The alarm rang at 4:15, shocking me awake from the four restless hours of sleep I’d managed to get prior to waking Gracen. Time to dress and leave for the hospital for her scheduled appointment to have her wisdom teeth removed.
The day went much as I’d anticipated.
It’s just a hospital I told myself when I first noticed the Mercy sign glowing in the predawn sky.
An inane conversation followed, “Maybe this time we will arrive early enough to get a handicap parking space.” (No such luck Monday when we arrived for her pre-op appointment.)
“Score! Right in front of the hospital entrance.” (Not many people out at 5:00 a.m.)
It’s not an emergency—nothing serious—just wisdom teeth—I told myself as I exited the car and unloaded the wheelchair from the trunk.
Deep breath in.
One foot in front of the other.
Whoosh! The pneumatic doors slide open. All’s quiet at the front desk: nary a volunteer in sight. Elevator ride. Registration. One more elevator ride to the third-floor surgery waiting room.
Thank God for social media and a smartphone! Facebook status updates and videos meet the currently limited duration of my attention span. Reading is simply not possible.
“Gracen Boxx”, the intake nurse calls and we are off. Double doors swing wide after a card key is scanned and we enter the surgical pre-op area which I silently note is eerily reminiscent of the ICU corridor at Freeman Hospital, just a slight bit narrower. I quietly suck in a deep breath as I follow the nurse who is pushing Gracen’s wheelchair to room 323.
A tech, Kim, enters the room, lowers the bed as far as it will go, and places a gown on the bed along with a plastic drawstring bag in which to store Gracen’s street clothes. The anticipated snick as the curtain is drawn follows as Kim exits the room and Gracen and I left alone in the small cordoned off space.
We gown her up, make a quick stop at the restroom next door then I maneuver the wheelchair into place, lock the wheels, move the foot pedals out of the way, lift Gracen to a standing position and perform an efficient quarter turn before seating Gracen on the edge of the hospital bed. It’s just a wee bit too tall requiring that I boost her up and back before elevating her legs and spinning her another quarter turn to lay prone.
I indulge in a deep breath before shifting the tray table and a chair down to make room for the wheelchair to sit in an out of the way corner.
In comes the pre-op nurse, Jennifer.
The blood pressure cuff velcroed in place.
Pulse and oxygenation recorded.
When did you eat and drink last?
When did you last take this medication and that medication individually until the list of her normal meds is thoroughly reviewed.
The dreaded IV is inserted and a steroid injected into the port in her left hand.
Doctor Baker enters the room in blue surgical scrubs. He greets us, asks if we have any questions and reassures us that all will go smoothly.
Next up the Anesthesiologist quickly followed by two operating room nurses. I hug and kiss my only surviving child and whisper, “It will be okay.”
And then it happens. . . the moment I most dread . . . the wheel locks are released and Gracen is moving away from me. “I love you”, I call out to her retreating figure.
The first set of doors swing open, my eyes track the progress of her bed. A second set of doors swing wide . . .
and I pray.
It’s just a simple one line prayer that spontaneously whispers through my mind as the first set of doors begin to swing closed and she’s gone. . .
beyond the reach of my care.
I swallow hard.
And begin pushing Gracen’s empty wheelchair back down the hall to the surgical waiting room. The fact that it’s empty is significantly sobering to me. It’s a stark reminder of what I fear most—a day when it [the wheelchair] becomes permanently empty.
I’m doing fine, I tell myself, and it’s true.
Then just before I enter the waiting room my mind flashes to another woman I know of whose husband years before was admitted for knee surgery, and something completely unexpected and terribly wrong happened and he never returned home to his wife and children. A painful, life-altering and devastatingly tragic loss of a godly husband, father, son, and beloved coach.
I swallow hard.
I know deep down in the places of my heart that I refuse to examine too closely, that this too could happen to me. Hasn’t it already happened three times before? An inconceivable cord death and the firstborn child we’d looked forward to with such anticipation never came home from the hospital. An unexpected motor vehicle accident and Bethany and Katie never even made it to the hospital. The incomprehensible diagnosis of an extremely rare and progressive disease. I know all too well that life is fragile. That it can be snatched from my feebly grasping hands oh, so quickly, so unexpectedly. I wish I could un-know it. How I wish I could return to my prior state of blissful ignorance!
I find a seat, drop into it and retrieve my tablet.
I force myself to concentrate.
Ten minutes later David appears and I can breathe just a little easier. Just a little deeper.
I didn’t expect him.
Didn’t ask him to come.
But he read my blog post about this day and concluded that he was needed in spite of the seemingly innocuous nature of this surgery. The same procedure performed years ago by the same doctor in his office on my oldest daughter, Bethany. David was not present that day.
Life has changed in irrevocable ways.
My soul is bigger than it was before—filled with knowledge too wonderful for me—and my soul has shrunk in equal proportion by the invasion of personal experience with the fallen world—a world filled with sin and death.
I’m very different.
In no time at all, Dr. Baker stands before us. The surgery is over, it went well, no unanticipated surprises and Gracen is waking up.
Shortly thereafter we are called and escorted back to room 323 which we find empty.
We wait impatiently and then she appears, pale and groggy, but breathing. No neck brace, no breathing tube, no stitches in her face, no shards of glass shimmering in her hair. I stand and touch her cold forehead. Ask if she’s warm enough and request additional heated blankets for her feet and calves because her circulation is poor and they are often cold to the touch.
I take a seat.
Reply to a text or two.
Ten minutes or more pass waiting and watching Gracen’s sleepy eyelids open to half-mast then flutter closed again. And then, out of the blue, I begin to feel faint. I can feel perspiration begin to form on my upper lip and forehead. I feel like I’m going to hurl any second and I ask David if I’ve gone pale.
The tech coincidentally enters the room right after, takes one look at me and asks if I’m okay. She gets me a cold wet cloth with which I mop my face and the back of my neck. David begins to fan me then turns to Gracen as she mumbles a question around her gauze-filled mouth.
She wants to know if I’m okay.
The nurse enters the room. The tech sent her in. I tell Jennifer it’s just stress. I’m embarrassed to have such an out of proportion response to a simple and reportedly successful procedure. I feel the need to explain, but I remain mute. Does she really need to know what makes this simple surgery so stressful for me? Is my pride that important?
I begin to feel marginally better; try to find a comfortable way to sit with my head back or forward toward my knees. There’s no place to recline.
I’m shocked by my physical response. Shocked that I continue to feel faint and nauseous. Begin to wonder if it’s something I ate, but all I’ve had is coffee since four in the morning. David gets me some peanut butter filled crackers from the waiting room, which I slowly begin to eat hoping they will settle my stomach.
Every time I try to sit up I feel faint and increasingly nauseous once again.
Eventually, the nurse disconnects Gracen’s IV, heart rate monitor and blood pressure cuff. David heads out to get his laptop from his car then pull mine to the patient pickup area. (I’m not safe to drive. We will figure out how to retrieve his vehicle later.)
I’m not at all confident that I can get Gracen dressed and into her wheelchair without passing out, but I manage it weak knees and all.
I hate that I have become so weak before her very eyes. How much confidence can she have in my ability to care for her after this? I’ve managed multiple trips to clinics and hospitals and two trips to the ER one of which required a call to 911 and an ambulance ride without such a staggering reaction. Am I just getting worse instead of better two and a half years later?
I follow the volunteer pushing Gracen out to the pickup area hoping she won’t faint and tumble out of her wheelchair and that I won’t pass out in the hall.
And I breathe a sigh of relief as David pulls up just minutes after we exit the hospital. I load Gracen into the front seat and climb in the back leaving him to stow the wheelchair in the trunk.
As I lay my head back in the car, I notice I no longer feel nauseous, no longer feel faint and we haven’t even exited the parking lot. But I’m no longer in that place.
The facility David and I were transported to and treated with such care and kindness—Mercy Hospital in Rogers, Arkansas. The ER Doctor, nurses, and techs who treated us, cried for us, and prayed over me, for us, and for Gracen.
I am filled with gratitude, respect, and appreciation for the men and women who served us and serve this community day in and day out and yet it’s a reminder of dark and stress-filled days.
A reminder of what’s been lost.
A reminder of the high yet worthy price of love.
And I don’t need reminders.
Every waking breath I draw remains charged with the tension of love and loss and fear and faith. Every single breath is weighted with emotion sitting heavy on my heart.
A text message comes in just before we arrive home from the grief counselor, Ruth, both Gracen and I see. I tell her that Gracen did much better than I and am surprised by the response I receive to my recitation of my unexpected reaction a few hours later. “Yes, we [mental health care professionals] would anticipate a fairly significant trauma response as described in your piece last night.” (She received a pre-release copy of my blog post describing how I expected to feel at this time.)
Ruth’s response is as liberating as it is knowledgeable. Maybe it’s liberating because it’s knowledgeable. And as a result, my mind soaks in this truth . . . regardless of what others think; I’m not a freak, just a badly traumatized mother who manages to hold it together 99% of the time.
Now if I can just learn to extend myself a little grace, to reject feelings of embarrassment and humiliation the 1% of the time when my biochemical response is triggered by unavoidable sights, sounds, smells, words, and fears. Maybe that would represent more of a victory than trying to master my body’s biochemistry.
And Gracen—she is doing well. When we first got home, I told her we needed that communication device we’ve been selecting and justifying to Medicaid right now. I couldn’t understand a single word she was trying to speak. But, the bleeding has stopped and she no longer has a mouth full of gauze. She’s much more understandable although she sounds pretty croaky due to the tube the Anesthesiologist threaded through her nose and down her throat. We’re also managing pain well and she’s not terribly swollen, although we’ve been told that will get worse before it gets better. So Friday and Saturday may not be very pleasant. One day at a time is my mantra these days so we’ll just let tomorrow worry for itself to the best of our ability.
Many thanks to all who prayed for Gracen, David and me today.
“The insistent prayer of a righteous person is powerfully effective.” ~ James 5:16b (World English Bible)