Ever hear the phrase, “well, it’s not brain surgery!” It
seems to imply that brain surgery is a tricky business, requiring a
high level of knowledge and skill. Perhaps it does.
If you have ever been curious about exactly what brain
surgery entails, now you can find out. What’s more, you can
find out what it is like from the patient’s perspective.
It was the strangest interview I have ever
done. Half sitting, half lying in front of me was a man talking about
He wanted to go to Italy. The strange part was that as he spoke,
surgeons were cutting out a tumour from deep inside his brain.
The patient, Trevor Burlton, was completely conscious and aware of what
was going on around him throughout the four-hour operation.
He chatted, he joked, he looked around – he looked bored.
For me, dressed in full surgical scrubs and watching him from behind a
camera, it was a very strange experience…
It seems strongly counterintuitive, to think that a patient would be
awake during brain surgery. After all, we associate nerves
with sensation and pain. The brain is full of nerves, so
shouldn’t it be exquisitely sensitive to pain? Not so.
There are many different kinds of nerves, and each serves a
particular function. The ones in the brain are not sensitive
to pain. Therefore, it is possible to cut the brain with no
In fact, it can be desirable to do so. Having the patient
aware and awake can give the surgeon important information.
As Paul Grundy and his team operated they continually
checked that the parts they were cutting out were not needed – by
asking Trevor what he felt and testing his reflexes.
This could be done only with a conscious patient.
I don’t think Senator Johnson was awake during the surgery he had,
since it was a different type of procedure.
If you are facing similar surgery, there is advice for you
The early history of brain surgery is detailed href="http://www.brain-surgery.com/history.html">here.
Even more can be found (where else?) at href="http://www.brain-surgery.com/">brain-surgery.com.