurosurgery that was now less than 48 hours away.

Of course, the IPA craft beer also helped with that.

The next day, my friend departed to go back to our hometown and left me in the care of my sweet sister. This was when reality hit me.

I was now blocks from the hospital.

I was far from my daughter.

I was 36 hours from surgery.

I was scared and wanted to cancel the surgery. I felt overwhelmed with sadness and grief. I felt like I couldn’t do it, like I didn’t have the strength to get through the battle that was ahead of me.

My sister coached me, “All you have do is get your body there. That’s it. Once your body is there, they will take over.” I could not have got through this without her. She took me on long, meandering walks along the river that day and I got a good sleep two nights before surgery.

I woke up the day before surgery and felt a glimmer of hope. I felt like I could do this. We hopped in the car and went to my pre-op anesthesiologist meeting at the hospital. He asked my weight and my allergies, and let me know comforting facts, like how some people have gone blind after the surgery. Ugh. My sister saw my anxiety starting to build and quickly made a joke to make me laugh.

She gave me hope.

After my pre-op appointment, we met my sweet nieces at my favourite restaurant, Earl’s. They made their auntie laugh while we ate my favourite meal: Buffalo chicken wings and chicken Caesar salad. I couldn’t enjoy my red wine that day, as it’s frowned upon one day before surgery. After lunch, we took the top down on my sisters VW black bug with eyelashes for headlights and drove down to the Spanish banks on the Kits side of Vancouver. I walked out on the sand as far as it would go with my precious niece who rubbed my arm when she could sense my nervousness. The day seemed way too perfect to be a day before surgery. Their company and the beauty of British Columbia filled my soul, not to mention all the hundreds of people who were praying for me as I narrowed the countdown to surgery down to 24 hours.

When we got home from the beach, I went to the drug store to get the antimicrobial soap that I had to wash myself with that night and then the next morning. I forced myself to take each step to prepare for surgery as the heaviness started to settle again. Thank God for lighthearted 18 year olds when you are going through a hard time. I made a joke that I needed to “get my head in the game” and opened up the “Highschool Musical” selection on spotify to “Get’cha Head in the Game.” My niece started mimicking playing basketball and I started to sing along, pointing to my head and saying, “I gotta get my head in the game!” Movement helped dispel the swirling anxiety in my body.

I took one last antimicrobial shower and tried to get some sleep. I was to be at the hospital for surgery check-in at 5:30 a.m. the next morning.

Once again, my sister was a rockstar waking up with me and taking me to Vancouver General. As we drove to the hospital we repeated together, “High vibes, high vibes, high vibes!” When we got into the parking lot, we both noticed the amazing acoustics at five in the morning and started pretending we were the Little Mermaid, “Ahhhh ahhhh ahhhh, ahhh ahhh ahhhhhhhhhhh!!!’

I forced myself to take each step toward the admitting office. As I got closer, I could see the look of fear on the other people’s faces waiting for their surgeries. Some faces were more full of fear than others, but they were all nervous. I was so grateful for my happy, laughing sister to keep my spirit light. Every time she saw my face slide into hopelessness, she looked at me and said, “High vibes, high vibes!” And I would laugh and join in.

Once I was checked into the hospital and had my GPS tracker on me, we headed toward the surgery unit. I was surprised at my calm. I know it was because of all the support and prayers of friends and family.

There was no question I was being “held” right when I most needed it.

The smiley nurse with the pretty false lashes gave me a fresh set of antiseptic wipes and the laminated piece of plastic that told me where to wipe each part of my body to make sure I was extra clean before surgery. My sister helped me focus on the task at hand as I was having a difficult time concentrating. After I was all wiped down, the bubbly resident anesthesiologist came close to my bed and explained what was going to happen. I was so relieved to feel his jovial spirit. What a difference kindness and joy makes in a time like this.

“Okay, we’re here to get rid of those abnormal vessels, so you can go back to having everything perfect above and below!” His positivity was contagious. I smiled at the thought of not worrying about my fistula(e) bursting. He explained where they were going to put the IV in for the anesthetic and then they started wheeling me into the operating room.

I looked at my sister one last time, squeezed her hand, and said goodbye.

It was showtime.

They pushed me down the hall towards the OR. I was scared, but the smiling nurse’s face close to mine appeased me. At the last moment, I saw the double doors open to the left of me. They seemed to quickly swing my gurney to the right and then backed me into the OR.

As the double doors opened, I looked up to see the most beautiful view of downtown Vancouver and the Howe Sound mountains behind the cityscape. What a view to see right before lights out.

I knew everything was going to be okay.

I woke up almost five hours later to someone asking me where I was and what surgery I had had.

I looked at the clock and saw it was almost 12. My surgery had lasted almost five hours; it was supposed to last three.

Without a hitch I said, “Suboccipatal Bilateral Craniotomy.” The nurse laughed and smiled, “Wow, you get an A +.” I was so happy I was lucid that I tried to wiggle my toes…yes, they wiggled! Next, I circled my wrists and fanned my fingers…again, success! I spent the next few hours in recovery until they wheeled me up to the ICU. It was there I was blessed with two angels named Breanne and Audrey who watched over me and cared for me for the next 36 hours.

In fact, they cared for me so well I didn’t want to leave the ICU the next night. I was really scared about the thought of being in a room with other patients. I had heard that the rooms were packed and contained patients from all walks of life. At the end of day two in the hospital, Breanne lovingly came into my room and told me I had to move to the Neuro ward (not the Neuro ICU). I pleaded, “Nooo, I don’t want to leave here. Just let me stay.” Breanne and the care aide sort of chuckled, “But you don’t need to be in intensive care; you can’t stay here if you’re not intensive.”

“Details, details…” I laughed.

I was doing so well, I actually walked up to the other ward on foot. Breanne held me closely and my sweet sister carried my things to settle me in my new room.

We walked into the dark room and I saw one older gentleman sleeping in the corner, then I looked to the other side of the room and saw two creepy eyes peer out at me from behind the curtain to see who had just arrived in his room.

Fear set in again. The new nurse told me she was going to take out my catheter. “No, please don’t. I don’t want to have to get up to use the bathroom with these two men.” I appeased her for the night. My sister and Breanne got me tucked in and said, “Goodnight.” I wondered how I would rest with two strange men on either side of me.

I was woken up again around midnight to notice a kind, dark skinned lady move in beside me and the creepy peering eyes man. I was so relieved she was there. I could feel she was a good woman.

With the help of hydromorphine, I was able to get a good nights sleep.

The next morning, I woke up and would learn it was my turn to give hope.

As I was resting in my bed, I could hear a variety of specialists come in to talk to the kind lady beside me. It started with the regular doctor asking about the weakness in her left hand and when it started. The next specialist said they were going to send her for an MRI. I had such compassion for her as she walked through the diagnostic process within hours.

Toward the end of the day, my sister and I listened on as we had nowhere else to go and heard the neurologist say the words no one ever wants to hear.

“I’m sorry ma’am, but you have a brain tumour. We will operate Sunday.”

My heart gushed with compassion as I could feel her and her husbands sadness from feet away, just a thin blue cloth between us. My sister looked at me and covered her mouth and tears started to leak from her compassionate eyes. We wanted to pull back the curtain and give her a big hug, but we knew they needed space to process.

So I sent them the only thing I knew to send.

I sent them hope.

Over the next few hours, we listened on as they called family members to tell them the news. Between intermittent sniffles, they would say, “Please don’t tell anyone but this is what we have heard.”

It was incredibly sad. But from my journey I have learned that feeling sorry for someone does not help them. I continued to pray and send them hope.

The next day when I was about to leave, I wanted to instill some sort of positivity to them before I left, but I didn’t want to to cross that sacred sheath between us and impose on their privacy. They could hear me leave and I heard a quiet, “Best of luck.”

It was then I took a moment to give back some of all the positive vibes and prayers I had been given over the last year from so many in my life.

I looked at the kind, gentle lady and pointed to the new scar on the back of my head. I said, “If I can do this, you can do this! You got this!” A smile started to peel across her face.

“Thank you.” She said shyly.

“I’m praying for you and believing you will have a perfect surgery with a great outcome.”

It felt so good to give back hope.

It felt so good to spread light.

And that is what I have learned through this neurosurgery journey:

The power of hope.

The power of belief.

The power of prayer.

Hope truly is the wind that fuels our souls. It’s a gift we can freely give that has the ability to save and change lives.

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