I returned to the darkness of Chris’s ICU room, the weight of the world that I felt the previous evening right after surgery set back on my shoulders. Denial was creeping forth from every part of my being. I couldn’t accept that Chris wasn’t yet the same man.
I relayed everything I was told by the occupational therapist to Chris’s mom and dad in a whisper and they shared my inability to believe what was really happening. But, we still had many reasons to not buy in to the idea that he’d been compromised. As the hours of the morning morphed into mid-day, we still anxiously awaited a visit from Dr. Breeze with loads of questions ready for the moment he walked in. In a manner of self-preservation, we decided we wouldn’t believe Chris’s slow-returning personality was actually a legitimate concern until the doctor told us himself, right to our faces. And, at that time only, would we figure out how to move forward and handle it.
Also, one can never be sure when the doctor will show up, so we agreed it was time to let Chris know the outcome of the surgery. Spilling it before now didn’t feel right. But would it ever? It wasn’t good news and we were afraid of how he might take it. For a second time, Dr. Breeze wasn’t able to perform the task he had set out to. It wasn’t finished. The tumor was still there and had again proven itself difficult and inaccessible. We wanted to protect him. After all, his positivity that everything would turn out the way we prayed it would was so strong. His faith in prayers being answered and God on his side was what he leaned on most. We didn’t want to squelch that. However, laying in his hospital bed all morning, perhaps listening to our words of concern as we whispered them to each other wasn’t fair anymore. I’m sure the heaviness in the room was undeniable, too!
We roused Chris, insisted upon raising the shades and helped him get comfortable sitting up in bed. Light poured into the room from outside and we finally ordered him some food. It was time to buck up, get some things going and see what we were really dealing with here.
As we waited for the arrival of his late breakfast, we gathered around and began our attempt at telling him about the previous day. In retrospect, I feel embarrassed by the way I sort-of hem-hawed and beat around the bush. He told us he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear it. He may have even suggested we wait until later. But that was what he said all morning! Maybe later. How about later? Later would be better.
We trudged further into our journey recounting the news from the day before…and describing what Dr. Breeze told us about the tumor – how it was vascular and every time he touched it, it bled; that it couldn’t be totally removed; that it was once again just a “glorified biopsy;” and how he thought it was still cancer-free…
We told Chris how sorry we were that it wasn’t the outcome we had all been counting on. We tried to encourage him with that idea that Dr. Breeze had a plan, but what it was, we didn’t know, let alone understand, and it was still so gosh darn early that anything he said might’ve easily been in vain.
We believed our doctor. Our trust was in his hands and that was all we really had. We were like infants trusting our parents to lead us the right way and give us protection and hope.
“Whatever you say doc, you’re the expert, just tell us to jump and we will…as long as that is what it takes to make Chris better!”
And do you know what? Chris was OK. Through his tired eyes looking right back at us, his exhausted body and the quiet voice he mustered from it, he told us it was alright. If the doctor had a plan, we’d just do that, then.
This was the tricky part, though. Was his response simply frontal-lobe-trauma-apathy again? Or, had time become our ally and it really was our guy being the optimist that we knew him to be? And before I could spend another moment gauging my husband’s whereabouts, here came Dr. Breeze striding in through the door. Ok, fine. He didn’t stride. It felt like he should have, though, the way we so anticipated his arrival and there he was, finally. But, striding isn’t his style, after all. Oh, I’ve seen him stride, but not now, not after what we’d been through together. His presence in the room was gentle and respectful; quiet and concerned; but still with an air of subtle confidence that told us he knew what he was doing and all was not lost. We liked that about him. He was never arrogant or impatient. We always felt like he cared deeply for Chris. He’s a humble man and especially so, since he had to reveal less than positive news to us twice now.
The funny thing was how Chris’s perception of reality was so vastly different than our’s. Now that I think about it, I guess we all kind of act differently when the doctor comes in the room. As if he were a celebrity, we jump up and shake his hand; we tell him how good it is to see him and thank him for coming. As if he wouldn’t have come! And, in all honesty, it was very good to see him because we were counting on him to guide us out of the muck of being alone with our questions as well as the imaginary, fear-based answers to them.
Dr. Breeze asked Chris how he was doing and my husband told him that he was fine! You see, perception truly is a quirky relative in this whole family of events. Chris’s answer might’ve been true in that he felt fine, but that was all. He hadn’t looked in the mirror yet and seen his left side face ballooning out to resemble that of an orangutan we see at the zoo and the area around his eye turning a vibrant shade of blue/black. He also wasn’t aware that his behavior and personality had been anything but fine.
“Oh, I’m glad to hear that,” Dr. Breeze said to Chris, pleasantly. “You’re looking good.”
I sort-of felt like my eyes bugged out and my ears shot sideways away from my head at their little exchange. You’re looking good? Did he not bring his sight into the room with him? What could his observation possibly have been based upon? That Chris was sitting up in bed and that the lights were on?! I wanted to run up to Dr. Breeze, grab him by his suit collars, throw all pleasantries out the window and shout, What the heck are you even talking about…!?
“Ahem,” was the sound that actually escaped my throat and I let out a couple of nervous (read: teetering on the edge of hysteria) laughs. “Dr. Breeze, can you please explain the swelling on my husband’s face? Someone let the cat out of the bag and we heard that you removed some of his cheek bone during surgery as well as his brain’s frontal lobe. Also, his personality has not returned yet. Is any of that normal?” And I spoke to him with a very forced calm so as to not appear that I was in fact so blatantly speaking about my husband as if he weren’t right there next to us and because I hadn’t yet told him that he was apathetic and not himself.
The doctor stayed around a while to explain the details of the surgery. Some of Chris’s cheekbone had indeed been removed and therefor we could still expect increased swelling over the next several days. Additionally, the removal of his brain’s frontal lobe was very important. And serious. We were shocked to learn that up to four or five days would pass before we could expect to see glimpses of the Chris that we were anxiously awaiting the return of! It was also not uncommon for a month to go by before he seemed 100 percent “normal” again. Dr. Breeze assured us that Chris’s personality would return and what we were seeing was to be expected and not to worry.
Oh, OK, no worrying then. Got it…
His words offered some consolation, but then he asked if the occupational therapist had visited yet and went ahead and let us know about the excellent resources the hospital offers for patients and their loved ones in situations like our’s.
Bah! Again with the “resources.” I did not want to hear that.
Before Dr. Breeze bid us farewell, I asked him a question on behalf of our ten-year-old son. Does the tumor contain it’s own blood? And, since to a fourth-grader the tumor seems like a parasite in his dad’s brain, why couldn’t it just be bled out and killed that way?
I think our doctor was impressed with the question too, in fact he said he was, and he put some good thought into how to answer it.
(Also, I’m doing my best to remember the eloquence of his response and if you’d offer me some grace as I fumble through the long and short of it, I’d appreciate it…)
Our brains contain different blood than the rest of our body and the two aren’t mixed together. Somehow the brain filters out the things within our body’s blood that it doesn’t want in it. And, although a very good thought, the tumor cannot bleed out.
Long. And. Short.
We reveled for a moment in the opportunity to brag about our two smart boys with the smart brain doctor and then he left us to it…To our waiting. To our carrying on. To our being brave.
Chris dozed in and out for the rest of the afternoon. Our move out of the ICU and onto the “floor” for recovering neuro patients was at the mercy of those already up there. If they discharged, we got their room. But our chances were slim and we were OK with that. The care ratio in ICU was one nurse to one patient. I liked that. It wasn’t that way up on the “floor.” Most times, if you need something, you call them.
As the sun began its descent for the day, I decided it was time to go collect my ceramic Christmas Tree from the car. Chris and his dad watched Christmas movies marathoning on ABC Family while his mom joined me for some fresh air on my walk down to the parking garage. But as the moments of the evening passed me by, I grew more and more agitated with the influx of positive text messages still coming in on my phone. Everyone meant well of course, and I hadn’t yet shared the tidbit about my husband’s missing personality. As far as friends and extended family were concerned, based on the small amount of info I previously shared, Chris was doing well. He had strong vitals after surgery, he had good sleep and the doctor had a plan for how to treat the tumor.
However, I couldn’t take it any longer. My pulse was racing and my eye was twitching. All the notes that read “Praise God!” and “Thank You Jesus!” and “Hooray for answered prayers!” was unmerited. I mean, yes, Thank You Jesus, there were noted blessings, but things were not OK. I needed everyone to know that. Stop the celebrating. Quit the positivity. My husband still lay in his darkening ICU room… apathetic, uninterested and indecisive.