Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Long Recovery

I had a dream last night that Stow was having a meltdown and Ren, misunderstanding my request, picked him up in an attempt to help get things under control. Stow weighs well above Ren’s 40-pound lift limit, so picking him up caused Ren's broken rods to fold upon themselves, leaving him in a tangled heap on the floor. A couple of days before his 2017 surgery, I had a bright and airy dream in which the procedure was over in the blink of an eye, and by the time I got to Ren’s hospital room, he was standing tall and unencumbered, grinning at the reflection of his restored posture. The dreams I have the week before surgery are never subtle.

Ren comes around slowly after surgery; he can sometimes spend three or four hours in recovery. Sitting in the waiting room, long after the scheduled finish time, long after other families have come and gone and come and gone again, long after the doctor meets with me in the tiny consultation room, so small that our knees almost touch as he tells me things went as well as they could have, the gravity of what lies ahead always hits me hardest.

At some point, the nurses call for me because they can’t wake Ren, and they think that, somehow, his waking has gotten lost in translation--as if he doesn’t realize he’s supposed to open his eyes already. The thing is, though, I don’t want to translate here; I don’t even want to be here. What could I say to Ren that they haven’t tried already?

The recovery room lacks anything that might give even the slightest hint of homeyness or comfort. Sterile and all hard, shiny surfaces and white sheets with beeps and drains and businesslike nurses, I feel most lost there, as I look down at Ren, who is pale and non-responsive and whose sleep apnea repeatedly triggers alarms. Since I can’t really process the sights and sounds of Ren’s incapacitation, I focus on the the feet of nurses in the recovery room and wonder why they always seem to be wearing Crocs. Why is it always Crocs?

The first major surgery Ren and I went through together--a revision surgery following a serious shoulder injury--we’d been married just three weeks. It was his third shoulder surgery in six months and was done at a hospital two hours from where we lived. In my tiny tin-can of a car, I found myself commuting on unfamiliar roads, barreling along the highway at speeds my car wasn’t meant to go. Pre-GPS and cell service, I had to memorize the exits and back roads that got me to the hospital with the impossible-to-pronounce name. And, once there, I had to remember how to find my way through the snaking, maze-like hallways to Ren. Even now I can see the farm fruit stand that marked my first turn off the highway and the onsen center--named (puzzlingly) after Confucius--just before the turn that led into the hospital. I don’t remember what I did while I waited for Ren’s shoulder repair to be complete, but I do remember being brought into the recovery room only to find Ren lying naked on a gurney covered by a single towel. Unconscious but in pain, he cringed and squirmed, and it became clear to me that my job was to watch over him and his towel. 

Nineteen years and ten surgeries have passed between then and now, but I know come Monday, when he has his seventh spine surgery, I will find myself watching over Ren as lost as I was that first time. I will find myself, once again, feeling like I have no idea what to do; feeling like I want to fall apart, but knowing that if I don’t keep it together on that first day, there’s no way I will make it through what comes next.

I know I am not the first person to go through difficult medical situations with a spouse. I know that there are people all around me who care and who want to help. I know that each week we get further beyond the day of surgery will be a week closer to reclaiming some kind of normalcy. But, I also know no one can do this for me, and there’s something impossibly lonely and isolating in that.

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