One of many prayers I prayed during both brain surgery experiences was that my husband would come out of it the same man he was going in. God did answer this prayer both times, but the second time around, He made me lean on Him a little longer before His reveal. You see, I couldn’t find my husband within himself for about the first 48 hours after surgery.
I anticipated the return of his personality sooner, though, because that was how it happened the first time, he was good ‘ol Chris the very next morning! And, of course I knew I wouldn’t see him at his finest that first night as he was still coming off 10 hours of anesthesia. It wouldn’t have been fair to expect otherwise.
It was after 8 p.m. when Chris was finally moved into his room in the ICU. It was a different ICU than two years ago, but I still liked it there. This change in my surroundings didn’t matter to me as much as how the waiting room had because there was still the same feeling of comfort and good care-giving. And besides, surgery was over. The waiting without him part was over.
Surely better times were ahead.
Night time in the ICU reminds me of flying on an airplane at night. The darkness outside the window, the dim lights, the quiet hum of the engine (read: vitals machine), the feeling of settling in with the knowledge that something good was waiting for us upon the next sunrise…Whether on a plane and anticipating a long awaited arrival, or as in our case, seeing noticeable progress in my husband’s recovery and more signs of the personality that I know and love coming back. Both coveted destinations.
The nurse who would care for Chris over night was a young girl, though I can’t remember her name. They all write their names on the white board on the wall, but there were so many who came on and off shifts that I can’t recall all of them. She greeted Chris’s parents and I warmly and in a whisper when we arrived a few moments after him. His vitals had already been checked and she reassured us that they looked great and were right where they should be. Chris was aware of his transition into the ICU and that we were there with him, but he only wanted to sleep, I don’t believe he was capable of anything more than that. Besides, sleep was a luxury that would be hard to secure very much of that night. Hourly vitals-checks and a middle-of-the-night CT Scan was what we would look forward to.
Chris’s dad, Glen, went to the car to retrieve my suitcase and pillow for me. I asked him to wait on the ceramic Christmas Tree, since it didn’t seem appropriate just yet. He and Chris’s mom, Carolyn, would stay the night and subsequent ones at the hotel across the street. The nurse brought me clean, warm linens to make up my bed that was actually a wide, cushioned ledge positioned under the window of the room. It was very comfortable and I had a perfectly unobstructed view of my sleeping husband, save for when my glasses were off, then he was a giant blur, ha! But at least I could still hear him breathing! His mom and dad very quietly and gently told their one and only that they would be back in the morning and to rest well. They expressed their love to him, then gave me hugs goodnight and were on their way.
That was when a familiar feeling I remembered from last time of suddenly being alone came flooding back to me. The lights were out. My phone had settled down. The emotional chaos of the day was coming to a close. And I stood by him and watched him, feeling the quiet all around us. We were together at last, but still a giant distance apart and it hurts me to think about it.
He was coherent, but only just. It wasn’t like we could sit together late into the evening and visit about the day we’d had. Though, I wished I could, sort of…actually, no I don’t. It was entirely too soon to relive it all and it only seemed like a dream, just exactly like a splotchy, disoriented, surreal dream. Instead of rehashing the day, we could’ve daydreamed about anything else we’d rather be doing at that moment. Sitting in a hot tub somewhere probably would have been his choice. Leading up to surgery, he frequently admitted his desire to relax in a hot tub. So, yea, that’s where we’d be. Sitting in a hot tub, outside, under the stars on a warm summer evening in…let’s say…oh, where would we be…? Breckenridge! Perfect! Because on a clear night, though dark out, the light of the moon reveals the silhouetted outline of the mountain and it would be just beautiful to behold from the warmth and relaxation of a hot tub! How about that, then? With a delicious beer in hand, even. What kind would it be…? He usually enjoys a limited release IPA by Stone Brewing Company; I’d go for a local variety…maybe a can of something really hoppy from Denver Beer Co….all of that would be much much better than the alternative we were sitting in.
I continued my business of settling in, creeping around in my socks to keep from making noise, not that my shoes were even noisy, but I was ready to cozy in. And, feeling somewhat of an intruder using the bathroom since I wasn’t the patient, I slipped in, quickly brushed my teeth and slipped back out again into his room.
The nurse came back to rouse my husband once more before I sensed it was time to begin my descent under the covers for a while. As she bustled around him, performing all the tests with an effortlessness similar to that of tying her shoe, she visited with me, sharing some important news. Before his parents and I arrived, Chris remained pretty disoriented. He was unable to tell her what year it was or where he was for that matter. I hadn’t remembered that being the case the first time. A part of me wanted to feel concern over this, but whether it was her ease in telling it to me, or my ever-present naivete, I didn’t realize that proceeding within the concern would have been appropriate. But then I witnessed him able to see the nurse and her small flashlight from where she stood at the foot of his bed, and I thought that was a really good mark of progress. Like real good. I even convinced myself that his vision had improved and took it upon myself to send a text message to our mothers to share my imaginary good news!
As soon as the tests were finished the nurse left graciously, promising she’d be as unobtrusive as possible throughout the night and encouraged me to get some rest, too. Chris drifted off again behind already closed eyelids and I guessed that was it. I stood in the darkness, surveying my surroundings before making my final moves for the night. The only light shown in slightly from the hall outside. Instead of an actual door in the ICU rooms, there was one of the sliding glass variety for the purpose of moving patients in giant hospital beds in and out. Fluorescent rays seeped in here and there from between the drawn curtains in front of it.
Observing his IV-assaulted wrists and forearms as I stood by him, I wondered where I could rest my hand so that he would feel my touch once more before I went to my bed. I told him how much I loved him and wished him good rest. His eyes remained shut, but the slight fluttering of his lashes as well as a small sound resembling the word, “ok” let me know he could hear me and that was enough.
The emotions that continued to creep up on me that evening, leftover from the day, were insufferable. I really did not want to give in because then I knew I would break and I couldn’t let that happen. Not yet. But, my gosh, what a day it had been, though. What a long, surreal, get-me-out-of-this-situation-Lord-couldya-please kind of day. I thanked God for the promise of a new one in a just few short hours…
Each time the long hand on the clock passed the 12, Chris was awoken and so was I. I felt bad for him. I would’ve carried the burden of being messed with all night for him if I could have. I’d have gladly recited my name and birth date and today’s date and where (the heck) I was, and (sometimes even, depending on the humor of the one asking) who occupied the office of American president! If it were me instead, they’d have had me stick my tongue out far and squint a bright light out of my eyes and push back against their hand with my own hands and also my legs to test my strength and reflexes. And of course, how was my pain? Was I in any pain?
But, it wasn’t me. It was him and he actually appeared remarkably easy-going and unscathed by the hourly poking and prodding. And, I stood by him with my chest puffed out a little because, “Yea, that’s my husband, ya’ll! Champion of the brain surgery!!”
It didn’t occur to me that his easy-going attitude wasn’t actually a good thing and in fact, it wasn’t so much an easy-going attitude as it was apathy towards it all. As it turns out, apathy is one of the first indications of a brain’s frontal-lobe being out of place for ten hours. Yep, you read that correctly. Dr. Breeze pretty much took Chris’s frontal lobe and rested it back upon the top of his head as well as removed (but returned) his left cheek bone to access the tumor. If I think about it too long, it makes my legs and ankles feel weak, so I prefer to not dwell on it. There was a lot of information out there about my husband’s state and what had actually happened during surgery that I was blissfully unaware of for almost half a day afterwards.
Morning arrived as promised and, unlike my memories from his first surgery, Chris did not awake eager to see the sunlight in his room; there was no striving to become aware of the things going on around him. He didn’t care that on-call doctors, during their ridiculously early rounds, removed his bandages already! Please note, the removal of the bandages after surgery no. 1 was a very exciting event, one that my husband had met with great enthusiasm and curiosity! This time, he was not even interested in opening his eyes for it.
And, I’ll admit, the hardest thing to realize was his disinterest in me.
My memories of surgery no. 1 would have him continually desiring to know how I was doing. Was I coping alright, was I comfortable, happy, content… At this point last time, he wanted to know how his boys were and had I spoken to them yet that day?
At this point last time, he was laughing, carrying on conversations, listening to his music, standing up even with a will to move and to recover.
At this point, on December 12, 2014, his room was still dark. Dark to Chris’s parents and I behind the drawn shades of the window and dark to Chris behind the lids of his closed eyes. He wanted nothing more than to sleep.
He responded to the nurses inquiries, but just barely. Passing his vitals tests was all that he could give. He declined for as long as they let would let him, offers to order food, to drink water, to sit up, or turn on the lights. “Maybe in a little while I will,” was always his response. Always. I could have been in the other room, so could his mom and dad, and he wouldn’t have noticed, maybe even cared. But it wasn’t his fault.
The day went on like this, save for when he wanted out of his hospital gown to put on his tee shirt and cozy pants. Hey, there was some initiative! That was ok. But then he went right back to sleep. I sat in the recliner at the foot of his bed while he slept. His parents sat together behind me on the place where I had slept. No one talked. I silently allowed a couple long-cooped-up tears escape my eyes as I watched him. I didn’t want to appear as self-centered, or act as though I really needed attention from my husband after his brain surgery, except for that I did. I really did. I don’t have to be self-involved to think that his interest in me would have been expected. I fact, I had expected it, because that is what happened last time. His interest in me indicated normal recovery because normally my husband is, in fact, interested me. His disinterest wasn’t normal. I should have known no two surgeries would be alike. It was time to stop comparing them as such.
I missed him so much that my body physically hurt. When would I see him again? When would he look at me and really see me again? When would that glimmer in his eye return? Would it return? When would he see the glimmer in my eye? My glimmer was contingent upon his glimmer.
No one had warned me of this kind of outcome. And, yet, I was still so naive. I kept telling myself that it was all still OK and normal. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and continually entertained such reassuring thoughts as surgery was not even 24 hours ago and I aught to give him a break. That was my coping mechanism until a woman from occupational therapy paid me a visit. She asked to speak with me, only me, out in the hallway.
I felt like I was in trouble at grade-school. I glanced back at Glen and Carolyn as I followed the woman out of the room and we exchanged looks containing equal parts concern and bewilderment.
The woman introduced herself to me, handed me her card and asked me how my husband was doing. “Fine,” I told her with authority. “He’s fine. He’s just really tired, I mean, listen, he hasn’t even been out of brain surgery 24 hours yet!”
I found myself defending him! But what was he guilty of? Sleeping too much after ten hours of brain surgery? It was so weird. Like if I continued to tell her how fine I knew he was, (and who would know better than me, I’m his wife!) that she would finally digress and say something like, “Oh, OK, good. That’s good news, I’ll just be on my way then. Perfect. Nice to have met you. Take care.”
Oh! That’s funny. It actually makes me laugh thinking about it. She wasn’t like that. Nope. Not at all. She told me she had heard (from Dr. Breeze’s office? Pre-Op personnel?) that Chris was a fun-loving, easy to get along with, positive energy kind of guy and asked me if that was true. Yes! Definitely it was very, very true! I loved having the opportunity to get to agree with her and go on about how great a guy he truly is and if she’d just come back in an hour or two, maybe she’d get to see it for herself because really, he just needed a few more hours of good sleep. He just came off of a long day of brain surgery.
In a few moment’s time, I had become the new expert on the state of my husband, what was really going on with him and what was best for him.
Dear me. The nice occupational therapist might’ve taken pity upon me. (There’s that word again). I could see it in the expression on her face and hear it in her tone when she spoke to me. Regardless of the emotionally unstable vibe I’m sure my person had bombarded her with, she remained professional and told me that the characteristics she had just rattled off were not what the ICU nurses were saying about him.
She might’ve told me they had outright bad mouthed him. That was the way I went ahead and perceived her words and I will tell you what a hit that was to my very being. It was like someone came up to me, insulted my husband and punched me in the gut. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to punch her back or scream that she was wrong about him, that they were all wrong about him and if they would just come back later, they’d see!
Through no other explanation than God’s grace, instead of throwing punches or shouting defensive words, I calmed down and conceded that she was right, actually. I took deep breaths, moved my fingers through my still-messy-from-sleeping hair and bore my weight onto the closed door next to me. It was getting real. He wasn’t himself, and I knew that he certainly had the potential to be at that stage of the game. She reminded me that counseling brain surgery patients back to their full capacity and working to retrieve their personalities is her job. That’s what she does, as a matter of fact. We weren’t alone. There were resources available to us for help.
But I didn’t want help!!! I didn’t want to need help! Don’t make us have to actually use the resources! We’re not those patients! Where was the easy button? I needed the rest of the recovery to be easy, we had already gone through the hard part the day before!! It was supposed to be down hill from here on out!