Post Adventure Sunday Update One

I thought I was finished with the blog, but here I am again.  A number of people have asked about my continuing recovery and requested an update.  All in all, each day I feel better.  Confession: I feel like I’ve been in an Amazing Race episode to break the world record for recovering from brain surgery.  This may be backfiring.  I worked four hours on Thursday, six hours on Friday and then went to a three-hour play Friday evening.  Yesterday Robyn and I drove two and a half hours each way to the funeral of one of my favorite uncles (actually Robyn did all the driving).  Last night the headaches returned for the first time in over a week and I had to use a double dose of the migraine medication to control the pain – the first time in over a week.  It feels like a setback so today I’m reminding myself that this is not a contest.

Other than the headaches, the only other side effect of the surgery is some trouble finding the right words at times, probably an after-effect of the anesthesia.  I’m sure it’s more pronounced when I am tired so it’s another good reason to keep rested.  On a positive note, it’s becoming more clear each day that one of my most useful qualities has not been compromised – the ability to point out a better way to do just about anything.

Many of you may be surprised by this quality since I generally only share it with those with whom I am closest and most comfortable.  Maybe it’s the engineer in me but there’s not much I appreciate more than finding a more efficient and effective way to do just about anything.  I am sure everyone feels the same way.  This quality may reach its zenith when I’m a car passenger.  I am more than pleased to share a better route to our destination, a better way to park, the best lane for driving, the most appropriate speed limit – any number of observations and ideas that will improve our driving experience and get us there quicker.

Since I am not driving yet and Robyn is my main chauffeur, she has become the primary beneficiary of my useful tips and advice.  I can tell her driving has improved in the past three weeks.  A student that equals the teacher.  I’m convinced the reason she threatened to throw me out of the car ten miles from Greensboro yesterday was to build my confidence that I could get home on my own.

Even better, I don’t charge for all this useful consulting.  So, if you need some driving advice just let me know; I may be looking for a new driver.


Day 26 – The Adventure Ends

Every adventure ends.  Part of what qualifies something as an adventure is that it’s different than what typically happens; there are unknowns, it ends and you return to your normal life.  My favorite part of every adventure is coming home and seeing my normal life with new perspective.  My normal life hasn’t changed because of the adventure, but I have.  The interesting thing about this adventure is that I started it not wanting to be changed.  My plan was to be a non-adventurous “tourist” – stay in the most Western hotels, eat only the familiar foods and fraternize with the other tourists – not the formula for a very good adventure.  But then something happened.

I started to write about the thoughts and feelings that the journey was producing.  It was a different trip in that I did not control the destination or the itinerary.  Truth be told, some days when I posted the blog, I felt complete panic.  Exposing my feelings or my inner thoughts in a public way is not in my comfort zone.  I like being somewhat anonymous.  On many days the anxiety from posting the blog was greater than the anxiety of the brain surgery.

There’s no doubt that this adventure has changed me and, like most adventures, those changes will be revealed in the days, weeks and months to come.  One thing is very clear to me: this adventure could not have taken place without everyone who read the blog, be it once or every day.  Whether you commented or not, I could see the site stats and knew you were there.  Whether you knew it or not, you have been collaborators in this adventure.  Thanks for a great journey.

I even have some souvenirs from this journey: a cool scar, a great book, cards that I will keep forever, a special new hat and a beautiful hand-knitted prayer shawl.  One of the things I always try to do when I travel to a new land is bring home some piece of folk art that captures the essence of that place.  The prayer shawl rivals the best folk art I’ve ever seen and it is from right here in Greensboro.  Simply amazing.

Syd is great and I’ve experienced his or her presence in every caring act, thoughtful card, blog comment, email, specially prepared food and nonjudgmental acceptance of my attempts to write.

I’m home and have to move slowly for a few weeks.  If you have time, I would love to see you and I promise there will be no travel slide show. But I will show you my scar.

Day 25 – Home

We’re home!  I saw the surgeon at 9 a.m. today and by 10:30 I was cleared to go home.  Robyn and I went straight to the hotel and packed as fast as we could and headed home.  Actually Robyn did all the packing and she also did all driving since I cannot drive for two weeks.  She has been amazing.

As the sun was setting this evening, we crossed into North Carolina and in front of us was one of those spectacular Blue Ridge Mountain views.  I was simply overwhelmed.  I was taken by surprise by the emotion and still feel emotional now just remembering.  I felt such gratitude that I was returning to such a wonderful place and that I have so many wonderful friends who care about me and support me.  The state motto suddenly came back to me from fifth grade North Carolina history…

Here’s to the land of the long leaf pine,

the summer land where the sun doth shine.

Where the weak grow strong

and the strong grow great.

Here’s to down home, the old North State.

I also had quite a welcome from Georgia the white dog.  For those who don’t know Georgia, she is head of security at Discovery Learning.  Her passion is going to work.

Let the healing continue!

Day 24 – I’m back

I’m not sure where to start.  The past five days are, for the most part, a fog.  I can’t lie – the migraine headaches that are the temporary side effect of the surgery have been debilitating.  I feel reasonably well one minute, ready to walk around the block and go downstairs to the restaurant, then the migraine returns.  The worst one came during the night last night and took about seven hours to wrangle down.  The good news: as of yesterday I have a new migraine medication that I can take as soon as the headache appears.  Unfortunately, I awoke from a good sleep with the headache and it was too late for the medication, which has to be taken prior to the full blown headache and doesn’t work once the headache is in full swing.  I’ve already had the opportunity to try it out today and it does seem to be working.

A big thanks to Kate for filling in during my foggy days.  Each day she read your comments to me, and since I don’t remember a lot from those days, I re-read them all again yesterday.  It’s impossible to express how much I appreciate your prayers, positive thoughts, good wishes and humor.  I’ve had incredible care from the medical personnel here but also from Robyn, Kate and Kristina.  Robyn is still stuck with me here in the hotel room.  If this is driving me crazy, I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be for her.  Thank you, Robyn!

I cannot read the computer screen for too long so I want to quickly mention a few things for which I have developed a new appreciation…

  1. Sleep – what a blessing sleep can be.
  2. Soft pillows – no more needs to be said.
  3. Ice chips – these may have saved my life.  For at least thirty hours all I had to do was move my lips and Kate, Kristina or Robyn dropped in a piece of ice.  I was reminded of a baby bird opening its mouth to be fed by one of its parents.  Kate stayed in intensive care with me the first night and I’m pretty sure that she did not take her eyes off my mouth for eight straight hours.  It was simply amazing.
  4. Handrails – and when I did not have handrails I had two of the most beautiful young ladies in the world on each side of me holding my hands and correcting my 30 degree list to the left.
  5. Straws that bend – these may be the best thing ever made.  I really think their inventor should be considered for a Nobel Prize.
  6. Thin, flat food – bacon, English muffins, etc., food that you can get into your mouth without parting your lips more than a quarter inch or so.
  7. Hooded sweatshirts – I can walk around without grossing out strangers with my Frankenstein-esque stitches.
  8. Medicines of all kinds, but especially the ones for pain.

We are scheduled for our follow-up visit with the surgeon tomorrow morning at 9 a.m.  Hopefully the next stop will be Greensboro.  It will feel good beyond words to be home.

Day 23

Written by Kate Musselwhite, Chris’s youngest daughter

Unfortunately, today’s will be another quick post but it’s better than nothing, right? Kristina and I made the drive back to D.C. today. While it was really difficult to leave Mom and Dad in Pittsburgh, Dad’s improvement has been remarkable and we know they’ll be just fine, especially with the great support system that has rallied around them there. We all had a nice breakfast in the hotel restaurant this morning before my sister and I hit the road and Dad was in great spirits. He’s still a bit tired and suffering from on-and-off headaches, but all in all, he is continuing to recover like a champ. And hopefully they’ll have a good football game to watch tonight while they do nothing. I think Dad’s pulling for the Giants (or against the Patriots), but he’ll have to confirm.

Like I mentioned yesterday or the day before, they’ll go meet with Dr. Gardner sometime on Tuesday for a follow-up appointment, at which time they will have a better idea of when they get to head home themselves. In the car on our road trip today, Kristina and I agreed that someone really needs to film Dad’s reunion with Georgia, as it will no doubt be priceless.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a quote I’ve kept forgetting to include in previous days’ posts. It came out of Dad’s mouth literally hours after his operation, after the initial nausea wore off and we were all just quietly hanging out in his ICU room…

“I just had brain surgery… Damn.”


Day 22

Written by Kate Musselwhite, Chris’s youngest daughter

My apologies in advance – this is going to be a short post. We just got back to our hotel from dinner and a nice drive around downtown Pittsburgh. Mom and Dad were so impressed with their drive coming into Pittsburgh this past Sunday through the tunnel on Highway 376 that we did it again tonight just to re-see the sights. The lit-up Pittsburgh skyline was so pretty at nighttime over the Ohio River.

Dad’s still doing well – he had a bit of a rough afternoon with headaches, but took a long nap and is feeling better now. For the most part, he’s just been practicing doing nothing.

Day 21

Written by Kate Musselwhite, Chris’s youngest daughter

I’m happy to say that I’m writing this post from the hotel room with my dad lounging nearby on the bed. That’s right, he’s a free man! They discharged him today a little before 2 p.m. and he’s back at the Pittsburgh Courtyard Marriott now, his home away from home for the next few days.

Post-op Dad.

The second night in the hospital was much smoother for him than the first, thanks in part to the drugs that knocked him out and let him sleep more soundly, but also because he just seemed to be improving in general. A member of the surgical team came in around 4 a.m. to remove the bandage from the incision spot, which I had been dying to see… To those who are easily grossed out, my apologies in advance for the picture I took so that Dad could check out his scar.

After last night’s post, I helped him stand up for the first time, then today while Mom was there, he got up and moved around a lot more. He walked to the bathroom, sat in the chair in his room and ate a hearty breakfast, then walked up and down 12 stairs with the physical therapist to prove he was mobile enough to leave the hospital. He will have a follow-up appointment with the neurosurgeon on Tuesday and if all goes well there, he and Mom could be headed back to Greensboro as early as Wednesday. We’ll see.

Dad's incision scar. The staples will be removed back in Greensboro.

I know we’ve probably said it a million times, but words cannot express our gratitude to Dr. Paul Gardner, to the whole UPMC surgical team and especially to the Snydermans. Nancy flew in to be here for the surgery and helped keep us all calm and informed, despite her hectic schedule and travel. Carl, director of the Center for Cranial Base Surgery here at UPMC, not only worked incredibly quickly to help Dad get connected with one of the best neurosurgeons around, but has continued to take so much time out of his busy schedule this week to personally check in on Dad at the hospital. We hope they both know how much they’ve helped to take some of the scariness out of this experience and how much their generosity and kindness means to our entire family.

Dad's view.

Finally, if you were worried about Dad’s brain not functioning as normal, worry no more. About an hour ago, while putting in his two cents for today’s blog, he told me to be sure to explain how the surgery-induced migraine was caused by a typical post-op reduction in “amniotic fluid.” (For the record, he was referring to cerebrospinal fluid, not the stuff for fetuses.)

So, we’re all extremely relieved to be out of the hospital and that Dad has turned such a big corner on his road to recovery. He’s now comfortably resting and happy in the hotel room, looking out at his view of the beautiful church across the street. Looks like Syd’s still close by.