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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2006, 12:59 GMT
Wide awake having brain surgery
By David Fenton
BBC South Health Correspondent

Trevor Burlton being interviewed during his surgery
David Fenton interviewed Trevor during the operation

It was the strangest interview I have ever done. Half sitting, half lying in front of me was a man talking about his holidays.

He wanted to go to Italy. The strange part was that as he spoke, surgeons were cutting out a tumour from deep inside his brain.

The patient, Trevor Burlton, was completely conscious and aware of what was going on around him throughout the four-hour operation.

He chatted, he joked, he looked around - he looked bored.

For me, dressed in full surgical scrubs and watching him from behind a camera, it was a very strange experience.

Really awake

But probably not as strange as hearing a drill going in the back of your head and not being bothered by it.

I was spending a week at the Wessex Neurological Centre at Southampton General Hospital, for a series broadcast this week on BBC South Today.

Trevor was undergoing a craniotomy while awake. I was keen to see how it went.

Trevor Burlton undergoing surgery
Trevor Burlton said he felt fine but "a little strange" during the surgery

"No problem," said the surgeon Paul Grundy.

"But will he really be awake? I mean will he be able to talk to me, or just grunt?" I ask, knowing how these things have a knack of turning out to be not what you expected.

He just smiled and said: "See for yourself."

The first thing to happen was that Trevor's brain was scanned and "mapped" so that the precise location of the tumour could be determined.

He was then put into place on the operating table and his head was secured in a clamp - which looked a bit alarming but was vitally important.

Opened skull

If Trevor moved - even just a few millimetres - the computer mapping would not work.

I feel I could just get up and walk away."
Trevor Burlton

Then it was down to business. The surgeon opened up the back of Trevor's skull and began searching for the tumour.

With the medics behind him, and me in front of him, Trevor had quite a lot to contend with but he coped admirably.

"What does it feel like?" I asked, when they got down to the tumour - which was somewhere about level with his eyes.

"It feels fine," he said. "Just slightly hot now and then but nothing serious.

"I was told I was going to be relaxed, and I am relaxed. I feel quite all right. It's strange, very strange. I feel I could just get up and walk away."

Although Trevor was conscious, he was receiving small doses of anaesthetic to help keep him calm and relaxed; a tricky and very specialised job.

Trevor Burlton undergoing surgery
24 hours after the operation Trevor was sitting up reading

"Really there is not any discomfort for the patients," said Paul Grundy.

"There aren't any pain receptors inside the head, so nothing inside the head hurts."

But why bother with all this? Why not just put the patient under and be done with it?

Well - it's better for the patient , and in Trevor's case the tumour was close to a part of the brain which controlled his left leg and arm.

Any mistake with the scalpel and he could have been paralysed down one side.

As Paul Grundy and his team operated they continually checked that the parts they were cutting out were not needed - by asking Trevor what he felt and testing his reflexes.

This could be done only with a conscious patient.

Twenty-four hours after the operation Trevor was sitting up in bed reading. It was a success. He has now returned home to Bournemouth where he is busy planning his holiday to Italy.

"It feels fine - just a bit strange"

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