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

116 thoughts on “Me and My Acoustic Neuroma

  1. I am touched! Being a NHS professional and NHS patient, be proud of! I wish you all the best and speedy recovery as NHS and many thousands of its patients need your expertise!

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  2. Hi, I have not met you but anyone with the Surname VIG has my utmost respect… ask that nutter sister of yours Vernini…. hope you a speedy recovery…. an wish to meet you in person too

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  3. Fantastic blog. You treated my mother with the greatest care and compassion and the NHS is wonderful and needs to be looked after and not abused without it people like myself and my mother etc would have no hope so for that we are grateful.

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  4. You are truly an amazing and inspiring woman. When I read your blog it brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing this. So many people have benefited from your skill, expertise, kindness, compassion and for always being there to support your colleagues. Praying for you and wishing a speedy recovery for you. We want you back with us, however you recovery is the most important thing we could ever wish for.

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  5. Stella you are a bright light for so many, our thoughts are with you, our love is yours and our admiration beyond measure. I look forward to seeing you back… with your heels and your ready smile.

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  6. I only know u from twitter as a passionate surgeon, Junior dr supporter and NHS loyalist. So sorry to hear this news but I am sure that your surgeon and anaesthesia team with the nurses will be so careful with u. All the very best for your handover of care to another doctor like u. Sandra

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  7. We love you Miss Vig! I wish with all my heart all the best for the operation and I am sending tones positive energy for a speedy and full recovery!!

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  8. Incredibly brave and compassionate to share this Stella. Thoughts are with you and know you’ll be back stronger than ever as the Trainees’ champion!

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  9. Dear Miss Vig, I’m so sorry to hear this news. I hope that the surgery goes as well as it possibly can and that you experience minimal complications. You are and have been an inspiration and support to hundreds of us junior doctors. Your ability to juggle so much always amazed me!

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  10. Stella, you are so right that we are all so lucky to have a system that still looks after us regardless & we don’t end up bankrupted. My parents & in laws between them have had at least £250k worth of treatment over the past 10 years & are not distitute. We’ll all keep on fighting for the NHS but need to get the population as a whole to understand the threats facing it. Once it’s gone they’ll realise what’s been lost.
    Let’s not let that happen. Xx

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  11. A true inspiration miss vig. I am expecting a full and speedy recovery and for you and an expectation of attendance at my Arco ready to pounce!! Please get in touch if I can be of any help!!

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  12. Stella you better be back soon!! °The place won’t be the same without you while u are away.
    Isn’t it interesting how quickly we move from professional mode to patient mode when we become one!

    Thinking of you and praying 4 a speedy recovery. Xxx

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  13. Hi Stella, I work in the Dental Dept at CUH, and often see you in your heels! you have also looked after my dad as a patient over the years. I wish you all the very best with everything, and will keep you in my thoughts.

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  14. Stella -What a gift of words you have-I felt I was with you through all those consultations. It goes without saying that I will be thinking of you over the next few weeks.
    Love and very best wishes Jane

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  15. Dear Stella , so sorry to hear of your illness . You were a great inspiration to Chris who is now half way through his first year at KCL . I’m sure your blog will also be a great help to others in similar circumstances. Wishing you all the best with your surgery and a speedy recovery. I’ll keep you in my prayers . Xx

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  16. Hi Stella – I remember you well from when I worked in Medical HR at Croydon – you were a strong, inspiring and determined member of the surgical team – that strength and determination, together with support from your family, friends & colleagues will see you through this difficult time – loving the blog – be strong when you can, cry when you need to but kick this in the butt xx

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  17. Dear Stella
    You are one of very few things that I have ever liked in Croydon and are way too tough not to beat this so get well soon with a full recovery
    Love Dominic

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  18. Well done on acting so quickly and good wishes for a safe procedure and a speedy recovery. Many UK citizens do not appreciate what a great org the NHS is still many countries where people would struggle to get diagnosis let alone treatment. Keep posting x

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  19. Great words and agree we are so lucky to have a wonderful NHS system in the UK. Had to use this a fair bit over recent years including some close family so am I’m grateful to you and your colleagues (one of which has commented above). Wishing a speedy recovery to you!

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  20. Wow Stella! So sorry to hear this. I’ve seen lots of patients before and after acoustic neuroma surgery, many with fantastic results. As you say, you will be in the best hands.
    Small comfort, but if you had to have ‘something in your head’ this is far from the worst.
    I wish you all the very best for a speedy recovery. I will be thinking of you!

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  21. Stella – I have rarely known anyone with so much fight in them, it is a privilege to have worked with you and I look forward to doing so again. Now you have to focus some of that awesome strength and will power on getting well. The NHS and its patients need you back at its tables; be they Board Room or Theatre.

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  22. Stella,
    I remember working with you in Croydon. You are an inspiration. I am sorry to hear this has happened to you. I know how horrible it is when you go from doctor to patient. Knowing what we know is a curse and a blessing. I wish you all the best on this journey and admire how you are channelling your energy positively in this blog.
    You give so much to the NHS- now it’s time for us all to be there for you. X

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  23. Me and mum so sorry to hear your news Stella. You are one brave and strong lady and you will fight it. Would love to talk to you. Can we call your land line?

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  24. Dear Stella, just sending you a virtual hug. I know only too well how tough it is to be a patient when you’re a doctor, and how hard it can be to relinquish control to someone else. Your blog is amazing and I hope that it gives you the support, freedom and acceptance of the AN that my blog gave me. Swearing, crying, thinking the end is nigh are all allowed. You do NOT have to be brave or strong unless you’re really feeling it. It’s also incredibly hard for partners to understand and empathise when they’re not the ones going through it too. I hope you can find others who are going through a similar thing that you can bitch and moan too. :Liz xxx

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  25. It’s so brave of you to share what must be a very personal struggle. You gave me great guidance during my SHO years and saw me through to my specialist training. You’ll be back on your feet in a twinkle, and you and the NHS will be better for it. I wish you a speedy recovery, we are all rooting for you.

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  26. Hi Stella. Old age is a bugger, but better than the alternative!

    I haven’t seen you for a while now, but I have always admired your drive and energy. I learned something from a Facebook post recently; everyone is fighting some challenge in their life that you know nothing about. I will learn from your Blog as to how a determined and educated lady overcomes her particular challenge. Thank you for sharing. Les Lindsay.

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  27. I feel for you having had my acoustic neuroma remove on September 30th 2023. Followed by radiotherapy last year as it had grown again. Waiting this years MRI and hoping it’s not still growing. I lost one of my nine lives two days after my original 12 hours in theatre I had a cerebral bleed and returned to theatre for a further 3 hours amongst other things! Two and a half weeks later I went home after being cared for brilliantly at the hospital I was in. My surgeon and specialist nurse are amazing people. I’m deaf too and wear cross aids which are really good. I’m doing fine and as I say hoping for good news after my MRI. Be strong and hope all goes well x

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  28. Dear Stella,
    I can only imagine what your going through and wish you all the best and for a speedy recovery. Will look out for your blogs to see how the treatment is going, take care and will be thinking of you. Jean xx

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  29. My thoughts are with you. You don’t know me but I follow you avidly on twitter! All the very best and can’t wait to have you back at CUH. I worked at SGH neurosurg, a good place. Don’t know where you are having surg. CUH family is thinking of you😘😘.
    Domxxxx

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  30. You don’t know me but l used to work on the nhs in your area as a paramedic.15 years ago today I had a 4cm acoustic nueroma removed at the atkinson Morley so l can guess what you are going through right now all the best and hope you make a speedy recovery as well.

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  31. Hey Stella.
    I was one of your SHOs back in 2000. I echo everyone’s comments; u are a true inspiration for me as a doctor and try to emulate your patient care, dedication & determination.
    Your comments about the potential costs remind me of ‘Breaking bad’; I can see u as the main character if the nhs wasn’t here…worth watching if not already!

    Liked by 1 person

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