Thursday, December 6, 2012
It was not an awesome night.
No surprise there. The air in the room in the NCUU is chilly and dry. Heidi still has IVs tucked into two veins and one artery. These are taped to the backs of her arms. There are tight elastic bands holding things in place. Machines with bright lines running across screens graph her heart rate, blood pressure and things that I don't understand. Normally, Heidi drinks about a pint of liquid every hour. For hours after surgery all she was allowed were tiny water soaked sponges on the end of a sucker stick. Maybe 10 drops of water. And she was parched.
After a few hours Allie, Heidi's "nurse angel", offered some sips of ginger ale. It was far too little to quench her sore, parched throat. Once, Allie had to give her some pills to replenish minerals lost during surgery. They were big pills. Allie said that Heidi could choose to have the minerals through her IV. Heidi chose to swallow them with ginger ale. She drank them down with a large amount of soft drink. Well played.
Medication after medication was administered through her IV - antibiotics, steroids, pain relievers, anti-nausea drugs, - all of these were preceeded and flushed through with saline. There was a LOT of pain and nausea last night. Fitful sleep interrupted by constant checks by the wonderful nursing staff and doctors. It was really hard for her to get comfortable. A cool, damp washcloth folded across her eyes gave her some relief.
Throughout the night, every hour then every 90 minutes or so, the nurses came in to check vitals, fluids and to do a simple "neuro-test". "What's your whole name? Where are you? What's the date? Follow my finger. Look up. Look down. Left. Right. Squeeze my finger. Wiggle your toes..." Three different docs came in to introduce themselves and to do similar tests of their own.
Throughout it all, Heidi remains calm and cheerful and in good humor. She apologizes when she asks for medication for nausea or pain. She keeps telling the nurses how great they are, how comforting and caring and friendly they have been.
At 6 AM I was kicked out of NCUU. It was something about privacy of patients as shifts change and notes are made and exchanged. I am sittting in this little coffee/cafe. I just returned from the van parked in the garage parked across the street. When I was leaving the room, Heidi made sure I would return with two gifts from the car - one for each of our "nurse angels". When we packed the van for our journey here, we included four such gift bags. Because Heidi knew we would find people who were doing thier jobs with kindness and compassion; people who deserved an unexpected present. In the midst of her vertigo, her thirst, her pain, hunger and discomfort - her thoughts went toward rewarding people's kindess in a small, personal way.
God, I am lucky to know this woman. We all are.
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
When they let me into the NCUU yesterday it was only about 45 minutes after Heidi got out of surgery. There was a hint of confusion in Heidi's eyes, but only for a moment. Then that big smile that so many of you know so well. Three IVs, a blood pressure cuff, an O2 sensor, funny stockings that keep inflating to increase blood supply, a cathater (sp?), electronic monitors with her vital signs streaming by, sensors taped to her chest, a big thick bandage taped to the back of her head, air tubes clipped to her nose. She was laying in a high tech hospital bed that surely cost more than my salary for a year. She was wearing a thin hospital gown.
But she was wearing that smile.
There were only a few square inches of her that I could touch. The back of her right arm (behind where the IV entered her vein) and the crook of her elbow. That's where I could rest my palm and connect.
An hour after surgery she was smiling and speaking in a husky whisper (they had just removed the breating tube from her trachea). She told me she loved me. Her first words to me after surgery.
And she smiled. That bright one she saves for special occasions. If you have ever been on the receiving end of that smile then you know what I am talking about.
As confident as I was in the surgeon and the surgical team, as strong as Heidi is, as much faith as I had in the healing thoughts and prayers offered by so many - I still wasn't sure. So many things could have gone wrong. But that big old bright smile could not be obscured by pain and discomfort and momentary confusion. That smile that greeted me at that time was perhaps the happiest moment of my life.
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
The Waiting Room
One woman is laying on a love seat sized little sofa with an ottoman at her feet. She is sprawled out and snoring like a lion. An old couple is sitting in the corner holding hands. White hair, age spots, worried expressions, they look so much alike. I think they have grown that way. He has on a red plaid flannel shirt and jeans and worn out old work boots. She has on a faded blue cotton dress. She is pretty. Their heads are down. They are whispering. Praying, I think.
The TV is blaring NBC. THE TODAY SHOW and something with Kelly Ripa... "If you don't use this product then your meatballs will always be stringy... Why do people like Hobbits so much?... Will Kelly's dream of dancing with theNYC ballet finally come true?!... Are the Kardashians a manufactured family?... Do rock stars have their clothes, like specially made?"
Texting, reading, worrying, praying, deep in solitary thought. One guy is reading USA TODAY, a woman is writing her Christmas cards. A middle aged mom and her teenaged daughter are glued to the too loud TV. The young one is also listening to tunes on her phone. Multi-tasking.
Every time the door to pre-op opens we all look up, anxious for news. There is a big flat-screen TV monitor on the wall where you can find the status of your loved one in surgery. It doesn't give much information. GREEN = Surgery Start, RED = Surgery Stop, PURPLE = Arrival in PACU. Heidi is still in the RED zone. She will be for a while. The kind woman behind the reception desk (only 30 feet away) has called me twice on the cellphone to tell me that surgery is still going on.
It feels weird that the world is still turning, that people are still in school, doing their Christmas shopping, watching daytime TV and Heidi is having brain surgery.
Time is standing still.
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Last night we spent the evening walking around Baltimore and having dinner out. Heidi had about a dozen metal tabs adhered to her face and head. She was unselfconscious about walking through the shops and restaurant areas. She was as beautiful as I have ever seen her. We told each other many times how much we mean to each other, how blessed we are. At dinner the texts and emails kept coming in, the phones chirped and vibrated. We held hands and looked into each other's eyes.
Heidi kept talking about how amazing the events were that led us here, how wonderful to have this brilliant doctor, this world class hospital. She was so grateful for the outpouring of love from old friends. She was looking at all of the positive parts of this experience so far. She wondered how she could hold on to all of the goodness she has received, how she could do for others who are facing adversity, how she could give back. She wanted to hold on to the lessons she is learning from this experience.
While others may have been cursing ther luck, shaking their fists at God and saying, "Why me?" or "I am too young for this!" Heidi was thinking of paying it forward.
I have never seen her feel sorry for herself about this, never heard her whine. Sure there was fear - we have seen a couple of doctors who put a lot of energy into worst-case-scenarios. As we made our tearful last hug and kiss before surgery, as she was being wheeled away by thte anesthesiologist, it wasn't so much a goodbye as, "I'll see you on the other side of this thing."
I am blessed to have this good woman in my life. She continues to teach and inspire me.
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Perspective 10:45 AM
It's funny how the small trials of every day life fall into their proper place when something big comes up. Student work to respond to, lessons to write, bills to pay, cleaning out the gutters. All of that seems ridiculously trivial now that Heidi is having her final MRI before surgery. I think this is the 5th one so far and the most intense. She is supposed to sleep sitting up tonight as there are little metal markers adhered to her head. I don't think we'll sleep that much.
She remains calm, peaceful, beautiful.
After a day of tests and running late, we met Jon Weingart - Heidi's surgeon. Whew! He set our minds at ease like nothing else could have. He described the procedure in no-nonsense terms. He was honest and spent as much time as we needed answering questions, going over the MRI, telling us the facts. He is confident that all will be well.
Heidi has been humbled and truly overwhelmed by all of your love and prayers. She hopes that you understand the depth of her gratitude. We appreciate all of your love, thoughts and prayers during surgery tomorrow from 7:30 - 12:30.