“You ready?” the nurse asks after I’ve put my hospital gown on.
But is anyone ever ready for brain surgery? I was only diagnosed two weeks ago. Plus, it’s 6am and I’m tired. At least I’ll get a good sleep now. I haven’t slept since I found out.
I hop into the bed waiting for me in the corridor.
“I’ll help you get these on,” she says handing me a pair of compression socks.
The nurse helps me pull them up over my knees. They’re so tight, they feel like they’re crushing my bones.
This isn’t a good look.
About five nurses now crowd around me. They push me into the “special” lift and explain the procedure to my Mum.
She looks scared. Must be hard, having a daughter who’s dying.
The nurses dressed in blue push me through the MRI waiting area. I see families: kids with no hair, kids with broken limbs, kids with enlarged heads. They all look back at me wide-eyed. I close mine, it’s too much for a Thursday morning.
They bring me into the “loading bay.” I feel like a parcel being shipped, especially when the anaesthetist starts lifting and prodding my limbs. I just lie there like a puppet.
“So, you going to any festivals this summer?” the same nurse asks me in a thick Liverpool accent.
Good, I’m human again.
“Yeah, I’m going to V Fest in a couple of weeks.”
“That’s if Mr. Mallucci says it’s okay and you’re feeling better,” my Mum says from the other side of my bed.
I will be okay; I’ve been looking forward to V Fest for months.
“She’ll be fine,” the nurse reassures her. “She’s brave.”
My arm is lifted, and a needle is poked into my left hand, injecting anaesthesia fluid which runs coldly through my veins. It stings a little.
“I went to Glastonbury last year,” my Mum explains. “I followed a white rabbit to the underground stage to see a private showing of Fatboy Slim. It was great.”
I think the drugs might be kicking in. White rabbit? The light above me is so bright. The nurse’s head pokes through it, creating shadows across her face. She holds my hand. I imagine the White Rabbit. The nurse’s face becomes the Cheshire cat. It’s spinning. Comes closer. A glowing swirl of purple mixed with flashing bright, white eyes and yellow teeth.
I turn to my Mum.
“I don’t…” I pass out.
Thirty-two hours later, I wake back up in my hospital room. My mum is on the couch. God my head hurts. Why does it feel like I have needles crowned round my head? Must be the stitches. And what’s that smell? It smells like what I imagine a dead body rotting in the room for days would smell like. I can’t feel my left side. The room is spinning. My sight’s blurry. Am I drunk? Has this all been some vivid dream and now I’m waking up drunk? Why do I have this bandage on my head? It itches my hair and feels tight, so I pull it off. There’s blood all over my pillow now whoops.
“She’s awake,” my Mum smiles. “How’re you feeling?”
“I think I’m going to throw up.”
I’m sweating. My Dad is suddenly beside me with a cardboard bowl but there’s worms wriggling around in it, piling overreach other, a vibrant green colour, cartoon like. Why would he give me this and where did he come from? He moved like Superman. My throat burns. Who took my knickers off?
Six hours later I wake up to an echoing. Beep. Beep. Beep.
There’re two nurses playing with the wires at my ankles.
“It’s alright, you’re fine. You just move too much. It set the ECMO machine off,” one of the nurses says. “You knocked one of your wires out and you’re losing blood, but we’ll clean it up.”
So, this is real. My ankle hurts. I hear a baby crying from another room. My mum’s still on the sofa. She looks pale and tired. The nurses mess about at my ankle but I’m too tired to pay attention so lay my head back down.
The room is dark now, the only light in the room projects from the monitor, throwing purple waves that dance along to the rhythm of the beeping on its black screen. It makes me sleepy.
Five hours later, I wake up again. It’s morning now. My vision’s still blurry. I have to squint my eyes to see better. It’s like I’ve got my beer goggles on. Is that a cat at the end of my bed? It is. My mum’s still on the couch but this time there’s a cat in her lap. She doesn’t like cats. Why can I still not feel my left side? What’s that smell? It reeks. It must be Mum.
“Please put some perfume on, you smell,” I say.
“Good morning to you, too,” she says, ignoring the black cat climbing her neck.
“Get rid of the smell,” I beg.
“Ok… but I don’t know what smell you’re talking about.,” My mum says, spraying herself with deodorant.
It’s still here. Why can’t she smell it? It’s so musky. Maybe it’s me? I mean I haven’t showered, and my stitches haven’t healed. Could it be my brain? Is it leaking out? Ew I smell of damaged brain. The stitches are like a halo around my head. I think there’s one in my forehead, too.
“Is that cat not annoying you?” I ask.
Mum looks back at me with a raised brow.
A nurse comes in. She has worms coming out of her head and a brown and white tabby cat perched on top. Why’s her hair like that? Is this a circus?
“Morning beautiful,” she says. “You look better today. “You were clenching your left fist in the night; you couldn’t do that before.”
Pink, purple and green worms wriggle around her head- a budget Medusa.
“There’s a cat on your head,” I point out.
She gives me a confused look.
“Oh yes, I’ll give it a little stroke, shall I?” she says, reaching up and patting the cat.
She puts the cat down and fiddles with my wires.
“I’m just going to check your temperature.”
She sticks a thermometer in my ear, then wraps a blue sphygmomanometer around my arm to check my blood pressure. It tightens so tightly around my muscles that I feel my skin bulge over the foam. Then, she flashes a torch in my eyes so that my head hurts and little black dots float in the air around me.
I need a wee.
“Can I go to the toilet?” I ask.
“Erm sure, I’ll put you in the chair, the nurse replies.
“Can I walk?”
“You could try,” she shrugs.
She takes my hand and I dangle off the side of the bed, trying not to knock the cat. When my feet reach the floor, I wobble and my ankles curve. I fall back onto the bed. The floor spins. I’m scared.
“We’ll just use the chair,” she says.
Why can’t I walk? Am I paralysed?
She wheels me into the en-suite and lets me look in the mirror for the first time since the operation. I don’t look like me. My hair is knotted into a huge clump. My skin’s turned ghost white. A purple and yellow bruise circles my left eye. My face has bloated like a balloon and my puffed cheeks make my eyes seem smaller than before.
“You’ll look normal again soon,” the nurse flashes me an encouraging smile. “If you promise to hold on to the bars, I’ll give you some privacy.”
The nurse leaves.
I hold onto the metal bars either side of me and push as hard as I can. Weeing’s supposed to come naturally isn’t it? At least that’s what I remember. They say your memory can go funny after brain surgery. I try to wee but I can’t. There’s a bear in red jumper and yellow checker trousers in the corner of the room. It’s staring at me.
“Look away!” I hiss.
But it doesn’t.
It stares at me with its black button eyes.
I can’t wee. My body doesn’t work.
The nurse soon fetches me out of the bathroom and puts me back in bed.
My Dad, aunty and cousin have arrived now, and they look at me, horrified. There’s cats crawling all over the room. Some of them are black, some white, some striped.
“Did you wee?” the nurse asks.
“No, Rupert the Bear was watching,” I say.
Now my dad’s throwing balls at me and there’s a blue curtain flapping in my face. My family looks at me and the nurse whispers something to them.
I sit, trying to dodge the balls and the curtain. Why is this happening?
My Aunty sits at my side, so I turn to her.
“You know, I ought to complain about these cats,” I whisper concerningly. “This is supposed to be a hospital not a cat sanctuary. Surely it’s unsanitary.”
My aunty takes hold of my hand. “I’ll say something for you,” she reassures me.
I knew I could trust her.
The curtain continues to flap slowly in my face, waving in out like a belly dance. It’s pretty warm in here so I wonder where the wind’s coming from to blow it.
I try to read a copy of Jane Eyre that my family brought in, but I can’t. My brain is like a huge question mark, my body feels as though it’s rocking back and forth on a boat, and there’s cartoon party poppers bursting out of each word. I didn’t know Bronte had put that in there.
“We’re going to take you for a post-op scan,” the nurse says.
Soon a bunch of doctors, all male, come in to lift me into a new bed. I try to lift myself but I’m too weak. Don’t want them to feel how heavy I am. Stress eating. They tell me to let them do it. I obey. I look up to see my cousin standing over me, crying. Why is everyone so sad? Did I do this? I feel like crying too. I But I’ve got to remain strong. Looks like this tabby cat at the end of my bed is coming with.
In the MRI room, I’m carried onto the scan bed. The radiologist prepares me and the bed rolls into the white tube. The machine releases a purple glow. A loud growling starts, humming through.
I’m too tired for this, I’m going to…..
I wake up four hours later to see a group of doctors wearing Hannah Montana wigs and dancing round to Best of Both Worlds. Glad somebody’s having fun.
Finally, my surgeon comes in. I really need to talk to him. His hair’s grown since the last time I saw him. He flaunts long, silky hair which reaches his hips. He perches at the end of the bed with a cat on his lap. The cat camouflages with his hair. I can’t help appreciating how soft his hair looks.
“You’re probably wondering what’s happened,” he says. “You had a blood clot during surgery, so we had to close up the right side of your brain and start a new operation on the left side. It was aggressive, as bad as being hit by a car, but you’ll be able to walk again. We couldn’t remove the whole tumour, so you’ll have another operation at the end of the summer.”
Did I hear that right? Go through this again? Guess I’m not escaping this circus anytime soon. The jungle of cats continues to prowl around the room.