Tables Turned: A UCSF Staffer Undergoes Treatment

It started with dizziness. Then came the headaches and the blurry vision, followed by slurred speech.

“I couldn’t go to work or drive,” says Ingrid, a 43-year-old mother who works as a scheduler for the UC San Francisco Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging.

As a scheduler, Ingrid is one of 20 team members who, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day, serve patients and referring providers by identifying appropriate times and locations for imaging exams or interventional procedures. They service about 650 calls each day. Ingrid, who has been in the field of medical scheduling for more than a decade, has worked for the department for three years and is enthusiastic about the function and her role in it. She enjoys the opportunity to be one of the first points of contact a patient may have with the radiology team.

Though Ingrid’s symptoms built up over the course of the year, she says, “I kept putting things off. When I did see my doctor, at first they thought I might have multiple sclerosis.” The final confirmed diagnosis was a decidedly less-permanent, though still concerning, condition: benign meningioma, a growth that arises from the membranes that cover brain tissue.

Most meningiomas are slow growing and can be medically monitored until symptoms like Ingrid’s affect daily life. The condition has received considerable publicity since E! News television host Maria Menounos publicly discussed the successful surgery to remove her meningioma in summer 2017. Menounos’s successful treatment and recovery no doubt comforted many patients and their families. In fact, Ingrid used the celebrity’s experience to explain to her daughter what was going on in her case.

Ingrid’s neurologist and primary care physician referred her to Michael McDermott, MD in the UCSF Department of Neurological Surgery, which has extensive experience and nationally recognized expertise with meningiomas. "In many cases, we can monitor meningiomas with serial imaging scans or treat them with radiation therapy,” says Dr. McDermott. "But in Ingrid's case, the tumor was beginning to compress her optic nerve, which can lead to permanent vision loss. In this instance, it is critical to remove the tumor surgically."

Neurological Surgery works closely with UCSF Radiology, also a nationally known center for imaging these tumors. Radiology’s experts use the latest imaging technology to help diagnose the extent of the meningioma and help surgeons refine their precise approach. UCSF radiologist Christine Glastonbury, MD, confirms that meningiomas can produce symptoms easily confused with other conditions. “The radiological view is essential in a precise diagnosis of meningioma,” notes Dr. Glastonbury.  

UCSF Radiology is also prepared to offer patients comfort and safety during this stressful time. These are issues Ingrid had already worked through in her role as scheduler, reassuring patients that UCSF Radiology offers wide-bore MRI machines to help those who experience claustrophobia, as many do. Patients can also watch video content during MRI procedures, or listen to music. “You aren’t by yourself,” said Ingrid of her imaging experience.  

Meningiomas have been a particular focus for Dr. McDermott and he has authored many of the guidelines for their management. Although some meningiomas are called "benign," they can still significantly impact quality of life. He and his team are testing a new online tool that gathers data on quality-of-life measures specific to meningioma patients (such as pain or the ability to perform activities of daily living) to ensure that the team is optimizing care in all areas of life, not just surgical results.

Ingrid’s delicate surgery took nearly all day, but ultimately was successful. Ingrid remembers waking on and off in her first hours of recovery, surrounded by the many friends and family who came to support her. Recovery wasn’t easy, especially the first few days when Ingrid experienced a lot of pain. But she got through it with the same can-do attitude that informs her work.

Thanks to the procedure, Ingrid feels even more compassion for patients who call the scheduling line. “Never did I think I would be on the patient side of things!” she says. “I really did get great care from start to finish. The tech who managed one of my initial MRIs set up my favorite Pandora station so I could relax to music. The nurse assigned to me after surgery never left my side. Now when I talk to patients in my role as a scheduler, I feel like I can reassure them from my own experience.”

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