Two weeks ago, Clifton and I lay in bed in the middle of the night, just hours before our 6am check in at the hospital. I was heading to surgery for the second time in a week, and we were trying to get our heads wrapped around the situation we were about to embark on. As often happens the night before surgery, we laid awake for a good portion of the night, listening to music and talking. When I was finally tired enough to fall asleep, Clifton wiped my half-dried tears and asked me what I was most looking forward to the next day, and I didn’t even hesitate. “I can’t wait to see Dr. Yundt in pre-op; because then I know I’ll feel better.”
The next morning, for the ninth time in just over three years, we prepared for shunt surgery, going through the motions of all of the preparations - the paperwork, the IV, the infection prevention wipes, the sticky plastic-lined heated paper gown that hooks up to a warm air supply. Waiting. Watching the clock. Wishing I could have a sip of water. Listening to more music and breathing. The nurses at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, Oregon are amazing. They are positive, empathetic, and encouraging. But almost all of them recognize us now, which means we’ve been there too much. We answer the same questions over and over. “Aren’t you from Salem? Why do you drive three hours to come over here for care?”
And the answer doesn’t ever change, again, without hesitation… “for Dr. Yundt.”
Then, he comes in, finally, and takes his sharpie and marks my forehead. Looks me directly in the eyes. Softly curses how much hair I have. Jokes about shaving it all off. Asks me what kind of music we should listen to in the operating room. Asks Clifton if he has any questions. Then, it’s over. The waiting, the wondering, the pain. By the time I wake up, almost every time, it’s immediately better. And as soon as I see him, I’m thankful, and I feel better.
Navigating life with hydrocephalus is a tricky balancing act. I want desperately to be as healthy as possible, and I’d love to never have another brain surgery, but unfortunately, that’s probably not my reality. I’ve never had a shunt last longer than 18 months, and it’s complicated. So I’m not sure where I would be if I didn’t have a neurosurgeon who I can completely trust. The battle is so convoluted and twisted at times. Confusing and frustrating are words that don’t even begin to describe the emotions involved in trying to stay on top of symptoms, surgeries, and recoveries. And I am lucky, because I have found a surgeon who is a good fit for me. I feel like I can tell him anything - even in the most difficult of times. I work hard at not questioning his decisions when it comes to my care, and I work even harder to make him proud of me, always. I want him to know that I’m doing the absolute best I can, and even if I’m not perfect, I’m going to give it my all, every time.
The night before the very first time Dr. Yundt operated on me, Clifton and I sat in his office and had a meeting with him about the path that lay ahead of us. It’s crazy to think that at the time, none of us had any idea what that would truly mean. We went through the general outline of the procedure, what the game plan was, and what to expect. He asked us if we had any questions. Then, he said something to me that I will never, ever forget. He said, “Ok, here’s the deal. From tomorrow forward, it’s my job to make the decisions about what happens with your shunt. I’ll need you to follow my lead on that. And from tomorrow forward, it’s going to be your job to get as healthy as possible, and live the best life you can, in between whatever may happen.” In that meeting, he asked me to agree to that. I looked him in the eyes, and promised him I would trust him with the decisions regarding my shunt. In the three years that have followed, I’ve been scared, I’ve been frustrated. I’ve been in pain. I’ve been angry. I’ve been hurt. I’ve cried, I’ve sobbed, I’ve wept. And I’ve worked at getting healthy, and staying strong mentally and physically. I’ve trained and I’ve fought. I’ve tried many different therapies and treatments to do my part, and keep up my end of the bargain. But I have never gone back on that promise. I trust the hands that hold my head. Because he asked me to, and I told him I would. Sometimes that’s all you have; trust in the midst of chaos.
Happy New Year, friends.
Here's to the relentless pursuit of everything important.
My name is Amy but friends and family call me Am. I am a lover of dogs, good whiskey, and strength training. I'm a brain surgery survivor (x29), a fiddle player, a construction designer, and a boxing enthusiast. I have six real siblings, and five fake brothers. I love deeply, and consider my close friends to be family.