Kevin’s mother wheeled him up to the front desk and told him to check in. She would be right back she just needed to run down and meet his father. The nurse looked at him with unabashed curiosity. She double and then triple checked the chart in front of her. After reaching for the phone and hanging it back up again she cleared her throat.
“Kevin”? The attractive nurse asked.
“Yes” he answered half-amused. She was clearly flustered.
“I’m sorry. But are you sure that you belong…here?”
“Doct – Docttt – Doc Cam sent me” he stuttered. He still had problems with pronouncing more than one syllable.
She narrowed her eyes and a look of confusion flickered across her face.
“It’s just that you’re so young” her blush was bright and intense.
Kevin smiled, “So are you”.
He leaned against the desk, the room was swaying again and although the wheelchair offered a happy respite he refused to sit down again. It was embarrassing to swoon like some romance novel heroine in front of a woman he found attractive. He tried to make up for it with a sly wink.
“Oh!” she cried out, “No I just meant – ah well – usually only older people check in here. Ha. We call this death row. You check in but you don’t check out.” Her nervous giggle erupted out of her like a squid’s ink. She’d been totally caught off guard.
He chuckled along with her. How absurd; death row?!
“I’m too young to die”.
He was self-assured, cocky, and completely oblivious. He’d only been told the bare basics, and no one had yet admitted or even intended on telling him the truth. Kevin had no idea that in 24 hours he was about to undergo a brain surgery so dangerous that numerous doctors were clamoring over each other to work on his case. It was exceedingly rare to come across a person so young suffering with an Arteriovenous Malformation of the temporal lobe and this brain surgery was one in a million. The general consensus among the experts was that Kevin would not check out of Death Row – certainly not under his own volition.
The nurse led him to his bed in a ward that was housed with the condemned. Hearing their moans and mumbles of confusion put him on edge. Seeing his distress the nurse issued a sedative. They could not allow him to panic. They needed his blood pressure nice and low.
That evening he received a new haircut (bald) and on December 5th, 1977 he was prepped for a 4.5 hour brain surgery. After being wheeled into the OR Kevin began to feel nervous. What had that nurse called his ward, death row?
“Will I live?”
“I have a lot of confidence in my skills. You may wake up with some speech issues but let’s cross that bridge when we come to it”.
Kevin was reassured. He had speech issues now, so he could deal with that. He was blissfully unaware that the doctor expected that – if he didn’t die on the table – he would awake to find himself paralyzed down the right side of his body, completely speechless with very little, if any, short term memory capabilities.
“I trust you Doc” Kevin replied. With that the anaesthesiologist injected his sedative and the last thought he had was about how stupid he looked bald.
* * *
Dr. Cameron performed a straight forward question mark incision and pealed back Kevin’s skin to his eye. He then drilled holes into the skull and used a bone saw to connect the dots. He lifted up the section of skull and the doctors got a first-hand glimpse at a surgery which had just become a lot more complicated.
“Do you see that”? Dr. Cameron asked Dr. Mackie – the doctor who’d believed Kevin and discovered the ruptured aneurysm was dually rewarded with the opportunity to work with the revered Neurosurgeon during the brain surgery.
“There’s the ruptured aneurysm and there’s a few more that haven’t ruptured yet” Dr. Mackie responded.
“The size of them is astounding. Look, it’s as big as my thumb. This one will be easy to clip off, it’s so close to the surface, but that one” Dr. Cameron said and pointed to one buried deep within the brain tissue, “that one is going to be interesting”.
The doctors got to work and soon surpassed the 4.5 hour mark. When they finally completed the surgery Dr. Mackie went out to meet Kevin’s anxious parents. At just over 7.5 hours long they instinctually knew that the surgery hadn’t gone to plan. The only question now was whether or not their son had survived.
Ashen faced and completely exhausted Dr. Mackie told them about the unforeseen complications and what they could expect when their son woke up. He also cautioned them that there still might be complications and that Kevin was anything but out of the woods. It was still possible that his brain might swell and cause problems.
His parents had been through so much that they barely heard his warnings. Their son was alive and that was all that mattered.
* * *
Marjorie sat beside her son’s bed, her hand tightly entwined in his right. Her husband paced back and forth muttering to himself. I should have believed him. Why hadn’t I just believed him? The guilt and feelings of failure hung heavily in the air. Their son had been dying right in front of them and they’d ignored it. Now they were paying a brutal price.
Kevin stirred and Marjorie stood abruptly. She wanted to stroke his head but it was heavily bandaged and had all kinds of tubes exiting it.
“Pet?” she whispered. She longed to hear his voice but knew she’d probably never get the chance to hold a conversation with him again.
You can imagine her surprise when he mumbled the best word she’d ever heard, “Mom?”
Tears brimmed in his father’s eyes and his mother cried openly. Kevin opened his eyes and upon seeing their distress he knew that he’d come close to death.
“I almost died then?” he asked quietly.
“You came pretty close, son” his father responded.
“Nah” he whispered.
“I haven’t screwed enough chicks yet” he said with a chuckle.
His mother gasped and stormed from the room. How dare he say something like that in front of her. His father supressed a laugh and went after her. He caught her in the hall.
“Can you BELIEVE he said that?”
Les smiled warmly at her, “No”
She looked at him and suddenly collapsed in his arms. She sobbed so hard that she didn’t think she would ever be capable of crying again. When she finally stepped back she smiled and said, “He talked”
Kevin was a miracle kid. Every person who saw him was surprised and pleased by his progress. Due to the lack of studies back in the 70’s no one could predict the suffering he would endure for the next 20 years. The misunderstandings, the memory problems, his issues with temper and anger. He lived but he would never be the same again. Brain injury is a silent offender and it would take a serendipitous meeting with a brain injury survivor – at a booth in a mall – before Kevin truly understood how great the impact from his surgery might have been.
At the Head Injury Societies urgings Kevin obtained his medical records and the pictures of his last cat scan. His left temporal lobe was atrophied and his brain tilted. Twenty years after the record breaking surgery, twenty years after a miracle had occurred, Kevin finally faced the truth. The person he had been before the surgery died that day despite all outward appearances. Now it was time to cope.