I have been a consultant vascular and general surgeon for ten years and am always busy. I have been tired but I have never been so exhausted as now, finishing a long theatre list on a dark October night.

I walk back to the car and feel unbalanced, especially in my trade mark high heels. Maybe I have just got to the age when I need to wear flats. My trainee comments that I am walking like I am drunk. Alarm bells start to ring.

I pop into the neurology clinic the next morning and explain my worst fears: ‘I think I have a brain tumour’. It is probably just vestibulitis after an awful cold, but it is not getting better. Instead, my symptoms are worse. I have headaches and I report that my right eye feels dry.

The neurologist reassures me but arranges a scan. She phones MRI and they can fit me in straight away. I have my scan and realise, because they need a second scan with contrast, that they have found something in my head. I am a professional but in those few minutes become a worried patient. I think the worst: what type of brain tumour, how large and where is it?

I find the neurologist waiting for me to explain the scan findings. They have found something. I have a 3cm mass in my cerebellum which is compressing my brain, causing the dizziness. It is not malignant but couldn’t have been sited in a worse place. I cry. The neurologist explains that I will need to see a neurosurgeon and their team. I have an acoustic neuroma.

Within two days, I am referred locally and told I need surgery; there is no other choice. I will need three months away from work. Then it gets worse. I will lose my hearing, there is a 20% risk of damage to the nerve supplying the movement of my face, a risk of damage to the sensation of my face, and to my ability to balance. I will feel sick after the surgery and, of course, there is the pain.

I listen and make my decision: I am not having surgery, there must be other ways.  Perhaps radiotherapy or just wait for it to settle. I become an expert on acoustic neuromas overnight. I read all the literature. The patient leaflet explains that if I do have surgery ‘it will attempt to preserve my quality of life’. Great.

I seek a second opinion and am reassured by the surgeon. I finally understand what I teach. To have compassion and to gain your patient’s absolute trust. In his explanations of the surgery, his words are comforting as he has pre-planned management of any complications that might be expected. I explain my own fears; I would struggle with a facial nerve palsy. He listens patiently and discusses all options with me. I take all the advice and it slowly dawns on me, I really do have no choice but surgery.

I start thinking about the cost of care and how fortunate I am in the NHS. I start calculating the cost in America and it mounts up to hundreds of thousands of pounds. I cannot imagine having to make sure that I can pay before taking advice, or letting the cost of care drive my decision making. I have my efficient and thorough pre-assessment and get a date for surgery in February.

In my rapid journey from being a professional to a patient, I have had so many worries. I have however been lucky about one thing. I am in the NHS

113 thoughts on “Me and My Acoustic Neuroma

  1. Very much hope that you make a speedy and complete recovery! NHS absolutely needs someone like you and cannot afford without you for longer than necessary!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Our daughter was diagnosed with this at the age of 26 and had surgery at Addenbrookes Hospital. We are so lucky to have our NHS. She has made a full recovery and we cannot thank the surgeons enough. I hope all goes well for you.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Dear Stella , I was distressed to learn about your medical condition from your blog . Noticed the number of your well wishers and am sure their prayers will not go waste. Your successful surgery and and a speedy recovery will alays be in.my prayers. Wish you get back in your heels sooner . As I see , your Medical colleagues are keen to get you back quickly. Remain strong.

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  3. So sorry to read this.
    Wishing you a super fast recovery and absolutely no side effects of the surgery.
    We need you.
    I used to love watching vascular surgery as a medical student. It takes dedication and great skill.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You have always been a positive supportive role modal, many future consultants will bless the NHS thanks to your kind attentive guidance and teaching .

    Keep being strong

    Franklin

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your story has touched my heart for you and the NHS. Coming from America I truly appreciate the NHS as a patient and an employee. I will be thinking about you during this difficult time hoping you will endure knowing so many people care.
    Take care
    Rhonda

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Miss Vig

    You continue to inspire to so many of us who have passed through our surgical training with your mentorship. My thoughts are with you and your family.
    Stay strong and jeep wearing those heels
    #dresslikeawoman

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Stella,
    May the force be with you. Coming from someone at the top of her profession your journey will be if interest to many though painful at times to you and your family and friends.
    What is absolutely remarkable is that even in this potentially serious state you can still think of the NHS.
    Here’s a tofa for good luck 🌷
    JS

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  8. Dear Stella, I had the misfortune to be diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2015, but the very good fortune to have your husband as my breast surgeon. I am thinking of you all and am wishing you the very, very best. I found writing about my experience to be both a comfort and a release; I hope it’s the same for you.

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  9. You & your remarkable team saved the life of my mum a few years ago and she still talks now of your kindness, we all feel truly blessed that you were on duty the day we ended up in A & E. Wishing you a complete & speedy recovery Ms Vig xx

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Good luck with your surgery! Is that your scan in the header? I hope you have a good team of skull base surgeons. I recommend Manchester, Cambridge, Queen Square.

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  11. Stella,

    Thank you for your blog and the time you have dedicated to DAPS over the years.

    You are a role model as a doctor, surgeon and trainer and patient.

    Wishing you a very speedy recovery.

    Will

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Dear Miss Vig,
    So sad to hear the bad news, I wish you well and get better soon! You are an amazing woman, doctor and mentor. You are a fighter and even though life is not as you imagined at this moment, I am convinced you’ll battle everything through!
    Have strenght, the world needs you here!

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  13. Dear Stella

    I am sorry to hear the news.
    I wish you successful surgery and I will think of you in my prayers.
    Your articles are very interesting. I have always been proud of our NHS and yet lately I feel some resentment that it is abused by UK residents because of the very fact that it is free. Nevertheless serious illness is a reminder of how valuable it is. In many countries one would not be able to afford the necessary surgery and families suffer poverty because of medical costs. As you say we are lucky to have the NHS.

    Be strong. Have courage and continue writing.
    I wish you good luck and strength to your family.
    Best Wishes
    Krishan
    (one of your local GPs)

    Like

  14. Wishing you a full recovery and best wishes from Nairobi, Kenya. I lived and worked in the UK for 6 years and while there, I used to tell my British friends and colleagues that they have no idea how lucky they are to have the NHS. Once you live in a country without a health system for all, you will never complain about the NHS. You will love it and pray it lasts forever. All the best daktari.

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  15. I am so sorry to hear this. I hope you are looked after by a surgeon as skilled, kind and empathic as your husband. He has looked after me for 16 years. I am hoping for the best possible outcome for your surgery, with none of the adverse outcomes that you fear. Good luck.

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  16. These messages just show the far reaching effect you have had on us all Stel. Go forward today knowing how much we all love you and are relying on your strength. It seems unfair that one of the doctors who best understands the patient’s perspective has to experience it first hand. There but for the grace of god go the rest. I hope your blog helps those who could do with a little taste of what it’s like to develop the compassion and understanding you have always had. Be string my friend, you will getbthrpugh this too. All my love Hx

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  17. It’s how you react to a situation, that’s what matters. You’ve handled this well and you’ll continue to do so. You’ve got this far already and a consultant surgeon, nothing will stop you.
    Positive thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Your blog was highlighted in the latest RCSEng e-newsletter. It is always eye-opening to read the insights of a patient, but quite sobering to read the candid account of fellow surgeon’s personal health experience. Hope you are making progress, Stella. All the best from down under.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. My 33 daughter has to have vestibular schwannoma surgery in the near future, I am worried, I read so much on the net, and I know thats not necessarily a good thing to do, But I looked at your page though it has not removed all of my concerns I do realise in my daughters case this operation is a must do, and without significant delay, thank you for putting into words your thoughts and experience. I hope you recover completely and as soon as possible. I love my little one, Sarah is my baby even though she is 33, any advice you can give me would be appreciated, thank you.
    How as a father can support her and aid her recovery apart from the obvious.
    Once again thank you for your insights xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

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