The following article is an account of Mary Beth’s surgery. With sincere and heartfelt gratitude, I would like to thank my family and friends, both met and unmet, and friends known and unknown, for the support, prayers and comfort offered during this time. The response has been overwhelming and the results are a gift. May God bless each one of you. – Alex
My eyes opened before the alarm had the chance to remind me of the need to wake early. Mary Beth took anti-anxiety medication last night upon the recommendation of her doctor. The pill was working – perhaps the most comfortable rest she will have for a while.
I found my way through the dark house and into the kitchen where I turned on the coffee maker and searched for something to take for my headache. I used wine last night as my anti-anxiety medication. Some old habits can resurface when enough pressure is applied.
After drinking a large cup of water to wash down four acetaminophen tablets, I poured a cup of coffee and then opened the lid of my laptop computer to glance at email. The caffeine was bringing me back to life. It was time now for Mary Beth to get up. She was confused when I touched her shoulder. The lingering effects of the Xanax had a soft grip on her clarity and awareness.
It took my wife a few moments to take in what I was saying. She slowly sat up and then found the strength necessary to swing her legs over the side of the bed and land them on the floor. The day had arrived for her.
We arrived at the hospital a couple of minutes late. It took Mary Beth a little longer than usual to shower and dress. Her body, and mind, was moving at a difference pace this morning.
Once the final paper work was completed, the admitting nurse placed an identification badge on her wrist. When the nurse crimped the excess plastic and then cut it with a pair of scissors, my wife now belonged to the hospital. Her well being and life were in their hands. It was time to give way to faith.
Another hospital employee escorted us to the surgical holding area. Mary Beth and I found two seats and sat quietly as we waited for further instructions. She placed her head on my shoulder. I enjoyed the remaining moments of our connection before they would call her name.
Other patients waited in the same area. Many were with their spouses. Other family members had come too. During times like these, those closest to us would not want to be anywhere else. Caitlin, along with Mary Beth’s brother and sister, would be here soon so I wouldn’t have to wait alone.
However, there was one patient who was alone. She sat on a small couch holding a patterned garment bag on her lap. My hope was someone was on their way to be with her soon. Maybe a son had to get his children off to school before he could be with his mother or a daughter had to make similar arrangements before she could arrive.
Life can be hard and it can be unpredictable. Life can be unfair and it can be unreasonable. When it is, it’s helpful to have someone who can take our hand and give it a tender squeeze to remind us that life is also full of love and the love will come again.
I sat alone for about 20 minutes after the pre-op nurse called Mary Beth’s name. Her bag containing a bathrobe, some pajamas and other personal items was sitting on the floor next to my laptop bag. Last night my wife distributed her jewelry so it could continue to be worn.
She clasped the dragonfly necklace around Caitlin’s neck, put the earrings I gave her for Christmas ten years ago on Emily and placed her wedding band and 20th anniversary ring on her sister’s finger. Each was charged with their safe keeping. Mary Beth told them they would have to surrender the jewelry in a few days. They said they would do so happily.
The hospital allowed me to go back after they had changed Mary Beth into a surgical gown and started her IVs. When I entered the room, a nurse was giving her a shot in the IV line to help relax and prepare her for the anesthesia.
Mary Beth did look calm. She was ready for what was ahead of her. She had been waiting long enough. Her expression was one of determination, not regret; and of faith, not fear.
She asked for her cell phone to call her mother in Virginia. Mary Beth wanted to hear her voice one more time. As she was saying good-bye, my wife cried for the first time since learning of her diagnosis and need for surgery. A daughter needed her mother and she wept like she must have when she was eight-years-old and had fallen off her bicycle. In circumstances like these, age or the distance in-between cannot interrupt the bond.
As Mary Beth was handing her cell phone to me, a spiritual counselor entered the room and invited us to pray. We accepted. She started with the Lord’s Prayer. My first reaction of anger surprised me. I thought this prayer should only be said over someone who is terminally ill or dying. I resented it being said now. For a moment, my humanness got in the way of my faith and it startled me.
The anger that bubbled up at that moment had been sitting for too long. I could not name the person or thing that was the source of my anger. Sometimes things are just what they are. That’s just how it works.
The reason and purpose for the things we endure are revealed to us on a timeline we cannot control. So we need to learn, I need to learn, to surrender when we can’t figure everything out.
I surrendered and allowed my heart to hear the rest of the prayer.
It was time to leave. The surgical nurses had arrived and were ready to take my wife to the operating room. I reminded Mary Beth I would see her later in the afternoon. I kissed her cheek just like I have done a million times before. This time the kiss was different. The sensation of her face lingered on my lips longer than usual and I can feel her warmth all the way down to my soul.
As I walked out, I stopped and soaked her in for a moment longer before heading down the hall to wait.
A nurse came into the family waiting area and assured me all was well. Mary Beth had now been in surgery for over three hours. Her brother and sister, Jimmy and Cindy, along with our children Brandon, Caitlin and Andrew were waiting with me. We decided to allow Emily to spend the day with friends. Their presence was comforting and it reminded me of the value of a family.
I could also feel the presence of our extended family. In addition to our wonderful friends and family, folks from all over the world were providing prayer and positive thoughts, too. People who read The BridgeMaker left inspirational comments; members of our new church family reached out and offered their love and support; and our friends in the HeartConnexion community who have shared in our greatest pain as well as in our greatest joy were by our side the entire day.
In my previous article, Sometimes the Sound of Hoofbeats are from Zebras, I asked for some medicine. Mary Beth and I received medicine today. It was the right prescription and in the proper dose.
Right on schedule, I received another update from the surgical staff. This time the nurse’s demeanor shifted from medical to motherly. She told me Mary Beth was facing at least two more hours of surgery. The nurse insisted I head downstairs to eat before the cafeteria closed. She must have sensed the need to perform this role.
Declining her instructions was not an option.
Frustrated and disappointed, I reluctantly left the waiting area. For a few moments I felt the walls falling down around me. The lack of control bothered me the most. I couldn’t be in the operating room with her; I couldn’t be the surgeon responsible for her life; I couldn’t do anything but go eat a hamburger.
The anger I felt earlier in the day resurfaced. I pass this hospital everyday to and from my office and never considered there would be a day I would pray for my wife to walk out of it. It can be one of these sneak attacks that can test our faith the most. So, even though I couldn’t do anything for Mary Beth, I could keep the walls standing with my faith. And that was enough.
The telephone by the reception desk in the family waiting area was ringing, but the hospital volunteer had stepped away so I answered it instead. It was the surgical nurse asking for me. After identifying myself, she told me Mary Beth was in recovery. The operation was over.
The doctor gathered us in a consult room to announce the surgery had gone as expected. The reason for the additional time was to limit the need of having to perform any follow-up surgeries. He said Mary Beth would experience post-operative pain, but did not expect any serious complications. As an added measure, the doctor admitted my wife to the ICU so the best care possible would be administered.
I reached for my cell phone and started calling my list and Caitlin did likewise with her list. I also posted a quick update on my Twitter account which links automatically to my Facebook profile. I could feel the collective sigh from everyone waiting for the news.
Evening visiting hours in the ICU begin promptly at 8:00 p.m. Cindy and Jimmy arrived first followed by our three oldest children.
I was concerned how our sons, Brandon and Andrew, would react when they would first see their mother. Caitlin and I did see her in the recovery room around 4:30 and, to be honest, I was taken back. Her face was swollen from being face down for eight hours. She looked vulnerable and helpless – not at all how I usually experience her.
Caitlin was incredible. She stood next to her mom reassuring her everything would be alright. My daughter will be a wonderful mother, too.
Cindy and Jimmy took turns visiting Mary Beth with me. Only two people were allowed at a time. Brandon followed his aunt and uncle and admirably assumed the duties of the oldest child by holding his mother’s hand and offering comfort – the same comfort he has received for the past 23 years. Life runs in cycles and now it was our son’s turn to be the comforter.
Andrew was the last to see his mother. Our younger son has always been the least expressive with his emotions. But his lack of communication should not be confused with a lack of tenderness or compassion.
When he entered the room he stood several feet from his mother’s bed. Andrew must have been afraid to see her in this condition. I placed my hand on his back and gently nudged him closer. As I walked to the other side of the bed, I noticed him wiping a tear from his eye before speaking softly to her.
Our mothers and fathers do die. That’s a part of the cycle of life too. But not today. Not here. And not in this hospital. Andrew’s mother was not going to die on this day. She would see her children accomplish what God has planned for them. She would love her grandchildren as her own. She would be on the other side soon offering the same love and comfort back to each of them. God was not done with her yet.
Andrew leaned over and kissed his mother good night. After his visit, I walked him back to the waiting area. I hugged everyone and thanked them for their support throughout the long day. The hospital asked me to stay the night. With all of the medical technologies and medicines, it’s still clear to even the most scientifically pure the best medicine is support, hope and love. They asked me to give this medicine tonight. Because of what I received today, I had medicine to share.
I walked back into my wife’s room to find her in pain. Placing the back of my hand to her face, I offered the best medicine I could. At one point she told me she wanted to go home. I told her I wasn’t leaving the hospital and she was home for now.
As the latest dose of pain medication started to take effect, she asked me to help turn her on her side. After she became as comfortable as possible, she whispered to me, “I didn’t leave you.”
“No, no you didn’t leave me,” I answered back.
ICU’s visiting hours ended at 10:00 p.m. and I had to spend the rest of the night in the room provided by the staff. My body collapsed on the small cot after finding the room. Exhausted by the length and emotionality of the day, I knew sleep was only moments away.
With the moments left in this day, I thanked God for His grace, felt comforted by the many people who held my wife in prayer, reflected on the resiliency of my children and admired the strength and courage of my wife. I also prayed for the woman who sat alone waiting for surgery in what seemed like weeks ago. I was sure God took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. That’s just how it works.
I feel asleep knowing love had come again.