Happy Brain Day! One Year Later…

Greetings! And Happy Brian Day! I woke up this morning very excited to tell my husband that I love him and rejoice in his position next to me! It was one year ago today that he underwent brain surgery and forever this day, March 1, will be a special day for us. This is the day of celebration that he was returned to us unscathed. 

I wrote this post shortly after Brain Day last year so I would never forget any of it. I haven’t read it since then because honestly it was too hard on my heart to remember it. But today felt like an appropriate time to re-read it and share it all. The post ends abruptly…but the true ending is where we are today. Living, loving, enjoying and always giving thanks for the blessing of his full recovery.
Chris DZ

We arrived at the hospital long before the break of dawn. It was dark and cold and Chris walked so fast from the car to the building’s entrance. The speed of my husband’s movement is significant because I could hardly keep up with him. He walked with his hands in his pockets and his head facing down. Each long stride he made with purpose and conviction. Both of which came from a month of waiting and the magnitude of what possibly lay before us that day. It was almost too much to bear.

It makes me imagine a color chart displaying different levels of bearing. The bottom lines of this imaginary chart are various shades of blue, possibly adorned with whimsical flowers and happy faces. These blue lines represent life just peachy-100 percent bearable. As the lines begin to change to a more yellow tone, kind of like Goldenrod that I remember from my Crayola box as a child, it’s an indication that things are about to get a little shaky and to proceed with caution. Then, as Goldenrod progresses up the chart into the uppermost section, it becomes clear by the stop-sign red, that there is no turning back. That was us. The brightly glowing red that we faced within those top lines meant that any amount of bearability left was slipping away quickly through our fingers and we needed to move that fast or else our hearts might beat out of our chests and an emotional meltdown would surely follow. But there was no time for that! If I could go so far as to imagine an accompanying voice to the scene, it might have spoken the words, “You’re at capacity, DeZeeuws, move faster, move faster, get there and get it done!” 

I don’t know what I hoped for that morning. It was a long time coming and we had arrived. Had I imagined I would walk into the hospital holding his hand? Maybe I overlooked that detail in all my planning, but I know it made sense for me to be however close to him as was possible before I absolutely couldn’t be anymore.

We stayed in a hotel directly across the street from the hospital the night before, yet somehow still managed to arrive 30-minutes ahead of schedule. The halls were vacant at 6 o’clock. Not a sound to be heard, really, besides the patter of our shoes and the pounding of our hearts-but only we could hear that. The first item of business upon arriving was to have the IV put in place. Despite the early hour of the clock, I wished the woman checking us in was just a little nicer. Had she stayed up too late the night before? Spilled her coffee? I thought, “Come on, Lady. We need your smiles this morning…DO YOU KNOW WHAT WE’RE ABOUT TO GO THROUGH TODAY?” Sometimes the small voice in my head becomes less small when the fate of my loved one is at hand. I might have been the only one who noticed her lack of sparkles at six in the morning. I let it go.

In the waiting room Chris put his music in his ears and I just let him be. I understand the comfort of our music and he needed it more than ever to whisk him away to a safe place where his soul felt soothed and comforted.  He leaned forward in his chair, elbows propped on his knees, his eyes closed. Led by the gentle tapping of his foot to the beat, his body moved kind of rhythmically in his seat. I just watched him, sometimes placing my hand on his knee or his back. How many times could I say something more consoling like, “You’ll be great, babe!” or “Today’s the day!” As if he needed the reminder. Was it possible for me to speak the words, “I love you,” one too many times? Maybe silence was our best friend that morning. That was the one thing I hadn’t prepared for. I forgot to rehearse the words we would speak to one another before surgery.

After the IV was installed, it was time to move to where the MRI would take place. I tried maintaining my position by Chris’s side as the nurse wheeled him ever so quickly down the corridor. Her steps were fast and I felt like a small child skipping along, trying to keep up with a grown-up loved-one as they slowly backed the car out of the driveway and became further away from me. It felt like being too late and craving just one more hug or opportunity to squeeze in another, “I love you,” or “Have a safe trip,” or “See you when you get home!” 

I wanted to be who Chris needed me to be during it all. Not knowing who that was for sure, I managed to muster just plain old me, except minus the freaked out part…which is quite honestly a normal state of my existence. But this day was different and I can say with much certainty that it was God who helped me reel in the “freaked out” part and replace it with a profound sense of calm. Some moments were calmer than others. Let’s be real, here. But, if ever I knew what an answer to prayer felt like, it was then, on March 1, 2013. But, it was still too soon for me to know it.

It was after the MRI was finished that things seemed to start speeding up, as if they weren’t already. Before I knew it, we were separated from Chris while he was brought into Pre-Op, but only for a short time. You had better believe I asked pretty much anyone with a hospital badge if it was time. “Do I say ‘see you later’ now? Will I still get to see him before he goes in? Just tell me. Make sure I know. Don’t take him away without me knowing it!”

The pre-op location was the final stop before the Operating Room. If our pulses weren’t in a race already, they were now. But with no finish line in sight. Everything unknown that I had feared for so long began swirling around me. The whatifs…? The hows…? The whens…? We were in it now and this was what it felt like. We followed the nurse through the pre-op area as she led us back to Chris. Imagine a long row of small “rooms” divided by nothing more than a curtain. We walked past one empty curtain-room, past another and yet another with still no sign of my husband. It was when I heard the low hum and clatter of Operating Room Technicians and Pre-Op personnel ahead of us that I knew we were almost to him. They were like a swarm of bees and he was their flower, as it were.

When I saw him sitting up in the bed, all plugged in and hooked up, I felt relief. That is the word that comes to mind when I describe that moment. I’ll say it again. Relief. I was just glad to see his face. But, there is a dramatic side of me who wants to really embellish it and declare how badly my heart ached and the way my world began collapsing all around me and how I was stricken with fear. Oh, certainly my heart ached and fear was a worthy opponent, but it wasn’t crippling. I had already exhausted all of those earth-shattering feelings and scenarios leading up to Brain Day and I had nothing more of that capacity to give. The difference on this day, was that I shared my husband’s insatiable desire to get it all over with. All of this stuff we had to take care of beforehand was just that: stuff. We held hands as we jumped through all the hoops of it together. Except we wouldn’t be able to hold hands the entire time. That is when it would become tricky. Letting go.

Each resident took turns introducing themselves, explaining what their role was and how they would assist. A very pregnant woman in charge of anesthesia spoke to us a mile a minute but still earned my personal approval…I think it was her confidence that won me over. Another woman, with whom I cannot remember her name or her position, was a constant by us and we knew we could ask her anything. I appreciated her. When Chris couldn’t get his wedding ring off, she was first to jump to the task of finding something gooey to smear across it. It was a team effort for sure to pry it off his finger, perhaps the first time his skin underneath had seen the light of day since we were married 12 years ago. For safe keeping, I slid it onto my ring finger and to my surprise, it fit! I wondered how and when I had received “man-hands.” Stress, perhaps? I was glad it fit. It felt like receiving a letterman’s jacket or class ring from your special guy back in high school. Something about it meant forever, or inseparable, and that felt good to me.

As the top of the 9 o’clock hour came and went, we listened to more instructions about the day and asked a few more questions, all as we waited for Dr. Breeze to arrive. He was the keeper of the checkered flag and no amount of waving it would be had until he showed up and gave the approval. That much was very clear. We knew it. The Operating Room techs knew it. He was like The Great and Powerful OZ…except not. And, that’s a good thing! When the doctor arrived, he shook my husband’s hand and gave all of us the push of confidence we needed to get moving again.

It became time after that, friends. The time I had feared in that crippling way for weeks. I never knew, nor could I have planned, how it would go when I had to leave Chris’s side. His mom and dad stood by him, holding his hands and whispering loving words of encouragement and support. Tears creeping forth from their eyes. I put my own heart, the heart of a wife, aside and felt her sadness, wondering how a mother’s heart must fall apart upon telling her only son good-bye and that she’d see him after brain surgery. Or, how the heart of a brave father softened at the realization that he couldn’t save his boy this time, and would relinquish all his trust to God and to the hands of a respected neurosurgeon.

When it was my turn, I smiled a big smile at my husband.  One thing I’ve realized about myself lately, is that when I’m under duress and find that an emotional situation is eminent, I smile. It could be construed as a forced smile, but actually, it isn’t. Maybe this smile that happens just demonstrates my emotional defenses at their finest. So, I smiled that really big smile and told him I loved him and that I would just be out in the waiting room. As if that would offer comfort…it’s not like he could just run out and get me if he needed me. Then we gave each other five. Not a high five. Just five. Except the way we do it is in slow motion, sliding my palm, face down over his palm, face up. And then we kissed. I looked at him deeply and told him I’d see him on the flip.

It would have felt contrived if we did it any other way. We needed to treat the moment as any other because that is what felt safe and familiar to us. Safe and familiar. Except it felt nothing like it.

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