Saturday, January 06, 2007

Observing Brain Surgery, or, "I can see it thinking!"

As soon as my classes ended on that specially marked day in my calendar, I headed from school towards the hospital. On the bus, I paged the doctor who had replied affirmatively to my e-mail shadow request, as per his directions. I was lucky to have had case-based learning that morning; our small group tutor was an MD who worked at that hospital and was happy to explain how to page the surgeon, a medical procedure I had not yet been trained in. I paged him, and got no reply, so I called his office and his friendly secretary with the British accent told me that he was in operating room 19, and gave me the extension for the phone in the OR.

After debating in my mind whether or not it was appropriate to actually call the OR, I finally worked up the courage to phone. A very friendly voice answered and after I introduced myself and explained that Dr. Otto had agreed to let me shadow, the voice identified itself as Dr. Otto's resident. "We're in OR 19, come on up." I explained that I had never been to the operating rooms in that hospital before. "Fine, that's no problem, page me when you get here at 35-26104, and we'll get you up here." After I hung up I felt a little embarrassed for being nervous to call, but I was relieved that I had chanced upon a friendly member of the health care profession, and that I had chanced upon him between surgeries.

As per his directions, I paged him from the info desk in the lobby of the hospital, and waited for fifteen minutes. No reply. I knew the OR was on the 4th floor, so I decided to go find it on my own, not bothering to waste my time asking the info desk staff, "How do I get into Operating Room 19?" I assumed that they aren't there to answer such questions for people who seem to be members of the general public, as I probably did.

My decision to search for OR 19 on my own led to what must have been the oddest part of the afternoon for me: one minute I perceived myself looking like a random person off the street wandering through the hospital where I didn't necessarily belong, and the next minute, I was wearing scrubs and a mask, standing in an operating room and looking at a living person's brain.

While I was making my way to the OR, pointed in the right direction once or twice by helpful nurses and hospital staff after explaining who I was and ready to brandish my "this bumbling person is a doctor in training" credentials, I became very appreciative of my extensive experience in operating rooms during my pre-med trip to Nigeria. Had I not learned the rituals and rules of the operating rooms in Nigeria, and had I gone trying to find my way into the OR without this experience, I could very well have busted into the OR after maybe trying to scrub in like I'd seen surgeons do on TV, wearing my street shoes and lacking a hairnet or mask. Fortunately I had been briefed on OR rituals long ago and knew to slip on some shoe covers, put on a surgical cap, and find where they kept the masks, and that observers don't spend five minutes at a sink brushing all surfaces of their hands, fingernails, wrists and forearms. Scrubbing is only for the people lucky enough to be assisting or operating, not observing, and I would not be offered the opportunity to assist my first time watching neurosurgery. This was entirely fine with me, and I assume the patient as well.

When I got into the OR, Dr. Otto, the neurosurgeon was incredibly friendly. He greeted me cheerfully, and after the surgery was well underway he was happy to provide the odd clinical tidbit here and there. "Come look, Vitum, here's the cerebellum... pulsating... as it should." Wow, I thought. I can see it thinking. It wasn't moving rhythmically like a large vessel with blood being pumped through it at regular intervals; instead, it almost looked alive, like a jellyfish or the head of an octopus undulating gently and peacefully within a protective layer of bone that had been chipped away to reveal its hiding place. "What happens to the bone after the surgery? Does it grow back?" I asked. "Nope." I pictured this person recovering with a soft spot in the skin on the back of their head, where they could poke their brain through the skin and muscle using their finger, and presumably affect their balance or other functions associated with the cerebellum.

As interested as I had been in surgery after my time in Nigeria and before observing the brain surgery, I soon became impressed by how bored I was with the procedure. There was a lot of waiting on my part; a lot of meticulous cauterizing (burning) of blood vessels in the process of removing the two tumours, each smaller than a walnut; a lot of slow cutting and bone chipping before that; and a lot of slow sewing after that.

So, to not spend my time craning my neck around the operating doctor and assisting resident and observing clerk (third-year medical student), I spent a fair bit of time chatting with the other members of the health care education hierarchy who were coming in and out of the room. The clerk on rotation in surgery took me over to the X-ray monitors in the corner of the OR, and spent some time explaining the basics of looking over and presenting an X-ray. "First make sure it's the right patient. Then, check the date. Comment on the other things in the X-ray; ECG wires, or chest tubes and the like. Move on to the quality of the film; if you can see the vertebrae distinctly it's a good exposure." He continued on through the art of presenting an X-ray, using a film from a surgical patient from earlier in the day who had developed acute pulmonary edema. I was excited when this condition was mentioned in lecture a few days later, and I already knew what it was from my time shadowing in the OR.

The neurosurgery resident was very chatty and also friendly, as I had experienced on the phone. He told me that a prerequisite of being accepted into the neurosurgery residency is that you have to have a girlfriend before you start, because you sure as hell won't have time to meet a girl while you're a neurosurgery resident. I actually ran into him in the ER when I was shadowing another ER doc a couple weeks after I shadowed brain surgery; at first I knew that I knew him from somewhere but didn't know exactly who he was until shortly after he started talking to me. Honestly, I would probably have recognized him sooner had he been wearing a surgical mask.

Another resident in the room, an Asian doctor who was in a residency in interventional radiology or something of the sort, and she recounted a story of how difficult it is for female doctors to pick up guys. "A friend and I were at a bar, having a great conversation with a cute guy. He asked us what we do, and I replied, 'I'm in medicine.' He asked what specifically, and I replied, 'I'm a doctor.' At that point, he literally turned around 180 degrees and started a conversation with another girl." I told a friend in second year about this. She told me that "we call that the 'M-bomb', telling someone we're in medicine. I get around that by telling potentials that 'I am in science; I'm interested in becoming a doctor someday.' That seems to intimidate a lot less."

The neurosurgeon and I even had a good chat. I was able to pass on a message from someone else in my class, that he had influenced her to enter medicine when he gave a talk to a group of pre-meds she was in a few years back.

I even cracked a joke that made the whole OR laugh; they were talking about how rich the two creators of YouTube must be now that Google had bought their little website for 2 billion dollars. I piped up, "Yeah, but they have to split it..."

I didn't have a conversation with the anesthesiologist, but he successfully perpetuated my stereotype of what anesthesiologists do during surgeries, as he was busy working on a PowerPoint presentation on his iBook laptop computer. That will be added to my anesthesiology stories of members of that profession who do crossword puzzles, sudoku, nap, or perform yoga on a mat in the corner of the OR during surgery. "It's ok if they fall asleep," my medical student friend told me; "their alarms will wake them up if something goes wrong, and the surgeons wake them up if it's time to close."

After standing around chatting for so long, checking up on the previous surgical patient who ended up with pulmonary edema, and coming back to the OR and chatting some more, I decided to call it quits. I said my farewells, and was welcomed by the surgeon to join him again at any time, but I'm not so sure anymore if surgery is for me.

I was told by an anesthesiologist that one way to categorize medical specialties is into two types: those that have you do one thing, finish it, and move on to the next, versus those that handle you juggling several balls at once. Surgery and anaesthesiology would fall under the former. I think I'm leaning more towards the latter. Fortunately I've got lots of time to decide for sure. But, I don't think that brain surgery will be something I find myself doing as a career.


Jasmine said...

That sound really really exciting... nothing like on tv! I would love to observe a surgery sometime... but I don't think it'll ever happen (given that I'm going into the teaching profession... I hope) Perhaps I'll have to break a bone, in a somewhat serious place, in order to observe a surgery. However, I suppose I'll be unconcious... oh well. You're an excellent writer. Don't kill anyone:) Have fun!

Alice said...

Don't draw conclusions about surgery after just one neurosurgery case. I want to do surgery, but I would hate to have to watch a neurosurgeon. They're working on such a small, delicate scale, that there's not much to see, especially when you're not scrubbed in. Even as a clerk, scrubbed in, there are plenty of chances to fall asleep during a case; but that's far diffferent from when you are the one doing it, and you have the patient's life and health actually in your hands.

As far as your breakdown of medicine: I'm not sure if you can really classify any specialty as "only doing one thing at a time;" even surgery: when you're not operating, you can be managing a couple of critically ill patients, and taking consults in the ER, at the same time. Very much juggling.

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Leo Voisey said...

My name is David Summers of Murfreesboro, TN and I have had MS for 16 years. I am 37 years old and as of January 2012, was effectively an 8.0 on the EDSS scale. Originally RRMS, my disease progression had become SPMS (very progressive) within 4 years of onset. Normally anyone in my position and with my bleak diagnosis is limited to a short future, absolutely no quality of life and a painful end...possibly prior to my 40th birthday if the current progression of the disease continued (without the slightest hesitation or glimmer of hope, my Neurologist just told me: “ Prepare to deteriorate”). But after I heard about Dr. Zamboni’s ‘liberation therapy hypothesis’ in 2010, I began my search for the vein-widening therapy. This put me into a clinic in Duluth, Georgia where they were doing the liberation procedure. I received immediate positive results post-procedure...along with the surgeon’s warning that 50% of the MS patients who undergo the liberation therapy suffer a re-narrowing of the jugular veins within a year or so. Sure enough, within 3 months I knew that I was going to be among the unlucky 50%; all of the original improvements disappeared as I relapsed.

I felt the only way forward was to get it done again, hopefully this time with more enduring results. But where would I go to get this done again and how would that be possible? If my neck veins restenosed after the first treatment, what was to prevent that from happening again...and again? I began to read the Internet blogs and forum chats placed on the many new CCSVI sites by MS patients about where to go and what their experiences were. In this respect, the Internet became a valuable educational tool for me. On several of the blogs, I discovered a New York clinic where they placed a stent during the procedure to keep the jugular veins open, and that positive results were being seen. Grimly, I also discovered that although rare, the prospect of death as a result of this procedure was also a risk. At least one person in a recent study had died when the stent migrated to his heart. But I was willing to put those thoughts and the risks aside. What did I really have to lose? I was dying a slow death. As long as someone was able to treat me there was a chance to hope, and I was down for it. But that wasn’t the main question I was asking myself.

As my disease rapidly progressed and my disabilities became more overwhelming, the question I was asking myself was, was it too late for me? Although I was happy with the fact that my original liberation therapy had diminished most of the symptoms above my waist, I had to ask myself if getting stents was merely settling for a compromised improvement. Having had some success, if I had this done again, I wanted more! Don’t get me wrong, I think the liberation therapy is a miracle discovery from God. As soon as I had my first procedure my cog fog lifted, the vision in my right eye improved greatly, the numbness in both hands dissipated by a few degrees, my ability to taste food returned, my energy levels were ’off the charts’, and my sleep was so sweet. Also, because MS had robbed my body of the ability to regulate body temperature by sweating, I had not been able to handle the hot, humid Southern summers where I live, except to blast cold AC non-stop as a survival method during those sickly ‘dog days’. After the procedure this changed too. I knew it when deodorant suddenly became necessity for my personal hygiene once again!
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Leo Voisey said...

But it ended by the 90-day point and I was right back where I started. Immediately following the procedure I had dreams of rising from the wheelchair I’d been confined to for ten years and walking like a real man; but even with the incredible improvements overall, it seemed that the only healing occurred above the waist. Perhaps I would just have to accept that even if I could improve to what the full extent of the liberation therapy would allow, I would always be in a wheelchair. While researching the New York clinic and other places, my parents and I came upon CCSVI Clinic through a Google search. We discovered that they are essentially a research clinic operating under an IRB but with a major difference. For the past year, having seen even better results than just doing the liberation therapy alone, they have also been transplanting adult autologous stem cells, cultured and re-injected into the body shortly after the neck venoplasty. If I chose to go there instead of New York, the procedure would be done at CCSVI Clinic at Noble Hospital in Pune India and I would have to get there essentially as a partially paralyzed patient transported in a wheelchair. There would also be a requirement to stay in the hospital for 10-12 days. But after researching the improvements demonstrated in MS patients in stem cell clinical trials, I simply decided that as long as they would take me, nothing was going to stop me from making that trip. On calls with the clinic, it was also explained that stents were not necessary as the stem cells injected intravenously could be enough to keep my veins from restenosing. My confidence in their method increased when I discovered that Dr. Gupte, the neurosurgeon, had been transplanting autologous stem cells for 4 years for a number of different neurodegenerative conditions, including MS and based his therapies on completed stem cell trial methods done in a number of hospitals and universities outside of the US (to be absolutely sure, I confirmed this through searches on Google Scholar). He had already done over 2000 successful transplants! Regarding my communications with CCSVI Clinic, I need to confess here that we did not tell the doctors the truth originally. My mother, who arranged the treatments, told them that I was an EDSS 6.5 in order to qualify. Basically she knew that they wouldn’t accept me into the program if she said I was higher. But if they saw my actual physical condition could they refuse me on the clinic steps? I hoped not.

So in late March it was off to India with my father who is a strong man, and my capable assistant. We arrived on March 26, 2012, and met Surjo Banerjee, CCSVI Clinic’s Managing Director at the airport. He drove us from the airport to Pune, a surprisingly modern city just south of Mumbai.For more information visit our site

Leo Voisey said...

I was amazed to see that the hospital and the CCSVI Clinic itself, (a full wing of suites within the hospital complex) was as clean and modern as any hospital here in the States. After checking in with a number of other patients, I was triaged for the procedures. However, based on my new assessment, it was determined that I would need about twice the amount of stem cells that they had originally programmed, figuring my EDSS scale requirement of 6.5. But paying more was out of the question. We are not rich and had basically ‘sold the farm’ to get here in the first place, and the recommended additional stem cells were going to cost another $12,000 that we had not planned for. Not their fault...I didn’t tell them the extent of my condition in the first place. So the first miracle happened when CCSVI Clinic management offered to personally cover these additional costs. I had never even met some of them, but as a result of their generosity, I received an additional 50,000,000 mesenchymal stem cells and I cannot thank them enough for the difference they have made to my life.

On Tuesday March 27

, I once again had the liberation therapy followed by the harvesting of red bone marrow cells from my hip bone. The clinic has strict aftercare protocols around each type of procedure with regard to position control and movement. It didn’t much affect my activity because I was unable to move much anyway. I was supine positioned, tilted slightly head high for two days following my venoplasty and then laid out supine again, in just the opposite tilt...head-lower-than-the-body for several days following the transplants of the stem cells. I was told that this would allow the newly transplanted stem cells to filter through the full length of the nervous system and locate to the points of injury. A Doppler ultrasound of my neck veins was done every day for 10 days following my liberation procedure. This was to check for any clotting or re-narrowing of the veins which had been widened. If they clotted or restenosed at any time I was in the clinic, they would take me back into the cathlab for a re-do. Happily this wasn’t necessary.
Following the liberation therapy, the changes within my body were just as immediate and dramatic as in my first procedure in 2010, hopefully without the fear of re-stenosis; but my ‘headspace’ almost didn’t accept it. The first time with my liberation therapy in the US, the IR found one narrowing in each jugular, the right side being more severe. This time around, two blockages were found on my right side, and again one on the left. I have heard that second and third procedures for venous angioplasty are more difficult for the surgeons because there is more build up of scar tissue in the interior of the veins, but the medical team took their time and did a perfect job. Words cannot express the emotional joy in getting the blood flowing again and getting those symptomatic improvements back a second time!For more information visit our site

Leo Voisey said...

Four days later I underwent a lower lumbar puncture, but this time not simply to gather information on whether I have MS. This time, stem cells cultured from my own body were on their way to do what God designed them to do, and that is to heal. For all of you that might be skeptical about this, I am here to tell you that is exactly what they are doing. The positive changes were noticed as soon as I returned to my suite in the clinic and anyone who is paralysed below the waist will understand this next part. To manoeuvre myself as I usually do, I went to pick my leg up from a sitting position and throw it in front of me. The hope here is that the ‘dead-weight’ of the leg will land just right and in a position where I can best situate myself to haul my body into a position where I can further awkwardly throw my whole body into my wheelchair. If you’ve ever seen a spinal patient do this or are unlucky enough to have to do this yourself, you know what an ugly, uncomfortable process this is. But this time the ‘throw’ of the leg proved to be an over-compensation. To my absolute shock and delight my leg lifted itself just as it’s supposed to work...without aid from my helpful hands and placed itself exactly where my brain told it go! At first I didn’t think much of it...this was a fluke, maybe my imagination, but it was something sure not to last. But it has to this day without any hint of regression as I work out and get stronger. This was the first sign of any recovery whatsoever that has occurred below the waist in over ten years, and it happened only hours after the stem cell transplant!

Upon returning home on April 14, 2012, I closely followed the Clinic’s physiotherapy program. Since then I have been working out at levels I had been told by my doctors here in the states would not be possible again. When exercising before I had stem cell therapy, I always had to be careful not to overdo it because I would get a sickness that sometimes lasted 2 days, completely wiping me out. This even occurred after the first liberation therapy, but no more. I’ve been working myself silly and have not yet felt sick. Real strength has returned and muscles have been popping out in places on my body where I haven’t seen them in many years. As of this writing today, and for about the last two weeks my right hand has been functioning normally in every respect. I’m not saying it has improved some, I’m saying it is now completely NORMAL! I can hardly believe it myself.For more information visit our site

Leo Voisey said...

Since I returned, and after only one month, the positive changes have been happening regularly and most every day. Most significantly, I think, my incontinence has completely improved and I am now able to almost totally control my urinary and elimination functions. All other disabilities aside, I think that this is one of the most important deficits that anyone with MS wishes they could get back! Incontinence is so embarrassing and not having control of that particular function somehow makes you feel lesser as a person. So I’m very happy to see the improvements there. My speech is back to normal. Although I never slurred my words, the thought process was oh-so-slow. Now my words come so quickly that I sometimes find myself stumbling over them...trying to say too much at once. I can’t complain about that!

I am convinced that CCSVI Clinic is on to important discoveries about MS. They have figured this out and are doing the sequence of therapies correctly and the addition of the stem cells completes the need to repair the nerve damage that’s been done by the disease. In retrospect what they are doing suddenly makes complete sense to me. It’s still early yet and I guess time will tell to what extent my motor functions will come back, but if the last month is any indication, it could be everything, which excites me so much. I don’t know if that’s too much to hope for, but it’s the first time in 10 years that I’ve even really allowed the thought to cross my mind. The first fleeting thoughts of this after the original liberation therapy 2 years ago weren’t realistic. The good changes didn’t last. And consider this; a few months ago, I was in a wheelchair, in a permanent brain fog losing more of my independence and quality of life on a daily basis. All I had to look forward to was a deteriorating condition where others would have to take care of my every bodily function. Now I can’t wait to wake up every morning to check myself out. If anything I’m too impatient and working out too hard. But at least I can! Given my current state of health and ability to live and function on my own, the thing that is very certain is that I have a much better quality of life back and that wouldn’t have even been possible if it hadn’t been for the lucky discovery of CCSVI Clinic through an Internet search. My family and I will be eternally grateful for what has happened no matter how this turns out. Thanks to Dr. Gupte, the other doctors, the medical team and staff at the Clinic who made this all happen for me, I’m looking forward to each day with new health and optimism! May God Bless them all!For more information visit our site

Leo Voisey said...

I have a long way to go, but as long as my jugular veins are wide open and the stem cells continue to clean up the mess those narrowed veins left behind, and damaged nerves continue to regenerate, I believe the sky is truly the limit! My main focus at this point is not only to rebuild muscle but to get my legs to work together, which will restore my balance.

Every day is a new gift that allows me more recovery. I can hardly wait for each morning to see the next improvement! There’s so much more happening in my body than I’ve even mentioned in this writing but I hope I’ve related the main message here...MS was my previous diagnosis.

I will be starting a blog on my progress in a week or two if anyone wants to contact me or follow my improvement. I’m sure there are many of you out there who are skeptical or would want to know how this is going for me. I’ll post the site information back here once I have it up.For more information visit our site

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