Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Shunt?

5 Dec

Who’s afraid of the big, bad shunt? The big, bad shunt? The big, bad shunt?

I’ll just go ahead and ruin the ending for you: yeah, it’s me.

If you hate eating lima beans, don’t eat them.

If you hate crowds, stay home.

If you hate to dance, sit there and I’ll see you later.

If you hate surgery, don’t get it.

Wait, no. That one doesn’t seem right. If you hate surgery, sorry. Put your big kid pants on. You need it.

I’ve been fearful of shunt surgery since the moment Abby starting developing hydrocephalus in the NICU after her brain bleed back in 2011. Though we were initially successful with her ETV/CPC surgery in Boston, her head circumference continued to grow and subsequent MRIs showed very subtle changes in ventricle size. So subtle we scheduled shunt surgery in Boston and the doctor canceled it because she seemed fine.

Fast forward two years. After a fall at school this past spring and an MRI in the emergency room, we couldn’t ignore the fact that there were changes. Larger. Yep, those ventricles were larger. Even I could tell, standing there with the attending ER physician. (I wanted to kick and stomp and push some things off of desks like the moms do on TV. Have a right good tantrum there in the middle of the nurses’ station. But there wasn’t much I could do.)

This wasn’t lima beans or a crowded Christmas parade or the YMCA at a wedding. It was brain surgery, and she needed it.

And so this past summer, I had to face my big, bad fear when we scheduled Abby for her VP shunt in July.

If I could just get it all out there, I’m a normal non-medical field person, which means:

  • I’m frightened of drilling through a skull or cutting through skin.
  • I’m terrified of infections.
  • Looking at wounds, head wounds in particular, give me the heebie geebies.
  • Stitches on any part of the body make me shudder.
  • And to be completely superficial, shaving half of my daughter’s hair and putting a big scar on the back of her head makes me very sad and moderately angry.

The number one thing I’m scared of (I’m not even going to mention death), is that a surgery might change my child, neurologically or physically, for the rest of her life.

What if I sent Abby, my lovely, lighthearted, favorite girl into surgery and she came back unable to smile or speak? Or move her arms or legs…or know I was her Mommy?

That’s the type of thinking have a sick child sends you into: late-night-staring-at-the-ceiling-talking-to-God thinking.


Believe it or not, it wasn’t that scary at all. Abby had (brain) surgery in the morning and was upstairs in her hospital room and painting by early afternoon. PAINTING.

She was counting to 10 in different languages with her bilingual nurse as they took her blood pressure in the middle of the night. SPANISH AND ITALIAN.

When it was time to go home 24 hours after surgery, Abby cried because she was having such a good time at the hospital. SHE DIDN’T WANT TO GO HOME.

She had enjoyed her brain surgery. SHE EVEN LOVED THE HOSPITAL FOOD.


Turns out, I was kind of fascinated by how great her wound was sewn back together. No heebies past the first look. Her neurosurgeon did an amazing job. I had no idea what I was looking at and it looked good. Plus, I was challenged by finding the right hairdo to cover the half of her head that was shaved. After hair started growing in to fill the white, which only took a couple weeks, it wasn’t hard.

These days she doesn’t sleep in at all. She’s got better balance and falls less. She can look straight up without stumbling. I contribute those things to the shunt doing its thing in there.

Sometimes the things that scare you the most turn out just fine. When I die one day, that quote better make me famous.

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