"We write to taste life twice: once in the moment, then in the introspection." Anais Niy
A year ago, I was sitting by my husband watching television, when he turned to me and said, "I think I have a brain tumor."
Being the kind, compassionate wife that I am, I replied tenderly, "NO, YOU DO NOT!"
You see, we'd done six years of cancer related surgeries at that time and I was not up to another one. Denial is not just a river in Egypt. I grew up with a grandmother whose cure to every ailment was, "You'd feel just fine if you'd just stir around a little!" I just wanted him to stir around, be well, and not go down another long road of sickness.
But then I was reminded of a friend's husband who had turned to her a few weeks earlier. "I need to go to the hospital", he signaled, because he could not longer talk. She, too, was tired of their long battle with cancer and refused his request at first. But she took him, and found that he had weeks to live. His story, related to me, may have saved my husband's life because it caused me to listen and act quickly.
I had my sister make the call and she got the first appointment, which was still several weeks down the road. "I can't wait that long," my husband informed me. "It feels like there is a pipe going through my eyeball and out the back of my head."
Well. There was a piece of information that he had omitted. Sister related that to the nurse in charge of appointments and we were given an appointment a few days later for an MRI.
We trudged in to the familiar waiting room with my sister along. She has accompanied us during this journey with cancer. She drives, takes notes in a spiral notebook that is so full we had to add additional pages, and gets past tough nurses because she will not take no for an answer.
When my husband was gone far too long during the MRI, I went back to his room and noticed a flurry of activity. When I was identified as his wife, I was led to a small windowless, airless room that I had not known existed in past visits. And then I was joined by my husband and the door was closed. And we waited. And stared straight ahead. And did not speak.
A tech finally came in with a huge envelope of MRI images. We were to take them straight to our general practitioner. Do not pass go; do not collect $200. Still wordless, we gathered up my sister from the waiting room and climbed into her car.
From my position in the backseat, I began riffling through the MRI images. I may teach six year olds and have no medical training, but even I could see there was a problem. One after another showed a large growth that covered one fourth of the image of my husband's brain. To quote Scooby Doo, "Rut Rho."
The general practitioner's office had been notified we were on our way and we were led immediately into a waiting room. Never in my 14 years of visiting this doctor had I ever had less than a one hour wait. This was not looking too good.
I'd love to say the doctor who broke the news to us had a compassionate bedside manner. What he actually did was face the wall and say, "This is very bad. You have a very large brain tumor and you need to get to a neurological surgeon immediately. This is very bad." His nurse was to set up the appointment. She was given a date weeks down the calendar. My sister begged to differ, got on the phone and had us in on Monday. This was late Friday afternoon, and the only reason she did not get us in sooner was that the surgeon was closed over the weekend. And they probably would not give my sister his home phone number or address. It was not for lack of her trying.
Mmmm, it was a pretty long weekend. I was amazed at how quickly my husband's condition seemed to worsen. And did I mention that my beloved grandfather died of a brain tumor? Best not too think to long or too hard on that. We were all relieved when Monday's appointment arrived.
The neurological surgeon was an amazing man. He saw the severity of the situation but still spoke with hope for a completely positive outcome. The surgery was scheduled for two weeks later, and my husband was given medication for the pain and small seizures he had already begun to experience.
What happened during those two weeks of waiting? Our world became an amazing place. My husband's and my birthdays both fell during that time. A large group of people from our Sunday School class showed up with cake, ice cream and gifts for his birthday. A continual stream of ladies from my church showed up with Starbucks gift cards for me. I think I may have received enough to treat a small third world country to coffee.
At school, I had a parent who donated airline vouchers to get our four children, scattered across America, home before the surgery. They flew in from Seattle, D.C., Missouri and Texas to visit and encourage their dad. It was a very special time for us all. Unbeknownst to me, my elementary school took up a collection to help with expenses that left us all speechless. We were so very grateful for all the support and all the prayers.
And then the day came. Not exactly how I had expected to spend my birthday. We all arrived at the hospital before dawn for the prep work. The surgeon reminded us that the surgery would be a long one: probably 12 hours or more. And then he did the most amazing thing: he knelt by my husband's bed, put his arms around my husband, looked him straight in the eyes and said,"You are going to be just fine." Now there is some bedside manner.
The patient was wheeled off and we were left to wait in the cafeteria through breakfast, lunch, dinner, and then asked to move to a waiting room since they were closing the dining hall down for the day. Finally at 7:00 p.m. we could not wait anymore and approached the floor where the surgery was taking place. At that moment, the doors opened and my husband's bed was being wheeled by. I looked at him and he sat straight up and said, "Hi! How are you doing?" with a smile.
I'm really glad there was a wall behind me to hold me up. We are not people without faith, but the sheer number of procedures we had been through made us feel like the odds had to go against us at some point. Yet, there he was: appearing to be doing fine. Actually, not just fine but great.
We followed the bed to ICU and he was ready to talk and eat. Except for the trauma of the surgery (like the "sweet Hannibal-like ear to ear scar" as my daughter called it) and multiple tubes, he looked just like he had when we left him that morning.
He skipped through a few days in ICU and was allowed to go home after a few days in a regular room. He was clearly the rock star of recovery.
And now, we find ourselves a year from that surgery and life has returned to normal. He is driving again, working part time and showing a determination to press on that amazes me on a daily basis.
This is the happiest of anniversaries.