Reflection of the day my girlfriend underwent a craniotomy & a small moment of levity
|The day of Wendy’s craniotomy to remove a portion of her brain and tumor was and is still so surreal to me. I attribute this feeling at least in some small part to the lack of sleep for the days and weeks that led up to the day. From the middle of December when we were told of the significance of the situation to the few short weeks later on the morning of the 3rd of January -- time seemed to just dissolve away with very little to hold onto. Then on that morning and all at once, time just seemed to stop as every minute that passed by felt labored and surreally calm because there was nothing left that I could do.
For the 24 hours before leaving for the hospital I didn’t sleep at all – I couldn’t. By the time we arrived at the hospital on that Thursday morning and became the only car in the parking lot, it was so early that not even the coffee shops in the hospital were open to provide even the simplest of pleasures. I waited with Wendy as they began preparing her for surgery and made her switch from her street clothes into her patients gown. They asked simple questions, confirmed her vitals, and then the nurse wheeled her to a pre-op door and beyond where I was told that I could not follow. The nurse told me that if I wanted to, I could wait by the door because they would have to bring her back out in just a bit once they were ready to take her to surgery. I waited until the doors closed behind them and then I hurriedly returned to the coffee shop, but it was still too early. However, this time there was at least a clerk there and she said to me “Come back in a half hour, I’ll be ready then.” So, I quickly returned to the door where I was told I could wait – and waited. The half hour went by and still no Wendy so I quickly darted back to the coffee shop, which was down a long hallway and down two flights of stairs. The poor clerk looked at me with apologetic eyes and said, “I forgot to turn on the water – I am so sorry -- I cannot make a coffee yet. It will be another fifteen to twenty minutes. Sorry.” So, I ran back to my door where I could wait – and waited. Now, I worried because I couldn’t be sure whether or not I had missed seeing Wendy again, but I hadn’t. It was about fifteen minutes later when they wheeled her out in her bed and took her down the hall to yet another door I could not follow through and I said goodbye. I walked back down that long hallway and down the stairs to my coffee shop, stood there pondering why I was there, and then ordered my mocha. She gave me two extra shots of espresso and asked if I had ever had a shot of caramel in my mocha? Nope. “You should try it.” It sounded strange, but why not. It was actually quite good. Since that morning, I think I’m on my third punch card at my coffee shop in the last four years.
I was tired and dazed while I waited in that waiting room through the hours of the surgery. Right now, I cannot even remember how long it took; it was forever. I know I had more coffee from my shop, I don’t know how much more – I know it was a lot. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t talk. I could wait – and became quite good at it. We were told about what time to expect the surgeon to brief us on Wendy’s condition and I remember the clock reaching that time and nothing. The clock kept moving – and nothing. How could overdue be any good? The surgeon was almost an hour over what we were told to expect when he finally entered the room and motioned for us to follow him to a small private room. I remember him saying she did really well and was fine and he then kept talking, but I couldn’t follow the conversation as I watched his lips moving. Maybe 20% removed of the tumor I remember. He said so much and I don’t know what he said. When he finished he asked if we had any questions, “Is she awake” I muttered. He looked at me with an annoyed scowl much like a math teacher who had just explained how to add “1+1=2” and I the inattentive student was now asking, “what is 1+1?” -- “Yes, I already said she’s awake.” “Can I see her?” "Soon, someone will take you there.”
We were led through the winding bowels and back ways of the hospital’s labyrinth, and there were so many corners and turns that I had no idea how I could get out. I felt lost, both literally and figuratively. I seem to remember there was a fish tank and chairs and it felt dark as they told us we could wait here and they’d be “bringing her through any minute. “ We sat there waiting – and nothing. She was suppose to be in recovery – and wasn’t. Why? We waited, for how long I cannot be certain. When she did finally pass by, she looked so bruised and broken. Helpless. “We have to get her settled, then you can see her.”
The critical care recovery room had a view and her bed was right by the window. It was sometime midday and the world was going by outside. Just Surreal. She was slightly awake, not quite lucid from what I remember – but awake. We could only see her two at a time and there were so many people who were there. I returned to the waiting room to wait so others could take their turn. When I returned to see her again, she was still awake, but groggy. “They are loud and talk too much.”
“Visiting hours are over, you cannot stay here.” I couldn’t go anywhere. I had nowhere I would go. The nurses seemed to understand, because they didn’t ask me to leave again. Every hour they came to wake her to check her vitals and I learned that I could predict with relative accuracy what her vitals would be depending on how uncomfortable she looked.
She looked so swollen and in so much pain. In-between those rare moments when she would actually fall asleep, she would wince at even the slightest of sounds. Her left face drooped a bit because they had removed that portion of her brain, which controlled it up to her left hand. The brain is amazing in that respect. The face is the only motor portion of the brain where both the left and right hemispheres can “remap” to control the other side. If the surgeon would have accidentally or intentionally removed the motor portion of her brain that controls her left hand, she would have lost the use of it.
As the night dragged on it must have been around two in the morning when she started to complain about being thirsty. She wasn’t allowed to swallow liquids, but the nurse brought to us a glass of ice chips which I was allowed to give her one at a time. We did this for a while until she slumbered back to sleep. As I sat there waiting for her to wake up again, her lips were cracked and I could tell she was struggling with her mouth so I whispered, “Would you like some Ice?” She immediately snapped back and raised her voice -- “Stop talking!” then paused for a moment “Yes.”
In that absurd moment I laughed to myself knowing that here I was in trouble and had annoyed her for talking and asking a question, yet she wanted what I had asked her. I then gave her the piece of ice and then whispered to her, “just squeeze my hand if you want more.” -- “Stop Talking” – then a few minutes later she squeezed my hand. I didn’t say another word while the cadence of ice requests periodically interrupted the stillness of the room for most of the rest of the night.
It was about four in the morning as a flurry of activity began in the hall and then three or four nurses burst into our quiet and darkened room feverishly preparing the empty space next to us. Within moments, another half dozen nurses and doctors wheeled in this poor woman anguishing in pain and moaning. She was hooked up to so many machines all beeping and chirping and the doctors were commanding out orders and stats all the while people were running in and out of the room. It was like a bomb had gone off and Wendy squeezed my hand hard and said, “make them go away.” I couldn’t – what could I do? I was out numbered even if I wanted to try. So I whispered back that I couldn’t – “Stop talking! Just make them go away” and she just kept squeezing my hand. Every beep, every spoken word, every bump and movement made Wendy wince in pain. I motioned for Wendy’s nurse and explained how much pain she was in and she said, “I’ll be right back.” Moments later, she injected her IV and Wendy didn’t squeeze my hand for almost 2 hours. That poor woman who became Wendy’s brief roommate had just undergone 6 hours of surgery after falling through a glass table and she was in so much pain and misery. I haven’t looked at a glass table the same way since.
By now, I hadn’t slept in over two days. Just thinking about and putting into words this day has exhausted me even to this day. It was so surreal and only the first day.