WEEK ONE: BRAINSTORM

Reality check: I thought The Apprentice was the hardest thing I’d ever done until just last week I found myself diagnosed with a brain tumour and facing brain surgery which ultimately took me to ‘task’

I had previously  said The Apprentice was the” hardest thing” I’d ever done-obviously brain surgery has made me re-evaluate what’s really important. 

Last year I took part in BBC1’s The Apprentice and at the time I found the whole experience very challenging. In various interviews I would flippantly remark that it was the “hardest thing” I’d ever done. I realise now how naive a statement that was because just last week I had a seizure and it seems my life or at least my outlook has changed forever. After the seizure I was rushed to emergency where they found a tumor in my brain. Before I knew it I was in hospital prepping for surgery to have it removed; what followed was a whirlwind of pain, emotion and disappointment.

I was about to write that this blog post is the hardest thing I’ve ever done because, believe me, writing this while in recovery is no easy feat (it took me a week and two failed attempts to navigate my way through this keyboard). But in actuality, the hardest thing was obviously surviving the brain surgery – a journey of pain and sorrow unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

Flashback two weeks ago where I was heading up a new project – the redesign of a magazine I co-created: Stellar, with its new editor. The editor Vicki and I go waaaay back and our office at VIP Publishing has always felt like a home away from home for me. Good times. It was just a typical Stellartastic Wednesday morning where Vicki and myself were debating which Stellar staff members were which Spice Girl. My typical brand of guilty-time-passing-pleasure at Stellar towers and beyond. You can be über-creative and have the craic, trust me! But just as I’d settled on Geri Halliwell as my preferred Spice I beckoned Vicki over in a flurry of excitement as some gossip sprang to mind. But as I did so a strange sensation overcame me. My left hand felt like it was moving in thick jelly and my speech froze. I say speech rather than mouth because it felt like the power to communicate deserted me not just the mechanism, if that makes sense. This was the moment my seizure began. The single most terrifying thing you can ever imagine. I desperately tried to tell Vicki what was happening but my mouth wouldn’t work and the left side of my face felt like it was melting and being pulled to the floor like gooey molasses. I fixed on Vicki’s face but with no way to share what was happening I felt completely trapped. Reality vanished and time stopped. Luckily Vicki and the other staff at the office kept me safe until it “passed”.

When you come out of seizure it’s like coming out of a thick gluey bath of anaesthesia. I felt sick, I got sick and I was completely confused. You lose time – just like in an operation you can’t understand where you’ve gone or how you got back. If it hadn’t been for Vicki’s face guiding me back to the “surface” i don’t know what I would’ve done. The ambulance arrived and I was hoisted into a wheelchair. I remember the paramedic’s blue rubber gloved hand. In my emotional state I reached for it but he drew back – even then that seemed kind of harsh. Thankfully Vicki was quick to offer hers instead. It was a gesture I’ll never forget.

Fast forward to the emergency room where they tried to get to the bottom of what exactly was going on within my brain with callous candour. After being poked and prodded they ran a CT scan which showed up a small dark area- so a more detailed MRI was required. when you get an MRI they run a ‘line” into you’re arm and inject you with dye that shows up everything in more detail- this ran into my unusually narrow blood vessels too quickly and hurt like hell and so marked the first of many small necessary “evils” which would plague me for the following weeks. I seemed to be constantly prodded, poked and injected until reduced to tears on several occasions.

At hospital where I  had to spend a few days prior to surgery on anti-seizure medication-i had no idea what was in store for me-  you can still some of the marks on my face from where i fell over.

My war wound- where staples held together the wound from my craniotomy surgery. Even now i can tell how sad i am in this image.

What they found was something called a low-grade glioma tumour. It had caused my seizure and was located on the right side of my brain in an area I was was told was “easily operable”. Note: this was the type of conversation which I grew to familiarise myself with and which admittedly constantly irked me. Surgeons are life savers and to their credit realists, but they are constantly telling you “the good news”: “it’s operable” “we can remove it”, “it’s low grade”, it seems non-aggressive”. But to me, NONE of this was good news – my skull was about to be opened so a chunk of tumour could be cut out of my actual brain. No part of this was a Disney fairytale. Sorry, the news it was operable was not going to have me shitting rainbows. Oh, by the way, that’s the other news. Since surgery, I no longer have that filter that enables you to sugar coat things. “Truth bombs” found me after all.

So I lay there beside the anaesthesiologist. “I’m nervous,” I kept saying, almost pleading. I truly hated that feeling as I drifted away from myself. I woke up a couple of hours later in a WORLD of pain known as “high dependency”. You are monitored, fed drugs and more or less shouted at. I think the staff do this to try and snap you back to “reality”. It does work. The kind nurses are the ones that stay with me – I make that differentiation because I experienced one or two unkind ones. More on that next time.
So yeah, did I mention the pain? All the Oxy (morphine in pill form) can’t prepare you for the levels of pain I felt. Also I vomited it all up so fat lot of good that did me. Thank you God for paracetamol drips!

During that first night I genuinely felt like I was dying! I cried a lot and pined for friends and family.

Speaking of friends and family… It’s a cliché, but you will be surprised by who steps up and who steps back. In a drugged state, I tried to contact those I loved only to have some make no response or worse, really immature shitty remarks, while others sent bouquets and held my hand. A crisis like this truly separates those who care from those who don’t give a damn.

Not my best look: Very spaced out and in a lot of pain here shortly after surgery. The lines in my wrists were actually really painful. Before all this happened I had developed a habit of watching Absolutely fabulous before bed which post surgery was very calming. Thank you Jennifer Saunders & Joanna Lumley!

Breakfast was interesting. I couldn’t even see things directly in front of me and then magically I’d “find” them. Thankfully, it was only temporary. I thank the gods for Absolutely Fabulous and Jennifer Saunders on Netflix – laughter or at least watching it really is the best medicine. Right now recovery involves me being at home and feeling exhausted constantly. I also feel totes emosh all the time and I will literally cry at the drop of a hat – also symptomatic of recovery. I have sexy scar on the right side of my head where the staples until just recently held me together and it is literally all I can do not to obsess about the fact that someone (an amazing surgeon obvs) was INSIDE MY SKULL tinkering around. Post-surgery, I can smell EVERYTHING (no perfumed anything thanks!) and Schweppes slimline tonic water gives me life. I can’t even look at coffee. So, yeah, more updates on weird changes next time.

That’s it for now. I’m very aware that this will not be the most amazing post you’ve ever read but the fact I’ve managed to write a week after brain surgery is good enough for me. I just wanted to share with the world what exactly has happened to me and to offer hope to anyone experiencing something similar. I had brain surgery and I survived and so can you – you won’t be damaged or weird or “odd” afterwards and you will smile again. Your family and your partner will be your heroes and I hope, like me you too have a “Vicki” if you have the unpleasant experience of your first seizure. I thought The Apprentice was the hardest thing I’d ever done and now that seems ridiculous – it was just a TV show with some really mean people in a boardroom. Now I know life is too short, so be nice!

If you are about to experience brain surgery and would like to contact me or to ask me ANYthing you can  email me here or tweet me here