Better Living Through Chemistry: Notes from Chemically Induced Depression Part 2 of 4 (The Choices We Make)

So, life hands my new wife and me a choice between three options, each involving some chance of me dying sooner rather than later and in some more or less gruesome way:

  • either develop ever worsening double vision and stroking out in the next decade;
  • or give myself brain cancer to get rid of a benign tumor;
  • or have someone cut a 6 square inch flap of my skull out with a small saw, poke his fingers and sharp metal instruments between my cerebrum and cerebellum, cut out 2 cm diameter chunk of flesh out, and hope that doesn’t turn my new wife into the star of a Lifetime channel movie—woman finally meets the man she wants to marry, marries, gives birth to their son, and then finds herself a single mother and widow, all within two years.

The odds on that last one were stacked heavily in our favor with 98% chance I’d avoid becoming a sad movie cliché.

We chose surgery.

I knew I’m simply not dead husband material: I refuse to be some pop culture cliché. (Such was the shield with which I fended off dark thoughts—the more cavalier the tone, the safer I felt.)

I also took a modicum of solace in what my sister, a radiographer at UCLA Medical Center, said, “If you’re going to have a brain tumor, a meningioma is the best one to have.”

Five months after our son was born, I had a craniotomy.

Having gone through serious physical insult, my brain was swollen, and as prophylaxis against seizures, the doctor gave me Keppra. It’s a 3rd generation anti-seizure med with all sorts of benefits and far fewer issues than with phenytoin, the 1st generation med from my past. This would last a few weeks, and once the swelling’s gone, I’m off meds again forever.

In the days after the surgery, I felt like hell, much as one would expect. A surgeon had just cut out small-lime sized tumor from deep behind my right eye, and now

  • I had several titanium screws keeping my skull together
  • my right ear was put back slightly lower than the left
  • the row of staples going across my forehead, and along the side of my head, bifurcating at my ear, with one track going down in front of it, one in back, gave me a certain resemblance to the creature in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly’s Frankenstein.

Still, several days later, I felt wrong.

Not merely physically, but psychically. The only words I could ever find for my state were lassitude and apathy. Nothing I’d previously enjoyed interested me. In fact, nothing interested me much at all.

Everything seemed far too much effort.

Here I was, newly married, with a new son, living in Manhattan, having just evaded a severe medical problem, living a very good life, and I couldn’t care. About anything.

Except for momentary flare-ups over exigencies and annoyances, I felt nothing— not pissed, nor sad, nor despondent—simply no connection to being alive at all.

Next, Part 3 of 4: Inscrutable Chemistry and the 6%.

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