Brain Stem

June 1, 2010


It’s the casual conversations that trigger old memories.  I was admiring this piece call “iron man” from Minneapolis based artist Frank Haenel as he was explaining the brainstem which was removed for the finished piece but can be seen here prior to completion.  The term herniated brain stem was as foreign to me as could be some three years ago.  This was a situation my mother was facing just a couple of days into the ICU when everything seemed so dire.  The wide halls of the unit on the second floor seemed lightly staffed in the evenings when I would make my second or third trips to the hospital for the day.   The lighting and the noise seemed eerily subdued. I can’t say how many patients were in the horse shoe shaped corridors but my only concern was for my Mom.  Lety was just taken off life support from the emergency room and was breathing on her own.  The medical staffed wanted to re-intabate her again as a precaution but dreadfully warned me that they may not be able to remove the tubes after that point if my mother did not start to recover.  My mother long ago had expressed to me that no extreme life extension measures should be taken and that she would not want to be on life support.  The neurologist on duty explained they would be able to apply a solution into her to see if that would reduce the swelling in the brain.  This stroke was not that long after Terry Shiavo’s ordeal so this decision resonated well within me.  It was time to wait and see.  Nurses would come in and check the pupil of her eyes.  I was so shocked to see how dilated they were.  It seemed every few hours they were getting bigger and bigger as the brain was pushing against the back of her eyes.  A swollen brain has no place to go within the confines of a skull.  She was not a candidate for a procedure where a small piece of skull is removed to ease the pressure I was told.  By the next morning her pupils appeared to retreat and after a slow lingering pace she seemingly cleared that hurdle…for now