By Noël Holton
University of Maryland Medical System Web Site Writer
Jerry Middleton, Gamma Knife patient
Looking at the hulking, metal, helmet-like devices that Gamma Knife patients must wear, it's hard to believe that most of them describe the procedure as "virtually painless". But they do.
"I didn't feel any pain at all," said Jerry Middleton, who had Gamma Knife surgery at the University of Maryland Gamma Knife Center to treat a pituitary tumor. "I had a bit of a headache when it was over because you can feel a little pressure where they attach the helmet, but that was it."
Middleton, who traveled from Long Neck, Delaware for the procedure, said that his Gamma Knife procedure was much less traumatic and invasive than the 10-hour surgery he underwent last November for his tumor.
"They didn't have to shave my head or anything this time," he said. "Before, they had to drill up through the roof of my mouth and into my brain to get to the tumor. But this Gamma Knife is really easy. The actual treatments only took about 20 minutes altogether. I got two doses of radiation that lasted about eight minutes each."
Unlike traditional surgery or conventional radiation therapy, there is no recovery period with Gamma Knife. Once the surgery is over, patients can generally get right back to their lives.
"We've had patients leave the hospital and go to work the next day," said neurosurgeon Lawrence Chin, M.D., medical director of the University of Maryland Gamma Knife Center.
A couple of hours after receiving his Gamma Knife treatments, Middleton described the procedure matter-of-factly while recuperating in his hospital room.
"The first thing they do is give you an MRI," he said. "They give you the dye so that they can take a look at the tumor and see the area where you'll need radiation. Then, they make a frame for your head, and coordinate where to put the holes on your helmet. They have four different helmets with four different holes, and they use the holes to secure your head so that it won't move around at all during the treatments."
Chin said that once all of the information about a patient's tumor has been collected, it is entered into a computer. The computer then figures out how many treatments the patient will need, and the appropriate dose of radiation for each treatment.
"They had me lie on my stomach as they fitted me into the Gamma Knife helmet," Middleton said. "Before they fasten you into the helmet, they numb your head so that you won't feel anything. Then, they put me into the machine. The treatments didn't hurt at all. You don't have to close your eyes or anything. You can bring your own music on CD to listen to while you are inside the machine. I forgot to bring my own, so they played some country music for me. It really went by very quickly."
Once it was all over, Middleton said he felt fine.
"I'm not planning on going back to work tomorrow," he said, "but I do plan
on going back in a few days."