On Matthew’s mind

By Ben Platts-Mills: For More Info, Go Here…

An operation to remove a brain cyst changed Matthew’s identity. Who will he become after the next round of surgery?

Lisa is the psychotherapist at Headway, the brain injury charity where Matthew and I work, he as a volunteer, I on the management team. Lisa offers counselling to the people who attend the centre – people who, like Matthew, are living with neurological disabilities. In most cases, their injuries are caused by strokes, road traffic accidents or violent assaults. Matthew’s injury is unusual in having been the result of surgery. It happened in 2005 when he was admitted to hospital with acute hydrocephalus – a dangerous build-up of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain.

Matthew had a cyst growing in the system of ventricles that carry the cerebrospinal fluid. When the cyst got big enough, it blocked off the ventricles, turning them into water balloons that began crushing his brain against the inside of his skull. By the time he reached hospital, Matthew was in a critical condition. The surgery to remove the cyst saved his life, but it also caused damage to the surrounding tissue, leaving him with significant fatigue and memory problems. This kind of surgical injury is rare, but for Matthew it has had life-changing consequences.

Matthew is also unusual in his outright rejection of therapy.

‘I just can’t understand why people find it psychologically useful,’ he continues. ‘People like that are just reading from a script.’

‘Psychotherapists, you mean?’

‘Yes. It’s a professionalised script.’

I nod and steer him back to his original question: ‘In what sense is depression a cultural issue?’

Matthew frowns at the street through the window. ‘I think I read about a tribe where, if somebody gets depressed, the whole community gathers round them to solve the problem. People wouldn’t do that here.’

We’ve just left a consultation about the cyst. Due to Matthew’s six-monthly MRI scans, we’ve known for some time that it’s been regrowing. Until recently, the advice has been to leave it alone. But over the past year, through a process far more confusing and disorganised than I would have liked, that advice has changed.

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