Brain Stem Surgery At Age 61


From: Ida Gertenrich, 9/26/09


This is a long story, and I feel I need to start from the beginning.

First of all thanks to any who have written before as it gave me so much in-site as to what to expect in my long months of recovery.

May 1st I was taking my normal early 5:30AM walk. I was just walking along minding my own business when I walked off the sidewalk on my 6 mile walk. I called it to the attention of my walking partner, and neither of us thought of it again until a few days later I repeated it again. I called my Doctor to set an appointment for what I thought was an inner ear infection. I had a co-worker tell me she had similar symptoms not long ago, and it sure sounded like the symptoms I was having. Since I was healthy I was sure that was what it was as I was dizzy and had double vision. Other than that I felt fine! I had no temperature, no loss of appetite, no headaches, no pain of any kind.


Upon meeting with my Doctor he indicated my ears looked just fine, and suggested a Brain Scan. I said, “A brain scan! That sounds serious!” You have to understand I am a healthy 61 years old with no major health problems! I scheduled an appointment for the brain scan, and also a second option appointment. The Doctor at the second appointment confirmed the diagnosis was correct, and I was moving in the right direction. In two weeks the scan was done and we were back in the Doctor Office with a copy of the brain scan pictures in hand. My husband and I make a pretty good comedy team and cut up with the doctor as usual. He became very quite and explained that I had a Cavernous Angioma. He was very quite & neither of us felt joking was the direction to take. He suggested we go see surgical neurologist as soon as possible and he would call to schedule the appointment. He also suggested I quit work, but I kept working until the 7/12/08. The Surgeon met with us confirming the medical information was correct and set a second appointment. He wanted us to go home get on the internet and read all about Cavernous Angioma’s writing down any questions we might have. He said, my time is yours no matter how long you need at the next appointment. My husband’s Brother was coming down for a visit and being a retired Demist could help us with some good questions. In 2 weeks we were ready with all our questions & returned to visit with the Surgeon. It came down to two choices:


1-Due to its location between the 6th & 7th Vertebra on the brainstem was taking high risk remove it.


2-Leaving it and having other strokes not knowing what deficits would be. In my mind it was like a little black cloud following me everywhere.


I asked the Surgeon if it were him would he remove the Angioma? He said.

“Yes, he would.” I called back after my husband and I had time to talk it over to schedule surgery for July 15th early in the AM.


I got busy preparing for the day of surgery. One evening I think it all caught up with me and I awoke in the middle of the night crying & could not stop. Because I did not want to awake my husband I quietly slipped out to our screened porch, and there I wept openly. My dog Snickers joined me and sat in my lap as I stroked her back and wept. The wind was blowing lightly and there we sat comforting each other. All of a sudden the wind began blowing trees with hurricane force. This lasted for a full 5 minutes, and a voice came audibly in my brain: “Why do you worry?

I am here and I will walk beside you and give you peace and comfort.”

The wind died down and I felt completely at peace. We must have been on the porch for another 20 minutes and the wind never blew the leaves more than gently. From then on I did not worry about the Surgery or Recovery.

We had a lot of family and friends praying for us, and after the night on the porch I told them I would be just fine, but please pray for my surgeon!


My son & his family came to visit the weekend before, and helped me prepare for what was ahead. I enjoyed their visit & found it comforting to have them there. I suggested that a friend who has medical experience to come down for moral support for my husband who tries to act tough, but is just a Teddy Bear especially when it evolves his wife.


The day came and I was taken in the very early morning to Dr Phillips Hospital. I was ready to go into surgery and I was clowning around with the nurses. I had circles with wires from my right cheek, over the forehead, and down my left cheek as you can imagine I was quite a sight!

My husband would not even kiss me, but told me he would cover me with kisses when I came out of surgery.


The 4-hour surgery was successful! Little did I know what lay ahead! We did not ask many questions about Recovery---I was planning on being myself & back to work in 90-days. That did not happen!


Yes, my husband told me he covered me with kisses as he had promised even though I was not awake to witness the event. I remember going thru the MRI machine, but was in and out due to the meds. The next thing I remember was the nurses asking about my permanent make-up. The nurses asked me if I remembered my son or my husband coming in to visit-----I did not!


When I finally came around I could remember visitors so I think my memory was good. I do remember while visiting a tear sliding down the cheek of my neighbor as she turned hoping I would not see it. My neighbor & I are like sisters more than neighbors. I told a friend of hers that we had shared everything except husbands and that was OK.


At first I could not move my right leg, and it was numb. I might mention I am right handed. It felt like I was wearing a coat on the right side from head to toe. It wasn’t long though if you touched my toes it would send an electric shock up my leg. This soon changed to a feeling of pins & needles. I could not sit up unsupported, transfer, walk, close my left eye as it had to be filled with ointment & taped every night to protect the cornea. My eyes were crossed & I could move them up, down, right, NOT to the left. Several times I tried drinking fluids, but I could not keep anything down. The next several days was about checking me to make sure all was going well. I had no pain at all, and preferred to sleep without a pillow


I could drink using a straw, swallow, and eat soft foods, and talk, but not very well. My left face was paralyzed kind of like Bells Palsy would leave you. Did I mention that we did not ask enough about Recovery! I had no idea I would be so helpless!


I had to laugh because as the nurses asked if I could do things and I would say “of course I can do that!” In my mind I could do everything as before only to find out I couldn’t. I saw bugs on the ceiling that were not there, and with closed eyes I could see many colors, but within a week this went away. I think it was from he drugs they used.


I was in good spirits and clowning around & I remember one of the nurses saying, “Has anyone shown that gal a mirror yet?” It did not matter to me as the doctors said “There was no nerve damage, and it would all come back.” My attitude has been the same through out no matter what comes our way we will face it with humor. What ever life is too short to celebrate without humor. I have been told full restoration is coming & if the Good Lord says different we will cross that bridge when we get to it. Besides it is what it is!


The nurses came in to check me on regular bases. The nurses ask me to do little things like move my legs, toes, arms etc. On the fourth day I talked the attendant into helping me to the bathroom. There safe, sound, & the bell string over my shoulder I ran him off. I pulled my feet closer to the toilet that was a wrong move & down I went cracking my head on the tile floor & temporarily knocking me out for a few seconds.

I remember trying to get up or ring the bell & I quickly realized I did not have the strength. I knew someone would not leave me alone too long.

They came in hollered & went to get help. I had put a big knot on the right top of my forehead & it was bleeding slightly. I told the nurses & my husband who had just arrived I was fine & not to make a mountain out of a mole hill. They helped me back to my bed where I looked up to see the Surgeon his right arm folded against his waist & his other elbow propped in his palm with his fingers bent around his chin a very pensive look on his face. I remember thinking “I’m really in trouble now!” I thought I was in the frying pan for sure! He checked me out & said, “I think you think you are doing better than you are;” I said, “I think you are right!”


I had a lot of family & friends praying & coming in to brighten me up.

Thank goodness for my Husband who was able to give me my first shower and take care of my personal needs!


I was transferred by ambulance a rehab center 7/20/08 with my Husband following on his motorcycle. It was all about learning to walk, talk, sit unassisted, transfer, dress myself, and gain my strength back. At first I used a wheelchair then transferred to walker. I had to learn most mobile skills again. I had to start using my left hand for everything. This was a challenge as I am right handed. The Blessing is I will be ambidextrous! I had some short term memory loss, but at 61 I expected that! Because the Rehab was short staffed and they were re-modeling they had knee and brain surgery patients together. My Husband was a Godsend, and preformed many things for me instead of the nurses. I usually had a list ready, and he would hardly get the first one done & I had another one for him. Anyway I came out of rehab 8/09/08 in a wheelchair.


My biggest problem has been slowing down! I was in the insurance business where time management as everything. Now I have time to relax & enjoy life, and I did not know how!


In my case I needed out-patient rehab, and of 08/20/08 I was learning how to talk better, walk, and be useful. I was out of the wheelchair by September but still needed the walker. I was out of the walker by late October when I threw it in the corner saying “I refuse to be disabled for life!” I did what Blue Cross calls furniture cruising. I am not sure this was smart, but it worked for me. I was using a four point cane when my Husband thought I should try a regular cane. It worked better! My allowed number of visits were done & I came out of rehab 11/30/08. My eyes were still crossed & I continued the exercises & saw an Eye Doctor who put a gold weight in the left eye so no taping at night was needed.

He took a tuck in the corner so the eye would close, and to retain fluid and protect the cornea.


My hand & eyes started waving & on 01/26/09 my Surgeon had another MRI done. He discovered I had another small stroke & put me on Plavix. The best we could figure it happened around 12/18/08 when I could not read the eye chart during a visit to my Eye Doctor.


I continue to do the eye, & face, and physical exercises they have taught me.


*3/09* feeling came back in the left back of the head


*4/27/09* temperature change from right toes to the waist.


*05/09* the pin & needle feeling has lessened but remains. As of that date I can feel my nails from my toes to just above my waist, and on my left face.


I am in out patient rehab learning to transfer weight to my right side and getting the EST Therapy (electrical stimulation) for my face. It has given my face muscle tone, made the pouch on the left face tighter, and improved the muscles around my mouth, nose and forehead.


At present I am still working on the last four areas right side, left side face parallis, transferring weight to the right while walking, and full recovery including driving. I take care of all my personal needs, type on the computer with one hand, walk without a cane, cook all our meals, go to the grocery store, and listen to audio books. The one thing I have noticed is all recovery time and all symptoms are different. I have been able to keep my sense of humor and know there are even better days ahead. I hope you find some help in my writings, and I will send an update on my recovery. Good Luck and God bless you on your recovery.


Ida Gertenrich

e-mail- Ida@cfl.rr.com