"Tell me, what have you come to see us for?" asks the friendly neurosurgeon when he ushers you into his consulting room. You tell him it's because your MRI scan showed you had a bulge in your spine. "Okay, tell me about your headaches."
You say that you get really bad headaches at least once a month, they're accompanied by nausea and last all day, all night and you wake up with them the next morning. They start when you sit down at your desk in the office, and it gets worse as the day progresses. When you get home, you wish someone would take a hammer and smash your head in. Maybe that's the only thing that'll stop the pain.
Then a set of diagnostic questions:
Do you feel numbness in your fingers, weakness in your limbs.
"Yes, sometimes," you reply, wondering what any of this has to do with your back pain, which is the real, debilitating problem.
Any problems swallowing?
"Yes. I have to concentrate when swallowing food, drinking liquids, else it goes down the wrong way..."
Dizziness, depression, insomnia?
"Yes, yes and yes, but the low moods and lack of sleep are connected to my back pain and my personal life..."
Apparently, it's all related to what they saw in your MRI scan.
You look at the black-and-white images on the computer and your Psychology training helps you understand what they show.
There's a tube-shaped cavity in your spinal cord that shouldn't be there.
"It's called a syrinx," he explains. "It's common in patients suffering from type 1 Chiari malformation, which is what you have."
Your brain is too big for your skull - your skull is smaller than normal.
Pressure builds up in your skull and pushes the lowest part of your brain downwards, into the spinal cord, causing the hole - the syrinx - inside your spine.
The pressure at the base of your brain blocks cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from circulating properly, which means the CSF can't bring nutrients to your brain or remove waste.
The syrinx can elongate and cause serious damage to your spine.
The only way to fix this problem is to operate. Make the opening at the base of your skull larger.
But you have so much going on in your life at the moment - your mother has just been diagnosed with kidney cancer and your family is going through a lot - so you put-off the surgery for six months and agree to see your neurosurgeon then.
Even in six months, you might still be terrified about having brain surgery.
But during those six months, your mother passes away and it's at the end of the month she dies that you have your appointment with your neurosurgeon. He explains the risks of not having the operation because he can see how scared you are. "The worst-case scenario, should you be so unlucky, is that you sneeze and that causes enough pressure in your skull and in the syrinx, that you rapture your spine and end up paralysed, or even dead."
That makes up your mind for you and you're booked in for surgery in a couple of months' time. February 2016. But you're still frightened out of your wits.
Mostly, you worry about the general anaesthetic and if you'll wake up from it...
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