I was on a flight bound for Seattle in 1998 with Paco, his Ex, and Guillermo. We were heading up there to enjoy the New Years festivities. I took the odd seat out, next to a fairly attractive lady my age. I began conversing with her, and it turned out we had pretty similar interests in music. The flight progressed and we continued our conversation about different bands, until I was hit with an immensely sharp pain that radiated through out my entire head.

The pain was the most intense thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. I thought I’d had an aneurysm, or a stroke. I began to black out immediately after the pain subsided.

“OH my God I’m dying.” I thought, “How embarrassing, I’m going to die on an airplane with all my friends, this is going to ruin their weekend, and this girl is going to flip out. It’ll be her “weird” story for the rest of her life. I can’t die. I can’t die. I can’t die. I can’t die. PLEASE GOD, don’t let me die, I’ll die when I get to Guillermo’s, just not on the airplane, in flight.”

It’s amazing what you think when your mind perceives death approaching. I had images of them hauling my stiff body off the plane, and my friends standing there going, “Well this trip sucked.”

I started to come-to, and the girl asked me if I was ok, because I had collapsed on my tray mid conversation. I explained to her that I’d had a weird head pain, but it was better now. I was not sure what it was, only that it HURT, and it wore me out. When we got to Guillermo’s, I spent 5 hours sleeping on his floor. The trip ended without further head trauma, but I was fearful of it, the whole flight home.

Was something wrong with my head? Did I have a stroke or something? Was it due to the altitude? Was it sinus related? I didn’t know. After that I began having similar headaches, only considerably milder.


After a couple years these mild headaches got annoying, and I decided to have the problem checked out. Rather than go to my primary care physician, just so he could refer me to a specialist. I went straight to the neurologist. I really had no idea who in Redding was a “good” neurologist, so I picked one at random out of the phone book, Dr. Birk.

I called his office, told them my problem, and set up an appointment.

When I got there I sat in the waiting room, and filled out my paperwork. I kept noticing a man with a turban walking in and out of the back area.

“Hmmmm”, I wondered, “I wonder who that guy is. Maybe he’s a lab tech?” I was a little disappointed at my own stereotypical mind. Even though deep down I KNEW he was the Dr. I let his turban cause me to cast judgment without any factual basis. Finally, he called me back in.

(Use your own best East Indian accent)

“Yes, hello, What seems to be de problem?”

I explained to him about the airplane head explosion, and the headaches.

“I see…any udder problems?”


He asked me several questions about the location of the pain, the times it occurred, if I made any connections to the pain with other activities, etc. He made me do a few routine mental checks, to see if all areas were functioning appropriately.

“Well, I’m going to send yoo’ to get MRI, then we’ll see what de MRI show.”

I figured this is what would happen.


I left and set up my MRI appointment at the local imaging lab. The MRI appointment was both scary, and exciting to me. I was excited because it was a bigger event than I was used to, medically speaking. I was scared because, I really didn’t want them to find out anything serious.

The MRI process involves lying on a table, and being slid into this huge tube, which is full of cameras, and other imaging devices. If you’re any way claustrophobic it wouldn’t be a good experience. There is about 4 inches of space on each side of you. They give you a pair of crappy headphones, ask you your favorite radio station, and throw you into the tube for 25 minutes. The Radio station must be strictly to preoccupy your mind, because you can’t hear anything, the machine is far too noisy.




After the first 25 minutes they pull you out, and inject a dye into your blood system, that will provide contrast for the next set of images they take, which also takes 25 minutes. The injection leaves a metallic taste in your mouth, and made my veins feel very cold as it entered my bloodstream. The whole experience, while only minimally painful, is not at all fun. Spending an hour of your life in a tube, listening to the radio, while a huge machine whirls around your head is a little nerve wracking. The guy who was doing the MRI reminded me of the ugnaughts who worked on Luke in the Empire strikes back. That was the only “cool” part of the whole ordeal.

The imaging was finally complete, and I left for home. I had felt pretty good for the past couple years, so I was confident that there would be nothing found wrong with me.

2 days later I got a phone call.

“Hi this is — from Dr. Birk’s office, we need to have you come back in as soon as you can for a follow up. Can you make it this afternoon?”

“Uhm….[I was freaking out at this point, sooner is never better in medical follow-ups] Yeah, I guess I can, what’s the matter?”

“The Doctor would like to discuss it with you when you arrive.”

“O.k….” I said and hung up the phone, my hand shaking out of control.

I was pretty sure there had to be something major wrong. If there had been nothing, they would have simply told me there was nothing wrong, and left it at a phone conversation. I sat in my living room for the next hour shaking, and freaking out. [This is a message for all Doctor’s: It’s always better to tell someone first, your patients imaginations will always jump to too far of a conclusion. I had myself having a brain tumor the size of a football.]

The time came for me to go to the appointment, and I drove to Dr. Birk’s office. I admit I was scared to death. I cried like a baby the whole way there. I wasn’t really ready to get the news I was about to die. My son was going to be born in a few months, and if God was going to take me, his timing was SO bad. I arrived at Birk’s office, and he took me into the back, to go over my MRI.

“See you have a cyst in de tird bentircle.” He said showing me a dark spot on the image.

“What does that mean?” I asked, “Is that bad.”

“Yes potentially it is berry bad, it can block de drainage of spinal fluid from the brain, and keel you. But sometimes it do nothing, and people live wit dem forever, however we only know on those people who die.”

“Oh, so I guess I need surgery.” I said.

“Yes, dis I would recommend.”

“Uhm ok, how does that procedure normally go.”

“Usually, we go through de nose, and up, to remove the cyst dat way.”

“Oh—” I said skeptically. That sounded painful.

After we finished going over the MRI, He told me he would schedule me an appointment with the neurosurgeon, and go from there.

I left the office, and went over to each of my parents house to tell them in person what was going on, and get their opinions.

Although it was kind of a glum day for me in general, KNOWING what was wrong with me was far better than guessing. I went home and did some research on the condition, and tried to find out for myself what having this cyst in my head would entail.

Everything I read, while not shiny and positive, wasn’t as bad as it could be. These cysts, weren’t tumors that spread to all parts of the brain, they didn’t cause cancer, and they were very successful in treating them with surgery, most times.

The surgery part made me uneasy. The only “surgery” I had had previously was to remove wisdom teeth, and that doesn’t really count. The more I read, the more I began to feel comfortable with what I needed to have done, but not so comfortable with who was doing it.

It was partly the turban thing…I won’t lie.

It was also the area I live in. I just didn’t feel confident with a neurosurgeon from a town of 70,000, as I would with one from a town of 500,000. I wanted someone with SOME experience in the specific case I had. I looked all over the Internet for Doctors in SF, or Sacramento, that had experience with my specific condition. I found Dr. Kim who worked for UC Davis medical center. I sent him an email strictly asking for some information on cysts, what they were, how they were removed, etc. I had tried to call all the surgeons locally but none of them had time to deal with someone who wasn’t paying for their services.

Dr. Kim sent me an email back saying he had a lot of experience with inter-cranial cysts, and that he’d be happy to see me the following day, if I could get there. He told his secretary to expect me, and set aside special time for me, if I could get my MRI pictures. I sent him a reply, went to MD Imaging, got the MRI packet, and drove to Sacramento the next day.

Not all people believe in prayer, or God, or have a strong religious faith. I do. For me praying about a situation helps. I had prayed for a place that I’d feel comfortable having a major surgery performed, and I look at it as I was led to Dr. Kim. Me being, well, me , I always require MORE obvious signs that I’m being led in the right direction. I’m spiritually SLOW, I guess. I prayed more that I would have some way to know that this place in Davis was the right place. I was answered. I’ve always had a fondness for the shape of stars. It was the first complex shape I learned how to draw. [in Kindergarten] It’s been my favorite ‘shape’ from that day on. When I walked into the Office at UC Davis, the whole back area was covered in different colored stars hanging from the ceiling. It was odd because I’d been to other areas of the hospital, and none of them have the stars on the roof the neurology dept. does, so it’s not a “UC Davis thing.” It was weird but I felt immediately comforted by them, and KNEW, I was indeed in the right place.

Dr. Kim went over everything with me. I asked him about the “going up my nose” to remove the cyst procedure and he gave me an interesting look.

“We don’t go up the nose for very many procedures at all…there’s too many important parts of your brain down there, it’s far safer to go through the top, through a bore hole, and down.”

Granted I didn’t like the sound of “bore hole” but, I was happy, and relieved that he knew what he was talking about, and that I had NOT stayed in Redding for surgery. I told him that I was prepared to have the surgery, and that I wanted to go in November, so I could see my son’s birth, and use my Christmas Vacation for part of my recovery period. I was to miss 6 weeks of work post surgery. He said, it was not too big of a risk for me to wait until late November to have the surgery, and we set a date, November 28th.