Tuesday, May 21, 2013

One year later: my pituitary surgery recovery, as told by Simpsons screengrabs

If you’re a regular follower of my misadventures, you may recall that last summer some guys sliced my head open in order to rid me of an unwelcome intercranial growth. I chronicled the lead-up to that surgery in a blog entry entitled “The story of my pituitary tumor, as told by Simpsons screengrabs.” That post proved surprisingly popular, so I figure I might as well commemorate the surgery’s one-year anniversary with a grossly derivative sequel about my progress ever since.

I went into surgery early in the morning of May 21 and woke up later that evening, surprisingly free of pain but dogged by an intense pressure in my sinuses. That only made sense, as said sinuses were packed tightly with gauze.

Over the course of the night, I was visited by my wife and a hazy rotation of doctors who explained that I hadn’t had a pituitary tumor after all. Instead, they’d removed something called a Rathke’s cleft cyst, a weird little pustule that is apparently virtually indistinguishable from the tumor they’d originally diagnosed until one is actually inside the patient’s head. When I heard of the misdiagnosis, I was initially concerned that I’d just had an extraneous, incredibly invasive surgery.

But it turned out the cyst carried all the same risks as the tumor, so it didn’t alter much about the procedure. The worst part of the entire process was the night after the surgery, during which I was allowed no liquids by mouth. Not being able to drink for 24 hours is a drag no matter what, but when your nasal passages are blocked off and mouth-breathing is your only option, you start wondering whether it’s physically possible for someone to die of cottonmouth.

I eventually complained enough that my nurses allowed me some ice chips, but I overdid it and wound up vomiting up my scanty water supply. After that they cut me off from water and left me to brief, uneasy dreams, most of which involved me guzzling unholy amounts of sodas, juices and other potables. It got so bad that when the nurse in charge of my sponge bath left the room so I could wash my genitals, I quickly stuffed my mouth with alcohol wipes and sucked out as much of the vile, burning liquid as I could. This was not one of my prouder moments.

But I got through it and quickly regained my ability to drink water. I spent a week in a hospital bed watching 30 Rock and Better Off Ted reruns and the NBA playoffs, pining away for my wife and son. My bed afforded me a lovely view of the bluffs of Saint Paul, a nice perk that also enhanced my loneliness and cabin fever something fierce. 

Finally I was discharged to the comfort of my home. As wonderful as it was to be back, I still had a lot of recuperation ahead of me. For one thing, I was ridiculously easily fatigued. For the first couple of weeks I could only write in short bursts, as anything more pushed me to the verge of passing out. Even watching movies was physically taxing. I also left the hospital with a case of diabetes insipidus, a temporary form of diabetes that affects how the body processes liquids. Basically, I was on a constant cycle of being desperately thirsty and then desperately needing to urinate. As the toilets in my house are on the second floor and in the basement, I counted myself lucky that I never passed out from the exertion of peeing.

Eventually all of that passed, and the only lingering effect I was left with was considerable weight gain. This was a real downer to me, as I’d dropped 30 pounds the previous summer via dietary changes and a tough workout regimen. Banned for three months from any kind of physical exertion more strenuous than walking, I was more or less helpless against my appetite and packed 15 of those pounds right back on. I know that’s not that big a deal at all, but I felt pretty grotesque by summer’s end.

And here we are a year later, and all is well. Looking back, that’s really not all that much of a narrative. I had some surgery, it took a while for me to recover, but eventually I was back to normal. Whenever I run into people I haven’t seen for a while, they ask how I’m feeling. It always takes me a second to figure out why they’re asking, because the surgery is so far from my mind. It makes me feel silly and a little embarrassed, to tell the truth. I know plenty of people who’ve been through much worse in the past year. But the fact that people still ask just reminds me that I’m lucky enough to have a lot of folks who care about me. All I can do is say thanks, everybody, for your support and thoughts. It was a life-changing event to be certain, and one year later I’m happy to say I’m

Big ups to LardLad.com and their invaluable cache of Simpsons imagery.


  1. Hi Ira, I noticed in your original post you said transsphenoidal surgery causes distended nostrils. Isn't that temporary? I'm going to have a similar proceedure and they are recommending through the nostrils rather than cutting the gums like you had done.

  2. Hi Ira, my name is Sharon and I had a tumor removed from my pituitary Nov 2012. I was wondering if you have or had problems with your sinus since your surgery? They removed my tumor via my sinus'. I have horrible headaches and sinus pressure everyday. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks for your time!

    1. Hi Sharon. I'm awfully sorry to hear that. I've had some minor sinus issues, mostly a diminished sense of smell and mild discomfort if I don't do a nasal rinse every day, but nothing on the lines of what you're describing. I guess the effects are different for everyone, but it sounds like that might call for some medical attention. Sorry I can't be of more help. Good luck to you.

    2. Thank you for your reply. I finally got medical insurance and have an appointment to see a dr. I believe my sinus is extra sensitive since my surgery. I've never had sinus issues prior to that. It's been difficult finding others who've had this surgery and sharing their story as far as 2+ years of post op. Thank you for your time and getting back to me so quickly. Take care... Sharon

    3. I had transphenoidal surgery eight months ago. I had a head injury (fell down stairs) then they thought I had a pituitary tumor, but when they went in to do surgery they found no tumor, rather a large hematoma from the original injury so they cleaned it out. I have lost lost of smell and tast, my ears are always plugged (from original injury), and my balance is less than perfect. I do have a lot of sinus issues and occasional mild headache. I definitely have nose congestion that has not go away. I would love to get input if anyone else is having similar issues. I feel very altered as a result of my injury and the surgery one month later.