This is the 11th installment of Reflections in Real Time on the Five Year Anniversary of Mike’s brain surgery to remove an AVM [arteriovenous malformation] from the left frontal lobe of Mike’s brain and all the drama that came with it.
Looking back at March 1st and 2nd, 2009 continues to flood my mind with memories. A couple of things stand out though.
The first is that breaks from the hospital were very important. I know of others that never left the hospital, but it was necessary for my sanity. Early on in this whole adventure, Denae and Connie decided that they were going to make sure that I got out of the hospital, which the nurses also encouraged. I still remember the first day they came down to take me out for lunch. I had been staying at Connie’s house for a few days, and was great friends with Denae’s sister-in-law but hardly knew Denae at all. I didn’t really think we would have anything to talk about.
They were clearly not concerned. Denae has kids, and so do I, so that in and of itself provided plenty to talk about. Denae and Connie also just really wanted to love me. They wanted me to know that even if they did not know me well, they cared about me. Yes, I know where we went to lunch and what I ate: Pappageorge’s and a grilled chicken sandwich and fries. We weren’t gone long, but it was long enough to catch my breath. Denae was a person who was not fazed if she made the half hour or so trip from her house to go out for lunch with me only to have to wait a long time because Mike needed me with him. She was always totally focused on what would encourage me. She was really there for me on a regular basis, and I was grateful that God provided someone near to Rochester like that. I now count her as MY friend, not just Ann’s sister-in-law.
Another thing that stands out is the sacrifices that many from a distance made. My sister who lives in the Cities came down almost every weekend that we were in Rochester. Sometimes she hung out with us, and other times she took kids to do something fun. Her husband also came on the day that Mike had the emergency open heart surgery. Which was a Thursday. During tax season. And he’s an accountant. It was a huge sacrifice on his part! He did bring stacks of work to do, but I have no idea if he got any work done. My parents also made multiple trips up to visit, bring kids up, take kids back. Whatever we asked of them in that regard they did.
We also had two couples who made sacrifices to visit. Following the heart surgery, Randy and Shirley Anderson stopped by “on their way” to the Free Church Central District conference in Des Moines. by my calculations it turned the four hour trip into a seven hour trip. And then Mike did not even remember that they had stopped by! Even in spite of our long conversation about how much Mike enjoyed the canned pears, which I have never before seen him eat!
On the blog five years ago I mentioned a second couple, Steve and Marla Smith, who skipped the same conference and came to Rochester instead. What I did not put in there is why. Marla had called me a couple days before and asked if it would be helpful to have them come up. At that time I told her that I was doing fine, there had been a lot of people there, and I thought I just needed time to myself. Thankfully she tried again. When everyone headed home on Sunday evening, I experienced what I had every weekend prior to that. I had been doing well and when everyone left I lost it emotionally. I really needed the encouragement of close friends through these extremely trying days. So Steve and Marla came up for two days. The dietitian Marla took one look at Mike and said, “He needs protein!” She then proceeded to find out how to get him more protein. This came at a crucial time when he was down about 50 pounds. The other thing that was so beneficial was that Steve and Marla just talked to me. When we went out for lunch, I asked about how their son’s college search was going and how their daughters were. After not too long I told them that I was sorry, but my mind was back on Mike. It was so good to talk about something other than health issues, and good that I felt free to tell them when I couldn’t focus on anything but Mike. They did not make me feel self-centered; they just wanted to do what would be helpful to us.
Finally, it was so hard to tell Mike over and over what had happened. The amnesia medication finally wore off and he grasped what he had been through. It was an early morning conversation that produced a lot of tears. He was also in so much pain from broken ribs and having his chest cracked open that I think it made it a lot worse. He was so weak and emaciated that I began to wonder if he would have it in him to fight back. I should have known better, because that competitive nature never goes away. It was just insufferably hard to watch my husband suffering so much!
Mike’s Take on March 1st-2nd, 2009
I remember some of the events of these two days. However the amnesia drug was still continuing to work its way out of my system. For example, Randy and Shirley came to visit with me on that day and Karla and Randy and Shirley all tell me that I talked with them for an hour and a half. But I don’t have any memory of their coming to visit me at all, let alone carrying on a conversation of any sort! Though, Randy insists to this day that he was there and was his usual jovial, entertaining self. I do, however, vaguely remembering talking about canned pears, and how much I enjoyed eating them, even though I had never downed one in the previous twenty-two years of marriage! Weird.
I also remember Steve and Marla coming to visit and Marla’s mother hen instincts kicking in. Marla is a dietitian and upon seeing my emaciated state said that I needed more protein. I had lost a bunch of weight by this time and didn’t have much of an appetite yet. Apparently the human body devours fat and muscles as it seeks to repair itself. Muscle is big on protein and mine became very small. Much of the weight loss was due to muscle loss.
Watching Marla speak with the nurses and others was welcome entertainment for me as I was still unable to communicate very much and was still entirely “out” on the right side of my body. It was very good for me to be able to be distracted and humored by her for by this time I was feeling all-consumed by this ordeal.
I also remember distinctly talking to Karla about what had happened to me on Thursday. She repeatedly had to tell me what had happened. But there was a moment when the amnesia medication had sufficiently left my body and I got it. I understood what she was saying. And it was overwhelming. She told me to look down at my chest, which I did, which corroborated everything she had been telling me over and over again. The tears flowed as I came to understand all that I had put Karla through, how very near to death I had been, and just how much effort it was going to take to get back to my old self. It was extremely frustrating to be completely out on the right side of my body, high degree of difficulty in word finding, and now the pain of broken ribs and open heart surgery.
I don’t remember if I said it out loud or not but I remember saying to God very clearly: “I got nothing left…nothing…my own strength, (muscles) emotional strength, spiritual strength, mental strength…nothing.” I didn’t know if or how I could ever bounce back from this latest setback. But Karla’s continual presence was strength giving in every way. As I watched her in action I lived vicariously through her in a sense. I lived off her faith. I lived off her strength. I lived off her positivity.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again. I did not have any profound thoughts of God that came to my mind throughout these 46 days away from home. What was in the well was in the well. But I was wondering how much more God could possibly ask of one man.
I also remember trying to be funny after I had made it through the tears after the aha! moment of recognition of all that had occurred since the previous Thursday. After looking down at my chest and seeing the incision there was no denying it. I deadpanned to Karla “Oh, that will probably set me back a couple of weeks!” knowing in my mind that it was much more serious than that. She says it wasn’t funny and didn’t know I was trying to be funny. So I told her tonight that I had meant that to be funny. In my heart of hearts I had intended that to be hilarious. A dry sense of humor I guess.