The Cobbler That Saved My Life
Life changed for me on April 6, 2015. I'd been lucky enough to make it through my first 51 years fairly unscathed (OK, the heart attack from the previous year could have been much worse, but the treatment for it was to speed up and lose weight; Both good things to do, right? but after enjoying a good lunch with my wife, Carolyn, we decided to splurge on dessert.
A couple of minutes later, dessert arrived; Peach Cobbler. My wife and I were having a lively discussion about something. I was making an emphatic point about...
"Mr Yeatts" said a face I'd never seen, "Do you know where you are and why you are here?" Well, obviously, I was in an ambulance. Frankly, I had no idea why I was there. Seizure? What the heck is a seizure? And you're telling me that I had one? Get out! I was so confused!
It had been a busy, very tiring weekend leading up to this day. One of the passions in my life is driving race cars and I'm lucky enough to be able to do it as a hobby. The previous weekend I'd raced on Friday, gotten up early on Saturday, drove 4 hours to Hickory, NC, raced, waited until just after midnight, and drove the entire 4 hour way back to Powhatan, VA. So I knew I was already trying to recuperate from a long weekend but I hoped it was nothing more serious than the result from being overtired. The seizure, though, had me worried. Of course I'd been tired at various times in my life. I'd never woke up in the back of an ambulance being asked where I was and why I was there. I was concerned. Surely if I kept a good attitude and just went on about my life, everything would be ok. What if my wife and I hadn’t decided on dessert? I’d have been driving when the seizure happened. That Peach Cobbler saved my life! Dessert CAN be good for you!
Still, I was more than happy to placate my neurologist and get whatever test he prescribed. The first test was an EKG. Perfect! Nothing wrong there! Wahoo! Let's just call it a day and tell me everything is OK. I still had the MRI to go through.
"Kevin, you have a brain tumor". The neurologist was more verbose than that, but all I heard was "Mr Yeatts, you have a brain tumor". He was quick to point out that a “low grade Glioma” was a best case scenario if I was going to have a brain tumor. He told me that the two courses for treatment were (1) Keep an eye on it and operate if anything changed or (2) operate right now and take it out. The trouble with option 1 was that if the tumor turned malignant, it was generally too late and treatment wouldn’t save my life. To me, there was no choice. I was going to have an operation! There was no doubt, no fear. I enjoy my life and want to be around as long as possible. If things went wrong then they went wrong but I was going to choose the option that gave me the best chance to eliminate these seizures, get back to my life, and, yes, get back in the seat of my race car.
I had switched from a neurologist to a neurosurgeon, Dr Peter Alexander. His approach and attitude put me at ease immediately. This tumor wasn’t a big deal and could have been around for decades and was just now starting to impact me. Understand, I’m the type of man that views the only “minor tumor” as someone else’s tumor. Yet, Dr. Alexander’s demeanor put me at ease so much so that I couldn’t wait for my surgery. I never felt any fear or trepidation of my upcoming procedure.
Henrico Doctors Hospital was chosen for my surgery because it had an MRI in the operating room so the doctors could make sure they got the whole tumor. My life was in the best hands possible. If the Lord wanted me to come Home, what power on Earth could possibly stop it? I’d taken every step possible to give myself the best chance to live. I can’t describe the peace I felt as the anesthesia took effect.
I awoke to another new face. Her name was Emily and she was holding my hand. She said, “I’m Emily” and “Your surgery was very successful and I’m going to be right here until you wake up.” When I woke up again, my wife, Carolyn, was there and I started crying. They’d used Steroids to keep my brain from swelling and I was uncontrollably emotional for several months while my meds schedule slowly weaned me off of them. My memory, thankfully, was intact. I remembered everything! I especially remembered my love of racing. However, I was so groggy I couldn’t begin to think of being back behind the wheel. Something else was different. When the doctors would have me try squeezing their fingers, my right hand was strong and I could squeeze their fingers properly. My left hand, however, felt like it was asleep. This is what is termed a “deficit”. I heard that term a lot right after the surgery.
I’d had a small stroke after the surgery. My left hand was broken; Not “broken” in terms of bones, but I had very little strength. My index finger was bolt-straight and wouldn’t bend at all. My middle finger not much better and my thumb had very little feeling. My wife made appointments for rehab, thankfully, because I was still groggy.
Rehabilitation only did so much. There was just no strength or movement in my left hand. I could not even generate enough strength to press a key on my laptop. My day job requires me to be able to work a keyboard. After 3 months, we decided something more was needed and went to see a hand surgeon. Numerous tests determined potential nerve damage and I was going to need another surgery. It was outpatient surgery, at least. It took longer than they expected, but what in this ordeal, hadn’t taken longer than expected? There was more rehab. Almost immediately I started showing progress. Soon I was able to lift a 1# weight. This was huge! It was less than a month before I was able to return to my shop and another month until I was starting 21st in a race. I started last because I wanted to make sure I felt like I could race. After 2 laps I felt that old feeling and off I went to a 7th place finish. I felt like I had won, strutting around the pits that day.
Later this year, I felt like I’d won a race for an entirely different reason. I did win! In less than a year, I went from the operating table to victory lane. It can really happen. Don’t throw up the white flag just because of a diagnosis of brain tumor because a good attitude can carry you through the tough times. There will be some fogginess and some setbacks, but keep your chin up and know that you can get through it. If God gets you to it, He can get you through it. I cannot wait to carry this message out to the public. Now, let’s go racing!