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Fighting My Fear with Exposure Therapy

I am afraid of a number of things. Of the irrational fears I have, the fear of surgery is paramount. So this Saturday I decided to subject myself to some exposure therapy. What I basically planned was that I will sit down and watch a particularly grisly surgery on youtube and not black out.

For many of you it might sound as easy and simple. But not for me. Indeed, I subjected myself to a number of torture-exploitation films just to overcome my fear. Funny thing is, I could watch Hostel I, or Hostel II and even ‘A Serbian Film’ without batting an eyelid but when it came to a real hospital environment I freak out. Possibly the idea of ‘this is not real’ kept me from feeling sick.

So I went over to Youtube and decided to watch a brain surgery where a group of doctors would remove a brain tumor while the patient is only locally anesthetized. I got myself a piece of paper and a pencil to write down about the impulses I feel. Also having something to do also meant that it will keep me slightly detached. And so I began.

The doctors did a neat job. The man was put on the operating table and the head was split open. I apologize for my non technical terms - I am no doctor, so please forgive me if the account seems ridiculous. A sharp incision was made about the middle of the brain. Then some filing was inserted. After a few minutes, the drill was brought into action to tear apart the skull. The brain was exposed. With two small scalpel like things(I’m sure they were not scalpels) the doctors were probing the brain, like moving deeper to find the tumor. After a few gentle strokes they found it. All the while they were flushing some liquid from these two scalpel like handles to clear some liquid that was obscuring the view.

After a couple of minutes they found out this white ball shaped tumor on the top left corner of the brain and using the handles like a fork rolled up up. It was lightly connected to the rest of the brain. Some incisions were made to make it loose and then it was brought out. The cavity created for the surgery was shut with stitches and the surgery was over. By this time I have had two minor panic attacks. As opposed to my previous experiences, this one was much better. I was able to look closely and even document the details. That I can write about the details here speaks volumes. Of course my notes were also taken. I will write them down here.

  1. Slight uneasy feeling (skull opening)
  2. Still ok (Skull opened wide and held by forcep kinda things)
  3. Feeling light nausea (incision being made to remove the brain’s protective layer of something)
  4. Mild nausea (brain fully visible)
  5. Feeling the urge to breathe deep, shortness of breath. (Probing)
  6. Urge to vomit (mild - tumor visible and was played around with handles)
  7. Severe vomit (cranial liquid or something coming out and messing things up. Liquid sprayed from the handles to remove the obstruction)
  8. Turned away. Sweating and relaxed breathing. Relief.
  9. Retry - Forced myself to look again.
  10. Feeling ok. Tumor being toyed with. Connections severed. Lifted by the handles and rolled up till it is safely out of the brain.
  11. Still feeling relatively calm and composed.
  12. Brain shut close with stitches. Cavity closed.
  13. Slight feeling of uneasiness persists, nothing major.
  14. Minor panic attack? Naah, just awkward.
  15. Feeling ok.

So it was over. In the end, I did feel relieved to know it was over. But then I did not vomit, or except for one occasion did not really feel the urge either. All the while I made it a point to watch it all from around 10 to 12 inches from my computer screen. So missed nothing. Not bad for a start.

I will do this again at least for another 6 months every weekend. I know this is kinda gory but needs to be done. You gotta face your demons. Even if you are one too!
In case you are curious this is the video I watched - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAMabry8EhI

Watch it only if you have to. Thanks to all doctors who save lives and congratulations to all those who survived. God bless all.

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