Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cracking My Squash*, the DBS caper

I have a date with Deep Brain Stimulation at the end of June in San Francisco. Like a bank heist or Louvre robbery, the DBS operation requires a courageous, highly skilled, and disciplined group of specialized experts. Their mission is to to overcome the defenses of their target with just the right calibration of force and guile.

The difference here is that instead of a bank vault, they are going to bore a hole in my skull, breach the blood/brain barrier and drive a hair-thin electrical wire into a wild and remote part of my head. For some reason, running an electrical charge into just the right part of the deep brain has been found to be tremendously effective for some people in alleviating many symptoms of Parkinson's Disease. My status as PD patient makes me both part of the team, and the obstacle to be overcome.

In the traditional heist movie there is always a scene in which the mastermind assembles his handpicked experts for the briefing on the bold and ingenious blueprint for the task. Here's how my part in the drama goes:

"Listen up, here's the plan. Pete, your job is simple but critical. Just lie still for around four hours. To help you do this, a couple of minions will secure a surprisingly comfy stainless steel "halo" to your skull. Then a highly trained team member will guide the wire into the target zone deep within your brai..."

(Deep thud as I faint to the floor)

"Dammit Hugo, slap him back to consciousness, there's a good lad."

(Crowd in theater cheers as Hugo slaps me awake)

After they revive me they remind me that I need to be awake during the operation so they can assess the accuracy of the placement of the wire. For instance, if my surgeon asks me to wiggle my hand and instead I deliver a swift kick to Hugo, they know that there is some fine tuning to do.

The 14 authors of the script provide me with scrappy, snappy lines to deliver from my helpless immobilized position. Stuff like "Hey, who left my skull open? I'm getting a draft on my Subthalamic Nucleus". The authors prove I am unfazed that SOMEONE IS GUIDING A WIRE INTO MY BRAIN by having me whistle "Fixing a Hole" by the Beatles until my surgeon, a bead of sweat trickling into his eye, finally snaps and calls for a #7 surgical clamp which, with his sensitive surgeon's hands, he compassionately applies to my upper and lower lips.

(Theater crowd erupts again in a frenzy of applause)

Actually, I'm not unduly anxious about rattling these people. Consider: A day at work for them often involves a look at a naked, living brain, its gray, wrinkly coating glistening in the bright light of the operating room. These are tough customers one and all. It will be a big job to mess with their minds while they are messing with mine.

At the end of the scene in which the so-crazy-it-just-might-work plan is explained, the mastermind always asks for questions. Naturally, I have one. "In the case of hiccups, can the entire apparatus be inverted so I can cure them by drinking a glass of water upside down? And, if yes, is there any danger of my brain slipping out of the new holes and smacking to the floor with a gooey splattering sound?"

"No." The mastermind replies, and then orders Hugo to slap me back to unconsciousness.

(Theater goes nuts)

(Producers, sensing audience approval decide to end here. Fade to black, roll credits, as Vampire Weekend plays a brand-new-special-for-this-credit-sequence version of "Fixing a Hole".

*To "Crack a squash" was slang my father would use when he assisted at operations that involved cutting through someone's skull.

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