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I had a routine eye examination that changed my life. First, my eye doctor found papilledema, which at 26, I was declared much too young to have developed. Then I was sent to a retina doctor, who referred me to the only optical neurologist in the Michigan.
I was a healthy woman. I had a great job. I loved my life. Yet less than a week from the initial eye appointment, I was headed to Michigan State University. When I arrived at MSU optical department for my appointment, I was taken straight into the exam room for four and a half hours of eye tests. Around noon, the specialist came in, turned off the lights, looked into my eyes, took some pictures, and then walked out. I expected to be given the results and told to return home. Instead, I started getting nervous because before we had left home, my Dad said, “I wouldn’t worry. If it’s serious they’ll do an MRI and it takes 2 to 3 weeks for them to set that up.”
Mom was waiting when I finally came out, “That was a long appointment!” “It’s not over yet. I have to be in radiology for an MRI in 30 minutes.” Mom told me that a MRI is nothing, and probably last about 15 minutes.
The impersonal tech called as soon as we walked in radiology. I took one look at the MRI machine and protested, “I don’t think I am going to fit in there? What if I get stuck?” The tech seemed annoyed. So I climb in and put on the headphones. Then they fixed a cage thing over my face. Panic overwhelmed me, so they covered my eyes. Caged and immobilized, I was jousted around in this weird washing machine. I could hear the click, click, click, and buzz, over and over. I was physically shaken. I counted the songs. Forty songs later I’m still in the machine. But the tech’s attitude has changed. Now she repeatedly asks if I feel all right, am I doing okay? That makes me even more nervous. So I asked her to stop asking, if I have a problem I will let them know.
Finally, it was over and I passed the MRIs observation room, filled to the brim with doctors seriously discussing scans of a brain featuring a conspicuous huge white spot. I thought to myself, that can’t be anything good. I’m glad it’s not mine.
Mom and I were heading to the car when the receptionist stopped us. The optic neurologist wanted me back in his office. Waiting again, I spot the neurologist standing with his head in his hands, just staring at films, shaking his head. Then he turned and enters my room. That huge white spot really stood out on the paper copy. I looked at it. “Is that my brain?” He affirmed it. “Is that fat?” The intern averted his eyes, his head down, no smile, no answers, nothing. “If that is fat, I am literally a FAT HEAD!” As I am ranting about the whole fat deal, they close the door, and pick up the image of my brain, and its scary white spot. He pulls up a stool, rolls right in front of me. Then he looks at the picture and says, “Miss McDaniels, you have a brain tumor. We are pretty sure it isn’t cancerous, but we won’t know until the biopsy.”
“Is there a pill I can take?”
“No. It must be removed surgically as soon as possible.”
I looked at him, not crying, not really understanding. I asked him to please go get my mother.
I was told to find a neurosurgeon, soon. So that was it, I had a brain tumor. I was going blind. I didn’t want to think about it. How could I have not known? Why can’t I feel it?
I had to move home. I had to get a surgeon. By chance, a parent at the school where I worked had a son with a serious brain issue, and went to Detroit Medical Center where he found a surgeon who operated successfully. That parent heard about my problem and secured a referral to see Dr. M. Guthikonda. He was rated one if the top 50 neurosurgeons in the USA.
Dr. Guthikonda didn’t give me time to fret about it. At the appointment he looked at my films, explained the procedure and said, “I’ll see you in 3 days.” I was frightened. I didn’t want to go blind. I didn’t want a brain tumor. I wanted it out!
The night before surgery I slept poorly. I arrived early and was being prepped for surgery, which included an MRI and shaving my long curly hair. Imagine my surprise when Dr. Guthikonda showed up with a bag full of little rubber bands to tie my hair up and shave only the path he needed and not my whole scalp. I think I fell in love with him right then. I would trust this man with my life and I did. He was very calm and confident like he knew everything was fine. I went under believing just that.
Recovery took place at my parent’s house where I slept and healed and slept some more. Within three months, I was back to work teaching teenagers how to swim. I had neurological testing so after going back to work because I had bilateral peripheral blindness, memory problems, and difficulty reading. I wasn’t the same but I wasn’t incapable.
A year later, Dr. Guthikonda asked me to do some advertising for Detroit Medical Center. And to this day if you go to the Detroit Medical Center Website and type in Laura you can read my story and see my picture.
I often wonder, like anyone would, why me? I don’t know why but I know that because of the experience I have a renewed love of life and the people in my life.