Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Imperfect Art of Waiting

Ren's fifth spine surgery is in the books! This last one, like the lumbar surgeries before it, was loooooong.

If there is something as needlessly exhausting as sitting in a hospital waiting room, I don't know what it is. The chairs are never comfortable, and the room is usually crowded with strangers who come, wait, and then leave sooner than I do. Plus, invariably, Ren's surgeries go an hour or more longer than anticipated by the surgeon, and he takes FOREVER in recovery. The waiting can seem eternal.

The cruel (but helpful) monitor that helped me track Ren's progress.
I've tried a number of strategies for making the waiting seem more finite and less tedious. I've charged up all my batteries and saved a line-up of films and programs to watch on my iPad. I've had friends come sit with me. I've left for a couple of hours to shop or eat a meal. This go around, I added Christmas card completion and the publishing of copious posts to social media (sorry, everyone!) to my distraction tool kit. Regular text updates to family and friends, including a spirited exchange about whether one of us needed this super large Christmas tree ornament from HomeGoods, also kept me busier than previous surgeries.

We decided that neither of us needed this monstrosity.
All of these strategies work to a point. I mean, no matter what I am doing, I am plagued by a nagging sense that things are definitely not right. And, if I am having anything resembling a pleasant experience, I feel guilty to boot. Besides, none of my time-killing efforts ever seem to do me any good past the five-hour mark.

The guilt-inducing Thai curry that I had for lunch while Ren was in surgery.
Watching TV for five hours is exhausting, and since the hospital waiting room is an awkward social space, I run out of things to talk about with friends and family who occasionally come to sit with me. After a complicated surgery, it's important to be there when the surgeon comes out at the end to give me the low-down, so even if I go out, I can never leave the hospital for longer than a couple of hours.

Yesterday, Ren's surgery started at 11:30 a.m., so I got back to the hospital at 2:30 pm. The doctor had told me he thought the surgery would last for four hours, and 2:30 was at the 3 hour mark. At that point, I hadn't watched any movies or addressed any Christmas card envelopes, so I thought I was on good pace to keep myself properly occupied for the entire surgery time. But, then the nurse liaison found me at 3:15 and told me there was at least another hour to go (putting total surgery time at as long as 5 hours). No amount of planning helps me get through the anxiety that sets in when I realize the surgery is going to go an hour longer than the surgeon's longest estimate. So, I did what anyone in my situation would do. I started watching old Dateline murder mystery episodes.

Waiting with bad TV.
Ren came out of surgery at 4:10, so technically the surgery lasted ONLY 40 minutes longer than the doctor expected. When I met with the surgeon, he was amazed by how much nerve impingement and damage there was in Ren's spine but also optimistic that the surgery should provide some relief. He also told me that I'd need to wait another two hours until Ren was out of recovery and that he anticipates Ren will need a full spine fusion in the next 5 to 10 years. So you know, the good, the bad, the ugly.

Two and a half hours later, or 9 hours after we parted in pre-op, I saw Ren again in his hospital room. The re-meeting is always bittersweet. Seeing him covered in gauze and hooked up to drains and wires, I'm always struck but just how much struggle lies ahead. He, on the other hand, is loopy on meds overly effusive. Plus, his English achieves a whole new level of proficiency. Of course, he never remembers anything we talk about when the anesthetic is wearing off. Ever.

Did I do anything helpful during my long day of waiting? No. Did my presence wandering the halls of the hospital, watching bad TV in the waiting room, and drinking weak tea in the cafeteria make any kind of difference? No. Still, I was there, and I sent him in and saw him through to the other side of yet another major surgery. Maybe next time (spine surgery #6 and major surgery #10) I'll figure out a way to feel less like I am trapped in limbo. Suggestions welcome!

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