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|The Bison of My Heart.
When Osama Bin Laden was finally taken out, they called it Operation Geronimo. So I wanted to come up with something catchy for today’s post, and “Operation Bison Heart” was the best I could do. When last I left you, I had posed the question, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” and it was the morning of my husband’s surgery. (And, my son had beaten his father in a peeing match. ;-D )
So, now, it was time to get this show on the road. The folks in charge of transport arrived outside the door to The Big Bison’s hospital room, with the bed to roll him downstairs, and he climbed up on the table, so that they could wheel him off. Can’t tell you, again, how surreal a moment that was. Part of me wanted to scream: “No! No! No!!!! Don’t go! Don’t let them hurt you!!! You’ll be OK! Don’t leave me!!!! What if…” and dissolve onto the floor in a puddle of lily-livered tears. But I KNEW we had been given the gift of a second chance: we had been given the opportunity to fix what was obviously busticated inside his chest, and it HAD to be done! So I put on my game face, and even managed a few brave remarks of cheer. I had to be brave for him. I had to be brave for the kids. There was not an option. And, he WAS in good hands, right? Everything we knew about the hospital and the doctor told us he was in excellent hands. So, chin up, pip pip and cheerio: the Brits are always great in a crisis, right? I’ve got some English blood flowing my veins, somewhere. Game on!
I stepped out in the hall, and spoke with one of the nurses who was seeing him downstairs to where he would be prepped for surgery. I will tell you right now that I am going to change a few choice details – like her name – to protect her identity, but she was a gift to us straight from God. “Carmelita”, who is a fellow sister in Christ, who attends a pretty happening church in town, told me she would be in charge of shaving him, before the surgery. Shaving him? Seriously? Yeah, baybay. Shaving him. Literally from chin to toe. Apparently, nasty little bacteria can hide in your hair, and it was Carmelita’s job to go on a seek and destroy mission on the
victim patient’s body, shaving off the little offenders, to further diminish risk from infection. My honey was going to come back to me clean, shiny, and soft as a baby’s behind. Well, alrighty then. Fun fact, huh?
Carmelita told me to get his glasses and his wedding ring, and in a warm, lighthearted reassuring way told me not to worry: they were going to take good care of him. I can’t tell you how much those words of hers meant to me. She meant it! I could tell. And she had such a comforting manner. I clung to her words and attitude like she had thrown me a lifeguard’s ring buoy in the middle of a churning sea. “OK,” I said. “I’m banking on it.” She smiled. I leaned down and kissed my guy one more time, and down that hall they went.
We (me, the kids, and a few friends and family) cleaned out the Bison’s room of all his stuff, and transferred ourselves to the 1st floor family waiting area, which is a very nice, open area. One amazing service that St. Thomas offers is a phone: they give you your own cell phone, on which you will receive calls from the operating room. (This makes up for the lousy regular cell phone reception that my own phone got down there.)
My first call from the OR came shortly after we arrived in the family waiting area, and the nurse told me that he had arrived in the waiting area, had been shaved, had been given medication to help him relax, and that he was comfortable and doing fine. She told me that she would next be calling me as soon as the operation had begun, and every 45 minutes after that. The operation that he would be having, a minimally invasive Coronary Artery Bypass, was estimated to take somewhere between 4 and 5 hours. Really, I was extremely, pleasantly surprised that I would be receiving information throughout the surgery! She also promised to tell me if they needed to change the approach, and make the full incision from stem to stern on his sternum, if they got in there and found more that needed to be done than they initially expected. Cool!
The morning passed pleasantly, with our group of 8 folks swapping stories. I’m telling you, my husband knows some good people, who are consummate story tellers. Not only was no one bored, but the time passed with lots of laughter, with all of us (my kids included) very entertained, and most of all, I was distracted from the fear that was lurking. Honestly, the fear was like a wolf, quietly tap, tap, tapping on my door, and I knew, I KNEW I must not give him entry, or he’d eat me alive.
The next call came at 9:46, when Rachel, the nurse, informed me that the first incision had been made. I thanked her, hung up, informed our little group, and we prayed, and then, the story telling resumed. I resorted to posting updates on Facebook, since my using my cell phone required either a 10 minute hike to an area where it had reception, or stepping outside into the roar of the cicadas who were zooming around, drawn themselves to the din of the cement mixer just outside. Trying to talk on my phone out there was not really working for me. At 11:30ish came another call: things were going well, Rachel was just letting me know. All was going according to plan. “Excellent. Thank you, Rachel.” I said.
Around 12:45ish, a bit sooner than my next phone call should have been due, the hospital cell phone rang. “Oh, no!” I thought. “This is too soon! Has something gone awry???” I grabbed the phone and answered it, and heard: “Congratulations!!! You may have just won a free trip to Disneyworld!!! To hear more about this exciting offer, press one!”
I got auto-dialed in the operating waiting room hospital cell phone??? My adrenaline had just shot to 11 on a scale of 1 to 10, and it’s a freaking pre-recorded telemarketer??? Oh, gosh, for about one minute, I wanted to go really chew somebody out, but then reason prevailed, and I reminded myself that doubtless this was completely out of the hospital’s control, but, REALLY!!! Sheesh!!!
And then, after coming down off of THAT adrenaline rush, I heard my name being paged up at the waiting room desk: “Would Susan please come up to the information desk? “
Wait! Isn’t Rachel supposed to call me and tell me that everything’s hunky dory? Where’s my call from Rachel? Oh, crap.
I sprint for the information desk, and the little 80-something year old volunteer-guy says, “The surgery is over. The doctor wants to talk to you now up in the family waiting room area.” My heart was beating wildly in my throat, as I searched his face for some trace of …SOMETHING. Reassurance, maybe? You know, like Carmelita and Rachel had given me?’ He kept his face perfectly blank, and impassive, revealing nothing. I longed to see the hint of a smile, an encouraging nod, but there was NOTHING. The man was perfectly expressionless. At this point, my own heartbeat was almost deafening me. I turned back to face my waiting friends and family, my knees feeling like they might give out. I looked at them, I looked at my children. All of them were examining my face, looking for me to give a thumbs up gesture. I had nothing to give them. I truly didn’t know what to make of it. Was this standard operating procedure for any patient’s family? Or was I receiving the no-news treatment reserved for the families of patients who died? I had no idea, but I felt fear, again, trying to overtake me.
I came back to the group, and said, “They want to see us in the family waiting room upstairs.” My husband’s dear friend asked, “Who do you want to go with you?” My mind was numb. I couldn’t think. My son jumped up and said, “I’ll go with you, Mom. I want to go. I want to be there.” Just thinking about this now makes me get all teary. I think it’s the bravest thing he’s ever done. It took the courage of a man to say that. Then, all I could think was, if I faint, I want someone there who can catch me. So, I asked my husband’s friend to come along too, and then, belatedly thought, “Of course: his sister should be there, too.” And so we called her to come up, too. When we walked into the room labeled “Family Waiting Room” I thought it looked just like an old dingy funeral parlor room. Yellowed walls, sad, saggy furniture, and fake plastic flowers on the donated end table. Was this the room where I would find out I was now a widow? God, I hoped not. Such a sad, depressing room. The surgeon came in, looking cool as a cucumber in his scrubs and bonnet. He took one look at my face, and said, “He’s OK. He did fine. It went very, very well.” He probably said some more important things, but it was all pretty much “blah, blah, blah, Ginger” to me. My husband had lived! Things had gone well! I was going to get to see him again! What else did I need to know???
I told the surgeon: “There were a lot of people praying for you this morning. Specifically, my husband and I prayed that you would have a day where you felt complete joy inside, the kind of joy that comes from knowing that you are doing what you were created to do, that you are fully utilizing all the skills that God has given you to use.” He broke into a brilliant smile, and said, “That’s the kind of joy we like to feel around here everyday. I try to make every day a day like that.” And then, I asked if I might hug him, to which he responded, “Well, sure!”
And I veritably danced out of that ugly, dingy, depressing room. And there, in the hallway, was Carmelita! And she said, “Oh, yes, honey, your husband did JUST fine! Girl, you need to ask him about me cutting his man-sweater. He had more hair on his toes than he did on his chest!” And I said, “That’s my guy! Smooth-chested as a seal!”
OK, my shoulders are again in knots, tears are rolling down my face, and God is good. I’ve gotta quit for now. Thank God for Carmelita, and Rachel, and Dr. T the surgeon, and all the other fine people at St. Thomas, even the sweet little 80 year old volunteer who was just delivering the news the way he was trained to do, no doubt.
And a pox upon Auto-Dial pre-recorded telephone calls that come to hospital cell phones. Amen.