In the summer of 2015, I underwent brain surgery for a rather large meningioma (tumor) in my left frontal lobe. It was causing a huge amount of swelling and what we in the neurology field refer to as "mass effect" and "midline shift," which is shop talk for my frontal lobe was pushing on my parietal lobe and the left side of my brain was on the right. Not fun stuff at all.
I had no time to really ponder much of anything as I was immediately admitted for tests and surgery. Cutting my skull from ear to ear, my neurosurgeon adeptly removed the tumor. A gross total resection, as we call it. And it was a success. Tumor gone. Job well done. Ordeal over? Well, not so much.
Surgery is traumatic for the body.
I often tell patients that the body does not know the difference between a surgical wound or a stabbing knife wound. The response is often very similar. And when the organ is the brain that's experiencing that level of insult, it does not bounce back so easily. It is akin to a severe traumatic injury. And the brain injury leads to a very similar recovery and cluster of symptoms as does a post-concussive syndrome. It may not have been traumatic in its making, but the functional effect is still the same.
So I got to work healing my brain and healing my psyche. As a neurologist, I have a unique perspective in that I have seen many in their recovery from similar surgeries and similar injuries. I have helped them heal. I have also spent my career understanding the brain and what it needs to function optimally. My doctors were amazed at my recovery and even noted that in their chart notes. So here are the top five things I did to heal myself:
1. I juiced every morning.
Our starving cells are yearning for high nutrition and are in a great state to receive and utilize vitamins and nutrients from their overnight fast. But my juice was specific and intentional in its ingredients. My powerhouse recipe for maximal healing and regeneration is:
- 1 whole cucumber
- 1 whole lemon
- 3 pods of fresh turmeric
- 2 to 3 inches of fresh ginger
- 4 leaves of basil
- 6 ounces of alkaline water
2. I learned to meditate.
Meditation helps heal the brain and it was the first thing I did each morning. A post-traumatic brain is sensitive to light, noise, and stimulation, and exposures create more inflammation and irritability. Meditation gave my brain the rest it needed to rejuvenate.
3. I fed my brain.
I avoided pro-inflammatory foods, consumed lots of anti-inflammatory foods, and took daily doses of Boswellia, Rhodiola, magnesium, alpha-lipoic acid, N-acetylcysteine, and astragalus.
4. I moved.
I regularly stretched and walked to keep my blood flowing and my muscles flexible.
5. I placed myself in nature.
Studies have repeatedly shown how brains heal faster in the presence of the earth's flora and fauna. One does not always have to go far. A nearby park did it for me. And when the sun was out, which is not often in Seattle, it was a bonus.
6. I had weekly acupuncture sessions.
Acupuncture spreads energy, life, and blood. It helps to restore a natural balance of excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters. It brings calm and inner peace while boosting the immune system to support healing of the most important kind.
But most of all, I gave myself a break and allowed myself time. I was kind to myself and patient with my recovery. I did things that brought me joy and contentment because I realized life is too short not to appreciate who we are, what our bodies are capable of, and the world around us.