Saturday, October 24, 2009

I've Got Brains that Dingle, Dangle, Dingle

Next Thursday, October 29th, I’m having Chiari Decompression surgery at CMC Main. I have an Arnold Chiari Malformation Type 1 with a syrinx. Sounds complicated, but it’s actually very simple. My brain has “tonsils” in the back lower section that hang out of the base of my skull. No, my brain is not too big for my skull. Kate says that my skull is too small for my brain. I just say that my brain “dangles.”

The tonsils impede the flow of cranial fluid which has formed a syrinx (cyst) of fluid in my spinal cord. The syrinx is growing, so my doctor has recommended surgery to prevent any irreversible damage to my spinal cord. The surgery will release the pressure on my brain and allow the cranial fluid to flow as normal, theoretically minimizing the syrinx.

Here’s how the surgery works: Going in through the back of my head and neck area, the doctor will remove a portion of the bone at the base my skull and first vertebrae. He’ll then cut an incision in my brain’s dura (the brain’s protective outer layer). The incision will create a “Y” opening in my dura that will release the pressure it’s currently putting on my brain. He’ll patch the expansion in my dura with some type of patch (most likely the lining of a cow’s stomach, or perhaps cadaver dura), sew up my head, and send me on my way. I’ll be in the ICU overnight, and then in the hospital for an additional 2 – 3 days. And then, most likely craving Chik-Fil-A (get it? Because of the cow stomach lining?).

About three years ago I went to the emergency room with a violent headache. The doctor performed an MRI and discovered the Chiari and syrinx of fluid. We’ve been monitoring it ever since with annual MRI’s. I have been very lucky – most people with Chiari have pronounced symptoms that affect them daily (debilitating headaches, tingling in appendages, tension in head and neck area, nausea, dizziness, imbalance). Thankfully I would only experience an awful headache about twice a year, three times at the most. But in the past nine months, my symptoms worsened. And when I had another headache in August, I went in for my MRI and they discovered that the syrinx had grown. Now I realize that I, too, had been experiencing all of the more pronounced symptoms, but I linked them to stress. I never linked them to Chiari.

Recovery – that’s the unknown part. I’ll be exhausted, physically and mentally, for a couple of weeks after the procedure. They’ve told me to plan to be “doing very little” for six weeks (does “very little” include a matinee premiere of “New Moon?” on November 20th? It does? Good). My doctor said that every available energy cell will direct itself to my head and neck area as I heal, and that I need to rest as often as possible to allow the process to work properly. Stitches come out about 10 days after the surgery, and I’ll hopefully be cleared to drive about three weeks after the surgery. Just in time for Black Friday shopping after Thanksgiving. I’m kidding. (Am I?)

So that’s pretty much it. Feel free to joke with me about my dangly brain, or about the cow lining I’ll soon have in my head. I’ve been laughing my way through this entire process. In the grand scheme of things, this is really no big deal. Sure, its brain surgery, but it’s also preventative surgery. And it’s (hopefully) a one-time only deal. I consider myself lucky that I don’t have anything wrong that can’t be fixed. And while this surgery is rare, I have complete faith in my doctor. He said to me “We don’t perform Chiari Decompression surgeries all the time. But the procedure is the beginning and ending of every craniotomy I do, just without all of that stuff in the middle.” Like removing a tumor, or eradicating cancer. So I’m considering myself pretty low on the neurosurgery totem pole.

We’ll keep you posted with updates, and I’ll most likely include silly, rambling posts to occupy my time. Much thanks to Kris Daniels for setting up this blog. And to Sheri for arranging the meal train (food is love, a certain friend always tells me). I know I’m a good person, and that people (generally) like me, but good gracious, folks – nothing like having a bit of brain surgery to fully understand how much you are truly loved. I can’t thank all of you enough for the positive vibes, prayers, thoughts, laughs, and hugs.

More to come…




  1. Molly, you da woman! Can't wait to read your first post surgery blog...what a ride this will be. Think of the roller coaster simulation from "Parenthood"! You will do this like you do everything, beautifully. We love you. Gin

  2. Molly! Molly!!! we're here for you babe.

  3. Good Luck Molly! Must have been one of those Buckley Genes! lol We will be thinking about you tomorrow and saying lots of prayers. Get well soon. I'll look forward to your FB posts as you recover. Love Ya.
    Larry and Mary and Gang