Life viewed through a window made of codeine….
Just after Mr. P had checked on me and phoned my wife (I could hear him talking to her on the phone), one of the nurses looking after me in the recovery room came to see me. I was thinking about my wife and the fact that she’d be on her way to see me. I can honestly say I’ve never yearned to see someone so much in my life! The nurse asked me if I wanted any painkillers. My head was starting to hurt a little, but it wasn’t unbearably bad. I’d been warned before the operation that it would likely be painful and I felt pleased that it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I asked her what I could have and she said “either paracetamol, codeine or morphine”. I judged the pain to be worse than mere paracetamol level, but didn’t like the sound of taking morphine. It didn’t feel so bad as to warrant that, plus I had this overwhelming feeling that I’d just spent the last 8 hours being pumped full of strong, unnamed drugs. I craved a return to some sort of ‘real world’, so I went for the codeine. After about 20 minutes it started to kick-in and the pain eased off a bit and after another 20 minutes they decided I was well enough to be taken back to the ward. When I arrived, it turned out that I had to be isolated in my own room due to the ‘brain dye’ I’ve taken (something about not being exposed to daylight for 48 hours). The dark room was calm and comforting after the alien environment of the operating theatre. A nurse had been assigned to be with me for the first 24 hours. Her job was to check my vitals and basic neurological responses every 15 minutes. I felt somewhat beaten up physically for sure, and the catheter that had been fitted was really bothering me and I wanted it taken out (not allowed for 24 hours!), but mentally I felt very elated. The surgery had been as successful as it could have been and felt like an incredibly life affirming experience. When Mr. X and Mr. P came to check on me whilst I was waiting for my wife, I was falling over myself to try and thank them for what they had done for me but I felt inadequate in not being able to find sufficient words to express the gratitude I felt. When my wife and father turned up to see me, I was overwhelming relived to see some familiar faces and my wife hugged me for a long time. Although she did an incredible job of not showing me at the time, she later told me that she was really shocked when she saw me for the first time after the operation. She said it was the first time since it had all started that I looked like a ‘patient’; with all the tubes and lines coming out of me, she was genuinely scared. I didn’t really realize at the time, but I understood later that by the time she turned up, I was becoming a little incoherent as the combined effects of the surgery, the drugs I’d been given and tiredness kicked in. It didn’t matter though; I chatted to my wife for a bit and then started to fall asleep mid sentence so we agreed they should go home and I would see them the next day. I fell asleep for a couple of hours (being woken every 15 minutes by the dutiful nurse caring for me) before I suddenly awoke with a real start. It was about 11pm and my head felt like it was literally about to split in two, it was agonizing. I started to realize that the smug confidence I’d had earlier about the level of pain was a mirage. I’d been continuing to benefit from the local anesthetic from the operation and now it was all starting to wear off, the true extent of the discomfort was revealing itself. I tried to endure it for about ½ hour, but it the end I called out quite pitifully to the nurse and asked if she could give me something for the pain. I’d already had the maximum of both paracetamol and codeine allowed by that point so she called the doctor to check on me and he told me to take some morphine, which I then did. An hour later I still wasn’t feeling any better so they gave me some more. Almost as soon as I’d taken it, the full extent of the crippling pain must melted away and I let out a long sigh and felt myself relax into the bed. I then had a pretty enjoyable night! I couldn’t sleep at all but I started watching films on iTunes and chatting to the nurse, I was having a great time! I finally drifted off to sleep about 6 in the morning and by 11am was awake again, catheter removed and waiting for the visiting times to see my wife again. My head was throbbing away but the combined codeine and paracetamol was managing it and by the evening they let me get out of bed for the first time to go to the toilet on my own. This tiny regained autonomy felt absolutely amazing! That evening the surgery also felt different for some reason as well. Whilst the immediate aftermath had left me feeling elated, thinking about it the next day sort of frightened me as well. There were aspects that in the cold light of day felt like brutal and harsh and the weakness I felt accentuated that to me. The next day I was allowed to go home and I was desperate to get back to my own environment. It wasn’t until I was taken down to the car (a simple lift ride and no more than 20 steps) that I realised just how weak I still was after the op. I felt unbelievably ‘sea-sick’ (a common side effect of brain surgery) and the drive home felt like a choppy cross-channel crossing. I was dipping in and out of consciousness (through tiredness rather than anything sinister) by the time we got home and my wife had to help me out of the car and support me up the path to the front door. When the front door opened my kids both burst through to see, both shouting ‘Daddy!’ in excitement. My son thrust his hand out to show me a science experiment he had just completed which looked to all intent purposes like a bowl of jelly vomit. He also had a fake eyeball he had made! It was a beautiful moment actually, but I was in such a state that I stumbled my way through chatting to him as best I could, admiring his eye-ball but then had to be swiftly taken up to bed where I instantly fell asleep. And there I stayed for about two weeks. The combination of vertigo from the surgery, weakness and head-splitting headaches became a routine which could only be managed through what felt like a never-ending series of tablets. For two weeks I literally continually took a alternating cycle of codeine and paracetamol to the maximum allowed dose, day and night. I had to set an alarm to wake me up to take the tablets and had a little notebook to write down what I had taken and when so that I didn’t accidentally overdose by doubling up on the wrong tablets. Such was the intensity of the pain that any gaps in the tablets would cause the headache to spike and be intolerable. After the first week the codeine was making me really constipated, so I take to start taking a mild laxative as well, again, all timed to perfection as my phone continually beeped at me to remind me to take the next set. To start of with, pretty much all I could do was to sleep, but after the first week I started to be awake for a bit longer and I could watch the odd film to pass the time. I found that I couldn’t really face any ‘serious’ films and horror films (which I usually love) seemed too ‘horrific’ with the surgery so fresh in my mind. In the end, the only ones I could manage were really shit and banal ‘superhero’ films and I worked my way through a whole bunch that I had consciously missed when they had come out. It passed the time. At the end of the second week I was started to emerge from the initial healing process and was getting out of bed more and more, spending more time with the kids and finding some strength. I then took a conscious decision to stop taking codeine, which had become the background of my perceived reality. It was a bit of a rough transition to be honest. Codeine is a really odd drug. In addition to removing the pain, it sort of wrapped me in a kind of warm, self indulgent blanket of indifference. It was a bit like feeling physically good but mentally vacant, almost ‘dead’ emotionally, which under the circumstances was secretly welcome. I could see how easily it might be to become dependent on that feeling and I imagined one might slide slowly down a spongy tube of codeine, perfected protected from pain, angst, pleasure and joy. It got me through the 2 weeks of blinding head-pain, but I wanted to rejoin my family and be back in the room with my kids, to be a father again. I also had my first return to the hospital scheduled the following week where I would receive the final and definitive diagnosis of my condition, achieved through the tests on the tumour that was removed. As tempting as it was to face that within a codeine induced bubble, I really wanted my wits about me in that discussion. My instincts were telling me that I was very much going to need them. Go here to the start of the journey. Go here for next blog entry. Go here for previous blog entry.