Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Deep Brain Stimulator for Epilepsy

It was a whirlwind of activity after making the decision in May to move forward with the Deep Brain Stimulator (DBS) for Robert. 

Sure, we started thinking about it three years ago but once we made the decision this year it was a flurry of pre-op appointments, MRIs, more MRIs, CTs, surgeries, and post-op appointments. 

I didn’t expect as many pre-op appointments so consider yourself warned if you decide on the DBS. Robert also ended up having three MRIs which is two more than we planned for. Robert cannot lay flat on his back without pain (which I mentioned when making the appointment) but apparently that was interrupted as “oh, I’m sure he’ll be fine.” 

Well, no. That means he will not be able to lay still. Really. He was squirmy throughout the entire procedure which made it last even longer than it should have. It also didn’t give the neurosurgeon good enough pictures to map the DBS placement. 

We tried for MRI #2 (with sedation this time) but Robert fell at home the day of his appointment and was so weak I couldn’t get him in the car to get to the appointment. Through a herculean effort by the surgery and MRI schedulers, they got him in two days later. I arranged for a transport van so I wouldn’t have to count on Robert’s ability to get in and out of the car. 

They tried MRI #2 with a light sedative which didn’t work so they had to completely put him under. Finally, the MRI was done! 

Surgery was scheduled for the following Monday morning (again, we relied on a transport van and ended up using a couple of different transport services for all of Robert’s appointments and surgeries just to ensure we got to each one). As Robert was getting prepped for surgery the surgeon came in and said the MRI wasn’t done properly (the surgeon ordered three particular scans and only two of them were done). He couldn’t place the DBS without another MRI and he wasn’t sure if the MRI could be done that morning because of all the moving parts (holding a surgery room for post-MRI, getting the anesthesia team on board to put him under for the MRI, and figuring out if there was even an MRI machine available!). 

It's 6:00 a.m., it’s taken a huge effort to get Robert to this point and now we may not be able to do the surgery today? I wondered if this was a sign. Maybe we shouldn’t do the surgery after all. I stared dumbfounded at the surgeon. A few tears of frustration leaked out. He was very apologetic, the nurses said they never had seen this happen before, everyone said how the MRI team never makes these mistakes and it was unheard of to see this happen. 

I get it. Mistakes happen. The whole MRI situation was chaos anyway so maybe the techs were overworked that day trying to squeeze us in and just got sloppy. Whatever the reason, the end result was Robert had to get another MRI before he could get his surgery. 

The surgeon was impressively calm talking to me about the situation but I could tell he was on a mission. I don’t know what he did or how he did it (or if anyone got fired over this ordeal) but he made the MRI happen. Robert was rushed off to get an MRI with the plan to do the surgery immediately afterwards. When Robert was wheeled away, the surgeon told me he was not even sure the hospital would hold open the surgery room for as long as he needed but he was going to give it a shot. 

That was surgery number one. The MRI got done (properly), the surgery room was held open and Robert got part one done of the DBS implant

I am incredibly fortunate that none of this rattles Robert. He doesn’t worry, he just always goes with the flow with a smile for everyone no matter what is going on around him. 

Usually, patients are in the hospital for just one night after the first surgery. Robert stayed three nights due to chest congestion and his white blood count going up. I was worried about aspiration pneumonia and insisted he get put on antibiotics before it got out of control but the doctors wouldn’t do it. (I was so insistent that a nurse practitioner put him on them for a day before the doctor overrode her.) 

The DBS is implanted in two stages. The leads are placed in the brain during the first surgery and the battery is placed in the chest and hooked to the leads during the second surgery. 

The second surgery was much less eventful – oh, well, aside from the earthquake that happened during it. Apparently, we felt it in the waiting room, the nurses felt it during surgery but the surgeon didn’t notice it at all. Because, apparently, he has one setting: cool as a cucumber. 

The last piece of the DBS process is to have it activated. After Robert’s second surgery, we were sent home with a box containing everything needed to activate the device. The surgeon doesn’t activate it as that’s done in the neurologist’s office. The appointment should be within a week of the second surgery but ours was six weeks out. The surgeon was going to try to work some more magic and get us in sooner with Robert’s neurologist. 

Between the surgeon’s message, my calls and the luck of the neurologist not being called for jury duty, Robert was able to get an earlier appointment. 

DBS activation was on the books! 

My next post will be about activating the device but I also want to answer any questions you might have about the Deep Brain Stimulator. I’m not an expert, of course, but as a caregiver who has gone through this with my brother I can possibly address some concerns or questions you have if you are considering the DBS. 

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