If you’re squeamish… look away now! It’s a few days since I saw a of snippet of this story on the news but I just can’t shake the image of this guy happily playing his guitar as he lies fully awake during surgery on his brain.
Brad Carter is a 39-year-old musician and actor who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2006. What began as mild tremors have got progressively worse, ultimately leading to him becoming a prime candidate for Deep Brain Stimulation – a process which involves fitting a battery-powered pacemaker implant in a particular part of the brain, which then emits electronic impulses to the affected areas. It is not a cure for Parkinson’s but it has been shown to significantly reduce or even stop the tremors, which at best are a nuisance and at worst rob sufferers of their mobility, their quality of life and their livelihoods.
Having a fascination as I do for all things medical (the more gory the better) I had to dig around and find out more, and before you shout “Being awake during brain surgery is nothing new!” I discovered you’re right, it’s not. It is in fact surprisingly common to keep a patient awake – or temporarily wake them up – during certain procedures to avoid damage to the speech and movement centres or, in cases like this, to help fine-tune the positioning of the pacemaker implant. Patients are often asked to hold a conversation, identify pictures, count and do mathematical sums, or wiggle their limbs or digits. Allegedly some have been asked to complete a rubik’s cube which, let’s face it, puts enough strain on the brain at the best of times.
Brad Carter was the 500th patient to undergo this procedure at the Ronald Reagan UCLM Medical Centre alone. He may be one of many but he does have the honour of being the first to have his operation tweeted live on Twitter and allegedly the first to bring a guitar into the proceedings. His chosen tune? Drunk Again. I’ll drink to that – a toast to him and to all the other patients who benefit from this and the many other miracles of modern medicine.