My wife’s multiple emergency surgeries
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, my wife had emergency surgery.
In February, I traveled to a trade show in Florida leaving my wife in California for a well-deserved break from me. The trip was fine, even though four-hour flights usually suck the life out of me.
This day of travel turned especially draining when I heard from my wife was in the hospital. She drove herself to the emergency room. She was in pain but didn’t know why. With the life sucked out of me, this news kicked me in the gut.
She was clearly in serious pain, but she’s independent to the core. She’s happy to give people rides to the hospital or other appointments, but she doesn’t ask others to do the same for her. I hated that I couldn’t drive her.
After walking across the parking lot and checking in and sitting in the waiting room and painfully enduring tests, the doctors told her she had appendicitis and needed surgery the next day.
I didn’t sleep much that night in Florida. I knew she was stuck on a gurney in a hallway. I wanted to know when she would be admitted to a room and when she would undergo surgery. I think I received notice about 3:00 or 4:00 am.
She texted that she was finally in a room. She could finally get rest without the beeps, buzzers, chatter between nurses and doctors, and dizzying complaints from other patients.
Surgery would be midday. What does that even mean? Noon? 1:00 pm?
Midday. That’s what it means. So, I didn’t relax much the first day of the trade show. My heart and mind ruminated on my wife and her pain. We texted and she was in good spirits. Good medicine is like good spirits.
Her surgery went well. I found out my second night at the trade show, her second night in the hospital. She would be released the next morning. Again, what does that mean? It doesn’t even mean morning it turned out. It means they’re hoping for the next morning, but it depends on how many other urgent matters come up in the meantime… and they always do.
She was released just after noon. And yes, she drove herself home. She’s so helpful to so many. Couldn’t someone have driven her home? Regardless, she was home safe, recovering. I was relieved and hoped she’d reach out for help until I got home. It was arthroscopic surgery though, so it wasn’t deep pain. But any pain is draining.
I flew home the next day after half-heartedly working the trade show. I made the trip home — one stop in Dallas from Tampa Bay to Fresno. I was more drained than the flight East. I would have preferred to go into a vegetative state for a day or so. No such luck that day.
My wife had not, in fact, asked for help. I wasn’t surprised. I was happy to help. Just being home was helpful for both of us. She needed someone to help. I needed to be in the room to really know how she was doing.
Once friends and family found out, they were surprised she hadn’t let anyone know. In her defense, it was one of those pains that sneaked up on her. Our friends and family offered to bring dinners and help in any other way they could.
The dinners were a big encouragement and relief. Plus, people brought big portions, so leftovers became the next day’s lunch. It made each day so much easier to get through.
Pain on top of pain
Being in the hospital alone was especially difficult on my wife. She lost her youngest son several years ago after he spent six months in and out of ICU. That experience was like holding vigil 24 hours a day for six months. Nothing else mattered. The days and weeks blurred together. We swayed between hope and despair. 2020 felt like that year.
Hospitals bring up those gut-wrenching memories. The sights and sounds and smells transported her back to those awful, painful days of hanging on to her son as he fought for his life.
After her surgery, physical healing took weeks but emotional healing took longer.
Another surgery, another blow
Devastatingly, my wife endured another several days in the hospital just six months later. She’d been managing a pain in her side for almost a week, wondering what she’d done. Maybe it was a muscle sprain. Then, the pain became unbearable one day. This time, I was home to drive her to the hospital, but I had to drop her off at the door and leave because of COVID. I might as well have been on the East Coast.
I sat in the parking lot and cried for some time; tears of frustration, tears of helplessness, a tearful lament of all that came at us in 2020. How much more!? What the hell!? Give us a break!?
Again, we were separated, playing the waiting game. What is the problem exactly? When would she get a room? When would surgery be? The same questions. No new answers.
After the waiting room and tests, her gallbladder was causing the unbearable pain. Again, she spent most of the night on a gurney in a hallway. Listening to beeps, buzzers, chatter between nurses and doctors, and complaints from other patients. She didn’t sleep much. When she did, she didn’t rest much. The next morning, she was finally moved to a room and able to rest. Surgery would be later that day.
She texted me and her kids, so she didn’t feel so alone. Just as important, she was able to get some restful sleep. It was deep rest, the kind that allows you to forget your surroundings, forget your pain, and dream of better things. Of course, pain medication helped.
Surgery went well, but it was more serious than the tests had indicated. So, recovery would be longer. Not something a strong, independent woman wants to hear. It was like telling a German Shepherd it couldn’t bark at passersby.
She spent a second night in the hospital, getting that good kind of sleep. She spent the next day in the hospital, resting, and I was able to pick her up just after sunset.
Did I say she doesn’t like taking pain pills? Yeah. Try that after surgery. It was a frustrating recovery for her. So, it was a frustrating recovery for me. Taking pills she didn’t really want to, so she could rest and heal while the pills made her feel ways she didn’t want to feel.
Her recovery earlier in the year took less than a week to get to 90 per cent. This time, it took three weeks to get there. She walked the fine line of taking pain pills to rest and heal or enduring the pain so her mind was clear.
Again, there was physical and emotional healing. The grief of losing a child never goes away. It comes less often, but just as intensely every time. Experts sketch grief as a four step process.
In our experience, grief is more like a never ending spiral staircase or a stone path over an abyss. It’s always there. We keep taking steps, but the abyss never leaves our sight. Some days we can’t ignore it. Some days life knocks us down. Some days we’re able to walk the path at the edge of the abyss.
In fact, I’ve heard and experienced that walking the path at the edge of our abyss helps heal that wound.