Today, the Struggle Bus is taking a detour and stopping at a new and (thankfully) foreign place. I bring this update to you from a hospital’s surgical waiting room.
Just a few minutes ago, I kissed my husband goodbye and watched two nurses wheel him back to the operating room. I should see him in about three hours’ time. At 34 years old, this is his first surgery. In an effort to keep the mood light, I teased him as we waited in the holding area- when we do something in this family, we do it with style! It couldn’t have been his tonsils, or even his gallbladder…he had to go all out and go for the spine! Years of being rough on his body as a teenager through athletics and other crazy adventures have caught up to him, and without getting technical, a disc or two in his spine have caused him around-the-clock pain for the past several weeks. He has a phenomenal surgeon, and the surgery, a Microdiscectomy, is certainly not the worst thing he could be facing. Still, I’d rather be pretty much anywhere else right now and I’m sure he’d concur!
At 34 years old myself, I’ve never been in this position. I’ve never been alone in a surgical waiting room. David’s case has been given a number, which it appears on an LCD screen now and again. The number is color-coded to correspond with the progress of his surgery. At the moment, this number on a screen is the only real connection I have to the man I love.
A minute or two ago, a page came across, and I abruptly stopped twirling his wedding ring around my thumb.
“Will a member of the Smith family please approach the desk for consultation?”
I felt my heart speed up instantaneously. He’d only been back there for fifteen minutes! What could have happened already? I approached the desk, and the woman behind it simply stated “The surgeon just wanted to let you know he’s begun operating, and everything is going fine.” I stood in silence, very awkward silence, until she said to me “That’s all, honey. You can go back to what you were doing”.
What I was doing was just non-productive worrying. I decided putting my thoughts into words would be better than continuing to count the minutes he’s been back there.
I looked around me as I walked back to my seat in the corner, and observed people in what appeared to be a variety of different emotional states. Some are sleeping. Some are staring at the LCD screen. Others, like me are on their laptops, probably making a similar effort to escape from the reality at hand. One thing we all have in common is the momentary look of panic when our names are called. I have my back to the door, because I don’t think I could bear to see anyone get bad news.
Simultaneously, I’m glad I’m alone and wish that I wasn’t. Notoriously a talker, I can honestly say that this is one time where I’d rather not have to make small talk with anyone. However, I know it must be difficult for David’s mom not to be here waiting, as well, so a part of me wishes she was.
I feel strangely calm, at this point. This is out of the norm for me. Anyone close to me can attest to the fact that lack of control over a situation is not my strong point. Perhaps I’m in a better place because the last several months have been a repeat demonstration of unpredictability. Furthermore, perhaps I’m just having faith.
A few years ago, I got this small tattoo on my right wrist:
When the tattoo artist was about to begin, he asked me if I wanted the writing facing me, or facing outward. Without hesitation, I told him I wanted it to face me. Its message was intended to serve as a reminder to me on days when the struggle seemed overwhelming. Today is such a day.
I’ve been asked many times “What does it stand for?” Or “What does that mean to you? Is it because you work in healthcare?” Yes, part of it is fitting due to the nature of my profession. But the message that resonates in me is as follows: As long as your heart is beating, and you can find it within yourself to have faith, beautiful things lie ahead.
For me, the beauty in this stressful and scary day is the opportunity to see my husband live free of the pain that’s taken over his life as of late. I’ve probably said before that one of the most heartbreaking feelings is to see someone you love struggle. Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched pain frustrate and exhaust him. He’s never complained; it’s just not his nature. But his quality of life is going to improve incrementally after this surgery.
For the next few hours, I know I’ll continue to be nervous. I want nothing more than to see him again right now. I know this is for the best and I will continue to have faith. For the record, I don’t think “faith” has to have a religious connotation. It can be as simple as just believing in something, some meaning bigger than oneself.
To anyone who has reminded on the Struggle Bus this far into the detour, thank you for affording me the chance to put my nervous energy to use!