Friday, February 24, 2012

Medical Question: Brain Surgery

Today, Amitha concludes her thoughts on surgery with some specifics about brain surgery.

-->>Note: If you're squeamish stop reading here!<<--

As far as what would exactly happen during the brain surgery, it's hard for me to say because I don't really know what kind of surgery your fictional patient is having. But most basically, the surgeon first cuts into the patient's scalp, exposing the skull. They drill open and remove a portion of the skull, then cut into the dura (a membrane surrounding the brain) to expose the brain. Then the surgery is performed (depends on the type of surgery). At the end of a craniotomy, the skull is reaffixed using screws or other techniques (though in a "craniectomy" it is not replaced).

This website: goes into some specifics about what's involved during different brain surgeries. Make sure to scroll down to the bottom for some nice images.

Search YouTube for craniotomy:

If you have an idea what specific kind of surgery your fictional surgeon is performing, there's probably a video of it on YouTube.

But as far as things that would make your story believable, I think this video of an awake craniotomy is excellent. You get views of the room, the equipment they use, the patient, the doctors and others in the room, and the surgery itself.

This video isn't quite as self-explanatory, but shows a surgery where the patient isn't awake and where a special microscope is used during the surgery.

When writing, I'd try not to get too bogged down in research and details. You'll bore yourself and your readers to tears. I'd focus on getting the overview of things right. What people are wearing. What people are doing—rather than specifics of the surgeries.

It's the simple things that will make your reader question your credibility as an author. For example, knowing that your surgeon will already have her face mask and hair coverings on before she enters the OR and that she'd keep these on the entire time she’s in there is something that anyone who has seen a surgery would notice. Whereas, choosing the wrong type of scalpel, or the wrong kind of anesthesia, would be overlooked by most people.


Amitha Knight is a former pediatric resident turned writer of middle grade and young adult fiction. She’s also a blogger, a book lover, an identical twin, and a mom. Follow her on twitter @amithaknight or check out her website:


  1. Thanks, Amitha for another great post! It was wonderful having you back!

  2. WOW, you've got some great resources here! I am in the middle of historical research, and your reminder to give overviews but not get bogged down was timely.