- About the Conditions
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Anyone who has undergone decompression surgery will tell you how difficult it is to look at the television if it features anything that looks like brain surgery. It's as though you are about to go under the knife again - I feel a pulse of electricity go up and down my spine. I have to avert my gaze or change channels.
Imagine then if cutting open and dissecting brains, even if not of the human variety, was your day job. Meet Chiari Malfrmation patient, Steven Evans, who is 35 and comes from Wolverhampton. He is employed working as a Technician with the Meat Hygiene Service, a subsidiary of the Food Standards Agency . Steven was first diagnosed with CM in 2001/2. He explains;
"The first symptoms I had were terrific headaches. I went to the GP and he diagnosed me with a sinus infection. He was diagnosing me with that for about three months but it was getting slowly worse. It wasn't responding to any antibiotics he was giving me, so he referred me to a neurosurgeon. He diagnosed me straightaway, but at first said my symptoms weren't sufficient enough to justify doing anything about it or to have an operation."
Steven was sent for an MRI scan, but was told not to worry about it, as the symptoms weren't bad enough to reveal anything. However, when the scan came back, the news was that the malformation was probably as bad as it could possibly get. His neurosurgeon referred him on to Graham Flint, who recommended he opt for surgery.
Alone amongst Trust members, Steven already had a unique insight into the area of the brain involved. He explains;
"Part of my job is that I have to sample brainstems from sheep and goats, and I have to supervise the sampling of brainstems of cattle for BSE purposes, to make sure that no BSE enters the food chain. I actually have to cut them open. The slaughtermen take the head off from the carcass, pass me the head, and then I have to take samples from the brain and brainstem." Steven has been in his job for around ten years, and had been doing the actual brain sampling part of his work for a couple of years before his own decompression surgery. Didn't it disconcert him that he already had such an intimate knowledge of this area of the brain, even if it was in dead sheep, goats and cattle?
"It's different," insists Steven. "It's different in the fact that obviously I've got the head in front of me. The head's been removed off of the animal's body for a good half an hour before I set to work. I'm not in the position of being able to do any damage to the animal!" "The actual brainstem and spinal cord attached are in front of me. I don't have to do any invasive surgery into the animal's skull to remove the brainstem. I actually do it through the vertebral canal and take it out that way."
It must have given Steven some insights into the surgery that he and many Chiari Malformation patients have undergone.
"Yes, I can see what Mr Flint had actually done to me, but I have to remove it in a slightly different way than he does."
Most people reading this would surely find it difficult to do such a job after having decompression surgery themselves. Many might even find it difficult to continue eating meat. Steven's reaction is more sanguine, if not to the point.
"I can still eat my chops and steaks - no problem. The main thing is that literally, within two or three months of the operation, I was feeling 100% better."