As I’ve mentioned before in earlier blog posts, besides being born with spina bifida, I was also born with hydrocephalus. This is a condition that causes cerebrospinal fluid to build up on the brain. To drain this fluid, a shunt often has to be placed in a person’s head. This shunt allows the excess fluid to run down from the brain into the peritoneal cavity (abdomen). I had my first shunt implanted within hours of my birth.
Throughout my life I have been very fortunate to have had little trouble with my shunt. This is not the case for many with hydrocephalus. Shunts can often get infected, or simply break down. Only once has mine needed to be fully replaced. This occurred when I was four-years old.
It was close to Thanksgiving in 1981 when I began to experience some of the worst headaches I had ever had to that point in my life. Along with the headaches, I became very nauseated. These are two very common side effects one can experience when a shunt begins to fail. So, when I began having these headaches and vomiting, my parents took me to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
As we arrived at the hospital my neurologist, Dr. David McLone, did an exam of my eyes and confirmed my shunt would need to be replaced. He knew this, as he could see papilledema. This is a swelling of the optic nerves caused by excess pressure on the brain. Papilledema is yet another sign that there is a problem with a person’s shunt.
Therefore, I was scheduled to have surgery the next day. I don’t know what was more upsetting, the fact that I would need to have surgery, or that I would have to be in the hospital for Thanksgiving. However, what the doctors and nurses didn’t know is that I would not be deterred from having Thanksgiving dinner.
If my memory serves me correctly, I had surgery the morning before Thanksgiving. I then spent the rest of that day in intensive care, where I slept for quite a while.
I then woke up on Thanksgiving morning and was famished. However, I was told that I would only be allowed ice chips. If I was able to tolerate these, I would be allowed to have clear liquids. Not being one to give up easily, I downed the ice chips that I was given. Then, it was on to the clear liquids. I knocked those back as quickly as I could and told the nurses I wanted Thanksgiving dinner! They resisted my pleas at first. However, they consulted my doctor, as I was insistent that I wanted some turkey!
It pays to be persistent. My doctor saw that I had tolerated everything else that I had been fed. Therefore, he thought it wouldn’t hurt to at least let me try some solid foods.
I was given some turkey and scarfed it down almost as quickly as it was placed in front of me. Then I asked for some more, plus some potatoes and stuffing. Nothing was going to stop me from having Thanksgiving dinner. I ate until I was satisfied, much to the astonishment of the nurses. They should have never doubted a Bradshaw with an appetite.
Sometimes doctors do know what they are talking about, and their advice should be followed accordingly. I am glad that most of the ones I have had along the way have taken the time to listen to me. I know my body the best, as I have lived inside of it for 42 years now. Don’t ever let someone with an M.D. behind their name pressure you in to anything that does not feel right. Listen to your body. It will often tell you the right course of action. Sometimes, you just have to eat the turkey and forget about standard operating procedures.