I have put much thought into what I wanted to write for this first piece for the Epidermoid Brain Tumor Society (EBTS). I came up with many ideas, but I thought it’d be best to first introduce myself to you all. Until now you may know me as the doctor who randomly comments on the EBTS Facebook page. My aim through writing this is to explain more deeply what brought me here.
Before I go on, however, none of this would be possible without an organization as wonderful as the EBTS. I only became a member a few months ago, but I have witnessed how much it has helped its members. No organization or company achieves any success without great people at the helm. And when speaking of great people behind successful organizations, I must mention both Fay Powell and Linda Frevert. Fay Powell (or ‘Fay’ as I call her) first contacted me late in 2014 after I told her of my experience, and even though I have yet to meet her, even her e-mails exude her warmth and kindness. Similarly, from the beginning of my involvement with this group, Linda Frevert has been amazingly supportive of my vision for this column. Linda used to work as a nurse, and while she has been great for the EBTS, I know that her presence here means she is not at the bedside being a great nurse.
Now I will turn the tables and tell you a little about myself: I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska where I excelled in tennis and academics. This combination landed me in Cambridge, Massachusetts where I attended Harvard University. Besides playing tennis on their varsity team for four years, I also took all of the required ‘premedical’ courses (classes like Chemistry, Physics, and Biology) in preparation for medical school. I was once asked during a job interview, “What made you choose Harvard?” My response is that, besides some of the amazing people I was able to befriend there, I was lucky enough to cross paths with my wife, Fleur Broughton. It is often said that your spouse is your ‘better half.’ This without a doubt holds true when it comes to her. Even though I completed all the required coursework necessary to enter medical school, I desperately wanted to become a professional tennis player. Unfortunately while I had the will and drive to excel in the game, I lacked the talent, and after six months of traveling and playing I only managed to obtain a world ranking in doubles. I then returned to the States to prepare for the MCATS (a medical school admission test).
After studying and taking the test, timing dictated that I not apply for medical school for a year. It was during this year that I worked as a research coordinator for a Diabetes Center in Omaha. Near the end of my tenure there, both my wife and I were accepted into medical school. We also learned that my wife was pregnant with our first son. We were slated to start school in April with our son due in the end of December (2006). We foresaw what we thought were all the issues and hardships that came with having a newborn, compounded by being in medical school. What we didn’t realize was that he would actually make medical school easier emotionally, rather than harder (I cannot think of a worse situation than returning home after a long day of studying to an empty, quiet house). We completed our final two years of medical school in Saginaw, Michigan. When it came time for residency, my wife chose Family Medicine, while I decided upon Emergency Medicine (EM).
We were lucky to find a program that offered training in both specialties and that we also both liked. So in 2012 we moved to Lansing, Michigan to begin our residencies. After completing a year of EM training, I decided to make the switch to Family Medicine. Near the end of my second of three years I was elected chief resident of the Family Medicine program. My wife and I also learned that she was pregnant with our second son, who was due at the end of April.
In the third week of March, I awoke with slight double vision. I remember that I was working in the clinic at the time and that the double vision was not bad enough for me to stop. It gradually worsened until I pulled my Family Doctor aside and told him of my symptom. He immediately called a Neurologist who obtained an MRI of my brain. This is where my medical training served as a curse: I immediately began thinking of possible reasons for my double vision. In my head, the worst case scenario was a condition called Multiple Sclerosis: this would mean life-long medications as well as dealing with random relapses. The best-case scenario was a Complex Migraine which could explain the visual disturbances (even in the absence of headaches).
The MRI revealed a 4.5 cm mass in my posterior fossa, “most likely an epidermoid cyst.” (according to the Radiology report). After seeing a Neurosurgeon at the University of Michigan, he suggested an urgent surgery to remove the mass (for me, my worsening double vision precluded me from a wait and watch approach). I then underwent a 16 hour surgery to remove the mass. My stay included a one week stay in the Pediatric ICU (because my surgery was performed by a Pediatric Neurosurgeon) followed by a one month stay on the Rehabilitation Floor at my home hospital in Lansing. During my month on the Rehabilitation Floor, my second son Cormac Robert Chiou, was born.
Since being discharged home in May of 2013 my recovery process has been a long one, fraught with slow progression. In the beginning the gains were easier to see, but lately (as expected) the progress has been subtler. My main deficits have been my balance (I’ve likened it to constantly trying to stand on a balance board), along with my speech (the best analogy I have thought of is to liken my speech to having a handful of marbles in your mouth while speaking slowly). As I described to a close friend of mine, “I essentially went from fully functional to disabled overnight.”
While this tumor has stripped me of my ability to walk and talk normally, it has also allowed me to discover an activity I truly love, writing. In May of 2014 I began a blog detailing my experiences (www.handicappeddoctor.com) and near the end of 2014 I began corresponding with Fay and Linda. As I mentioned above, they were instrumental in bringing me into the EBTS family. After reading through my blog and making sure my writing was (at least) coherent they graciously invited me to write a weekly column for the website. Thus, even though I can curse this tumor for what it has taken from me, without it, I would not have discovered my love for writing.
I have since begun the long journey of completing my residency. This is my story, one which I hope continues. With this article I hope you better understand my perspective and background.
I hope to publish a weekly article for this column. Thank you for allowing me to be part of this journey with you.