Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Eternal Post-op of My Soul

Six weeks ago, Ren came home from the hospital and reclaimed his wedding band, so technically, I don't need to be wearing this bracelet anymore. I can't tell you why, exactly, but this surgery felt different than the rest. And, so I decided to keep wearing it to remind me to stay all in with Ren as he gets through this and to remind me to take heart in the fact that we continue to survive against some pretty challenging odds.

This is spine surgery number six, and since each previous surgery has showed us the various permutations possible during hospitalization, post-op, and recovery, we thought we knew what to expect with this one. We have come to understand the many ways a body can rebel--a blistering allergic reaction to steri-strips; life-threatening blood pressure drops; confusion, hallucination, belligerence, or extreme grogginess caused by the slightest failure to get the meds right; worrisome weight loss. We've also seen surgery recovery be short-circuited by something else going wrong with the spine before even making it through the post-op period. This surgery threw us a few curve balls though. Two weeks ago, Ren went back into the hospital for double pulmonary embolisms. Four weeks before that, he was hospitalized for heart issues. At the end of week 8, we find ourselves where we might normally be at the end of week 3. This has become the eternal post-op of my soul.

Ren has four weeks to go until he is free from his post-op restrictions. He still cannot bend, twist, or lift, and whenever he is out of bed he has to wear a full torso turtle shell brace. For eight weeks, I have been mom, dad, cleaning lady, laundry person, taxi driver, personal shopper, cook, referee. And, I will continue to do all of these things for at least four more weeks. What makes it hardest, though, is that Ren wants to be doing these things, and once he feels well enough, he has to be constantly reminded not to do them. We fight about it. It's exhausting for me. It's frustrating for him.

In sickness and in health....

As we enter our seventh year of severe spine issues, I have an entirely new understanding of this promise so many of us make on our wedding day (though actually, Ren and I didn't say these words). Here's what I have learned. In sickness means being able and willing to advocate for your loved one even when you are totally exhausted and have no idea what's going on. In sickness means filling prescriptions, divvying out pills, and constantly watching for signs of side effects. In sickness means keeping your patience when the "patient" is being a complete asshole. In sickness is dealing with incisions, wiping bottoms, and washing hard to reach places for weeks or even months. In sickness means feeling isolated and alone when everyone else goes about their business but you are still stuck in limbo, caring for someone who isn't quite able to care for himself and wondering if or when he will be "back to normal." In sickness means being ever vigilant about the restrictions your loved one is under even when he doesn't want to abide by them anymore. In sickness is trying to help the kids keep it together in week one and week three and week eight knowing that all of the changes and the feelings of loss they are experiencing make it almost impossible for them to behave well. In sickness is wondering whether you can keep doing this but knowing that you have to. In sickness means knowing that your life is changing in ways you don't want it to and knowing there's nothing you can do to stop it.

A few months ago, I added this tiger eye bracelet to my collection.

The one on the bottom is the bracelet I wear in memory of Ren's brother; I had bought it on the day he was killed by a distracted driver (on his birthday in 2014). It reminds me to live in the moment, and more importantly, never to drive distracted. The new one, though, I picked up in Japan a month or so before this last surgery. For reasons I can't explain, I knew that this summer would be life-changing, but that I needed a reminder to be present and engaged in whatever changes were coming. I am only just beginning to understand what this means, but the bracelet prompts me to keep trying to figure it out. I know the bracelets are hokey, but with special needs kids, a job, and spine surgeries, I need something to help keep me grounded!

Not long ago, my brother was staring down a category 5 hurricane when Irma shifted directions and took aim at the southwest Florida coast. By the time they realized the hurricane was  coming at them, they had nowhere to go. Talking with him about what he faced made me think about the post I wrote here a few months ago. Sometimes in life, you find yourself staring down the worst possible scenario. You can rack your brain for alternatives, but sooner or later, you have to accept that there is no way around the storm in front of you. You don't know if you have it in you to get through it, but you have no choice but to try. The storm will destroy some things. Things that were important to you will not survive. You won't be the same when you come out the other side. But, you will come out the other side. And, when you do, you will know that you are stronger than you realized, and you will find the strength and resilience to rebuild, creating something new and different and probably totally unexpected from the pieces of your old life that remain. Ren, the kids, and I will rebuild. We always do.