It's all there is, all that I'm aware of.
The insides of my eyes are a wall of red and I feel like I'm spinning. There is no sense of head or back or arms or legs. There is everything and everything is raging, throbbing, searing.
PAIN. PAIN. PAIN.
Slowly, I break back through the surface of consciousness and my mouth begins to work.
"I'm in so much pain," I groan with a stinging, swollen throat.
"My name is Pam," a voice answers. "I'm your nurse."
My eyes fly open. She keeps talking, she's saying more words at me but I can't hear them. They don't register because in that moment the pain has been chased away by the relief of awareness that I have communicated with someone.
I spoke to her and she understood me. She spoke to me and I understood her.
My brain is working. I can think.
I am me.
* * * * *
I have a degree in psychology. Once upon a time, back in college, I knew the central nervous system inside and out. I could have drawn you a picture of the human brain, labeled each section, and explained the function of each part.
Here's your frontal lobe.
You, in the sense of your personality, with all of the incredible and maddening things that make you YOU, are born from your frontal lobe. It's the room where your memories live, your compassion swells, your despair bleeds. This part of your brain is your heart and soul.
Over here in the brain stem is the medulla oblongata.
The medulla oblongata controls your basic functions, things like your breathing and heart rate, things that your body just does because it's a body.
See how they are not the same? See how they are two different places?
But that's my college self, with her textbook and her studying and her grades. My 38 year old self tells her, You don't know this yet, but there's a tumor growing in your brain stem. Eventually, it will grow large enough to push on your 6th cranial nerve and cause you to see double. Three neurosurgeons will work to get it out.
You're going to be afraid of waking up as someone you do not recognize, someone who is flat and emotionless.
You're going to be afraid that YOU will be lost.
My college self shakes her head. You're not looking at the science. The tumor isn't near the frontal lobe. Your surgeons won't be poking around there. Your personality, your memories, YOU will be safe.
All the science says so.
* * * * *
My friends are here.
Pam The Nurse has blonde hair. Sascha has blonde hair. Dana has brown hair.
This is Dana standing on my right, rubbing my leg. The right side of the room is almost nonexistent because I can't hear out of my right ear and my right eye is covered so that I don't see double. But I feel the warmth and pressure and love from her hand, through the blankets, as she rubs my leg for me.
CONNECTION: I know you. I love you. Look at me, Dana, I didn't die today. Thank you for being here, thank you for rubbing my leg.
I am me.
This is Sascha, standing on my left, holding my hand. I'm babbling, telling her I'm proud of myself and proud of her as the nurse laughs and says that this is common in surgical patients, it's known as post-surgery euphoria.
CONNECTION: I know you. I love you. Look at me, Sascha, I didn't die today. Thank you for being here, thank you for holding my hand.
I am me.
Soon I'm telling Pam again about the pain. They cut a muscle from in front of my ear and used it as a patch in my skull. From my jaw down through my neck, and spreading out into my shoulder, my muscles are screaming.
Pain. Pain. Pain.
Gratitude. Relief. Joy.
I can think. I can feel. I can speak.
I am me.