Thursday, November 17, 2011

Contraptions and Technology

We are in New York City, having just had my Gamma Knife procedure.

I spent over a month anticipating the procedure, being anxious about some new activity from my tumor. I knew it was going to grow, but not that fast, I should have outlasted its growth. Now, three years post brain surgery we decided on the Gamma Knife treatment.

This is an amazing procedure, slightly misnamed by calling it a knife. It seems the inventor was a surgeon and wanted the reference of a knife. It is non-invasive surgery, though. Two hundred plus, non-lethal, gamma rays come into your head from different directions and focus carefully on the tumor, with all their power, to zap it and delay any re-growth. This is really super futuristic stuff! Something is affected, even removed from your skull without any seemingly outside intervention, science-fiction stuff, remember the Hulk…that was Gamma rays.

Before all this high-tech stuff, it is necessary to have an MRI so they can see the exact position of the tumor. Now the weird stuff starts, they have to put a contraption on your head so you can keep the same position during the MRI and later when they radiate your tumor. Accuracy is very important. The last thing you want to do is miss.

You are in the midst of one of the highest tech kind of medical procedures in the world; really 22nd century stuff…suddenly your neurosurgeon and an assistant approach you with something that looks like a Civil War relic. A metal cage type thing, that seems to have been made by an amateur blacksmith, which is supposed to be screwed on to your head.

I am given a sedative and some Novocain as well as my favorite, a medical lollypop, and then my neurosurgeon starts acting like a mechanic and screws this cage on to my head…yes I did say screws it on, into my skull. It seems to me that something a little less primitive could be developed to hold my head steady so that the Gamma rays hit the tumor accurately.

During the procedure I had a 4-hour wait with this contraption on my head, between MRI, calculation of the rays and then the actual Gamma knife procedure. I was part of three patients that were scheduled for the procedure. I was to go last since my tumor was near my left optic nerve and they required a little more time to prepare. Needless to say I got bored and made a paper mustache to wear on my rig. It seemed to have made a difference to some of the somberness that existed in the ward. Paper mustaches will do it every time.

This was an incredible experience. I am sure they got it. We will have confirmation in about 3 months when I have an MRI to check on the condition of the tumor, but I feel very optimistic. Let’s face it, if it still is there, we come back and do it again…by then the “contraption” will be redesigned and be comfortable as well as light and not have to be screwed on. And maybe it will come with a mustache!