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WAKR's Chuck Collins Recovering From Surgery

By Rich Heldenfels Published: July 22, 2013

Chuck sent me a note overt the weekend saying he is doing OK after brain surgery performed Friday. He told one friend recently that "The good news is no long range damage to my voice or motor skills, at least not so far. ... Bad news is no apparent increase in math skills." He has posted a more general note to listeners here.

 Below is Collins's explanation of what happened, from his blog, where he plans to post more about his progress.

Maria’s eyes were like twin moons around planet Fear. The one on the left was the scientist, strong and confident; the one on the right was the woman, astonishingly sympathetic. They hovered over my bed and waited for their time to shine in this night I was entering. She knew it was going to be a difficult message to deliver, but she had done so, or something very much like it, for more years than her youthful face belied.

“We found something…suspicious.” Really, suspicious? Part of my life for the last dozen years has been steeped in finding the suspicious and making it fun, exciting, enticing; that has been my goal anyway. But success has eluded me so far. Oh, I got the work done, tried my best to find the training and understand the craft, and in that regard I’m pleased with the results. But if the idea of moving my craft from mind to market is important (and it is) then I have a long way to go.

Maybe we’ll talk about that later. Maybe not.

Dr. Maria Crespo, “just Maria, I hate titles,” had efficient features, just enough to support those big hazel eyes. Her hair was pulled back tightly adding to the no-wasted-space of her face. But her smile was easy and fluid. She wore minimal make up, just a little unnecessary outline to her eyes and perhaps some foundation. I detected no scent from her whatever, unlike Nurse Amanda, pretty girl, tall and dark with a fondness for a sweet and fruity fragrance. Maria’s 5 foot 4 inch command of the room was shocking. Nothing mattered other than me and her message. Med student Josh, Amanda, even ER Supervisor Dr. Clark submitted to her management of the room. It was my room for this short stay. I had hoped it would be a lot shorter.

The ordeal started in March of this year, very close to the 35th anniversary of our first marriage, Monika and me. Our life together had been filled with all one could imagine and more. She has proven what a best friend is, and I wish I could say the same. I can say this: I love her more than life itself and I mean that. But what happened has nothing to do with that heart-shaped mark on a calendar or my Monika. But it does have a little to do with Phil. He is one of the few people I have known – and still know – longer than Monika. We found ourselves working together again seven years ago almost to the day. Phil and I were standing in my little studio where I do most of my air work. We were just talking about radio stuff and a little bit of life. Suddenly, and I mean suddenly, the left side of my body sprang a leak and lost 80% of its communication with central control, or so it felt.

I told Phil to stand by, that I might need help. I waited to reestablish contact with the renegade left arm and leg and some of my trunk. Here’s where Uncle Charlie comes in. I was named after my father’s older brother. I have not been kind to Uncle Charlie’s memory. He was not big on kids, my dad’s assessment. But dad was big on family and would do anything he could to keep the small and splintered Collins’ Clan together. In reality Charlie meant well, but he just wasn’t as bright or accomplished as dad and he just could not seem to drink that fact away. It was not for lack of trying. The most vivid memory I have of Charlie is after he had a stroke. He must have been in his early 50’s and it was a debilitating, face melting, gait robbing event from which he never really recovered.

The good news is that at an early age I became aware of probably one of the cruelest of the many cardiovascular/neurological diseases. On that day with Phil, there in the studio, I knew what to check to see if I was having a stroke. I ticked off only one of the six on my list. My speech was not slurred, I could see equally well out of both eyes, and though the south side had taken leave, I still had ample strength to get back to my office, have a seat and in a few minutes get back to work. Perhaps it was my playwrights of the naïve or the absurd, but I did no follow-up.

That weekend it happened again. Part of what I do, and I like to think do well, is host crowds of people at community events. That weekend was one I really enjoy, although it is a long night. The first 6 hours all went very well. Then, as I was reading off winning numbers and names, that feeling returned and half my body nearly left the building. This time the odd and very disturbing sensation lasted the whole night and all the next day. At this point any reasonable person would head to the ER, or at least make a soon-as-possible appointment with a doctor. Any doctor!

Not me. I shook it off, so I thought. As you can imagine it came back, several times in fact and with new components like a spoiled child asserting himself. Soon odd sensations in my taste buds and saliva flow accompanied the events, as I came to call them. I would recognize these little visitors, wait until that passed and be thankful when nothing bigger happens, such as passing out, losing the use of my limbs or joining the renegade half and slip into semi-oblivion. It never did, nor did they go away.

One fine June day I was sitting in the beautiful back yard of a friend, a retired cardiologist and writer. Dr. Terry Gordon had become something of a legend in this area, not only because of his immense skills as a surgeon and innovator, but because of the tragedies that had befallen his otherwise rich life. More importantly is how he came to handle these lifemares. Terry listened to my story and almost immediately asked if he could “give a listen.” He brought out a cuff and stethoscope and took my blood pressure. It was extremely high. He insisted that I see a doctor right away, a legally practicing doctor.
That set me on a journey toward treating hypertension. The events, it was believed, were Trans Ischemic Attacks, TIA’s or mini strokes. BP under control the larger events stopped. But now there were smaller and more frequent events, about three a day. Something was still very wrong.
This human can be a prime example of stubborn nature. I rationalized everything, from a pinched nerve to the way I sleep to my laptop searing nerves in my thigh at the exhaust fan. But there came a point when I knew something was really screwed up.

After walking into the ER in Cuyahoga Falls, I still had the feeling that I was wasting everyone’s time, not to mention spending deductable money that we don’t have. That’s another difficult part about getting sick these days, the first thought that comes to mind is money. There is something inherently wrong about that and before I’m finished here we might get into it a little. I promise, no heavy hands here.

Now we have come to the start of this experience. CT scans exposed a mass in my brain.

I remember reading and hearing all kinds of reactions to the news – news I have not gotten definitively yet – that one can add cancer patient to ones self image. Most talk about the seven stages of pre-grief. They speak of fear and anger in equal doses, then comes acceptance and determination to beat the beast. I don’t have any of that right now.

I have an incredible sense of wonder. I wonder what this really means. I wonder if it’s going to really mess with my head, my personality, my ability to do what I am doing right now. If the latter becomes reality, then, as one of my favorite characters in The Radio Murders: The Collectors exclaims, “I mays well just go on up to Jesus right now.” Those were the words of Mary Lofton, age 92, and a pretty close capture of my mother, Mary Collins.
But here is the odd part: The tumor is in the right parietal quadrant of my brain, in a section that is partially responsible for the motor functions of the left side of my body. It has not yet affected my speech, vision or reasoning. In the words of a PA from Neurosurgery, if you’re going to have a brain tumor and you are right handed, best to have it in the right side of the brain. Of course, I’d rather not have it at all.

As part of my recovery and ultimately the Journey, I am going to keep this running account of my feelings, observations and a little about the people I have met along the way. For example Angel just brought me a new remote control for the TV. She is a butch-haired breeze of a woman with sandy features and a quick step. She is very nice and I would not trade Angel for anyone under these circumstances. 

The Brain Team is starting to form. First there was Shannon the neurosurgery PA, an energetic red-head who knows how to defuse words like tumor and cancer. She pretty much laid out the plan for how we were going to discover “clues,” and tackle the problem one step at a time. Then came Brittany, thin and blond with intense eyes and a fast-paced way of talking that she can stop on a dime to hear Monika or me out. She was the neurology Physicians’ Assistant. Right behind her was Ryan, Dr. Lynch. A big man with a “go ahead, try and shake me” kind of face who gave off an air of, the only way I can put it, this is what we have and this is how we’re going to beat it. He reminded me of the NFL player who came back to teach high school football, except he was neither, just a guy who loved learning and, “two advanced degrees was all we could afford.”

Now the waiting, and it is true, that can be the hardest part. I’m sure there will be much more to say about this pretty dramatic experience. One last person I want to add is my new Internal Medicine doctor. Dr. Miller. Pretty and youthful for her nearly 50 years, brunette hair cresting below her shoulders, with eyes that reflected the sky in the window behind me and actually made it nicer. She actually glowed confidence like most moms of boys (3 of her 5 are boys). That assuredness was not in her necessarily, but in me, Monika and the process. There was not a doubt in her mind that we would come out of this better!
And what about Monika? That is a real story that I will get into next time

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