The good things in life, the truly good things, happen in quiet moments without fanfare. The love, the healing, the feeding, the stretching, the growing, the strengthening, the encouragement, these things are the sparkling best parts of life’s story.
But they are quiet in their glory. They are easily overlooked because we are naturally attracted to the dangerous, exciting parts, the parts that keep us up, wide-eyed, staring into the dark on our beds.
It’s easy to see the loud courage of life and death battles but the soft determination of love heals the scars. Hope slowly begins to paint the picture of the future we thought had disappeared. Faith quietly rebuilds the purpose that the noise of fear had obscured.
Love can be heard in the sound of breakfast being cooked in the kitchen. It can be felt in the warmth of a snuggling cuddle on the couch while a story is read. It can be spread as quietly as the smell of brewing coffee or in the warmth of a cradled cup. Love hides invisibly behind simple phrases and attentive looks.
But if you want to clearly reveal the unseen power of these hidden things, then wake up in a crisp, bright hospital room where all of your needs are provided but no love exists. In that moment a deep hunger awakens for the one place you know you have to be – home.
The ride home was easier than the last time for Suzie, which surprised me. She didn’t wince in pain at the bumpy railroad tracks. I guess there wasn’t as much to hurt. The traffic did back up behind me as I slowly drove with one eye on the rearview mirror and one on Suzie. There are no standard hand signals to let the people behind you know your wife just had surgery.
They just think you’re a jerk.
In spite of my caution, we made it home in no time. In fact, it was almost too quick. The leap from a hospital room to home in a three-minute drive was jarring. Everything at home seemed so normal. Suzie seemed to handle it all better than I did.
I was worried about protecting her from the kids, especially Billy. I had a mental picture of him bounding into the bedroom and jumping onto the bed before I could stop him. He soon proved me right but as I tried to explain the problem to him Suzie gave me that look that said, It’s okay. She promptly answered five questions as if she hadn’t left at all and he hopped down to go watch TV.
Problem solved. Situation normal . . . almost.
I spent the weekend waiting. I waited for the final biopsy report. I waited for Suzie to heal. I waited on her as much as she would let me. With Sandra around, there wasn’t much I could do.
Suzie alternately slept and sat in my recliner in the living room. I had set up her small, portable TV in the bedroom so she could watch from there but she didn’t like it. She wanted to be up and around the kids and spend some time with Sandra while she was here. This was a chance to get caught up on things.
They traded stories from the last few days and we found out more about life at home while we were gone. The kids had been comfortable with Sandra from the start. The girls knew Sandra well but I wondered how Billy would do without Suzie. The first night he had crawled into Sandra’s lap for her to read a story, he looked up at her and said, “There’s something about you that reminds me of my mommy.”
It was something Sandra heard often for the next few days as people mistook her for Suzie on the phone. At church, people came up and introduced themselves saying, “You must be Suzie’s sister.”
With the kids taken care of, I focused on being a nurse to Suzie. The pain medication left her groggy or asleep, but when she was awake she did really well. The pain from the tubes would cause her to wince and take a deep breath every once in a while but it didn’t last long.
I busied myself documenting fluid levels while emptying the bottles hanging from her sides. I occasionally felt like Dracula’s assistant but most of the time I just concentrated on the job. After a while, the smell of blood faded and we began to count down the ounces until the tubes could come out. Suzie couldn’t roll over in bed, shower, dress or begin to feel normal until they were gone. She was healing but what she really wanted to do was wash her hair!
But this was a small problem, compared to what she’d been through. And Suzie was never one to complain, which was why she never said anything when she got the sniffles. But that led to coughing which was a big deal. When the involuntary contractions pulled her stitches and moved her tubes, even Suzie couldn’t hide the grimaces.
I made her some hot tea which helped with the coughing but she was already taking pain medication for the surgery. Nothing more could really be done about the pain.
And that’s when the headache began.
Suzie’s first headache happened in college, about a year after we met. It was a debilitating pain right behind her eyes. She had no congestion, no allergies, no other symptoms. Never one to complain, Suzie refused my suggestion to see a doctor and went to bed for the day.
“It’s just a headache,” she said. By the next morning, she was fine.
Then, one day during the next semester, Suzie disappeared. She didn’t answer her phone. She wasn’t in class. No one had seen her. It wasn’t like her. But the next day, there she was like nothing happened.
“Where were you? Are you alright?” I asked.
“I just had a headache,” she said and attempted to dismiss it.
When I persisted, the details came out. The pain was so bad she threw up, went to bed and hid under the blanket the entire day. By the next morning, it was gone.
She didn’t go see the campus nurse because she couldn’t leave her room and she didn’t know another doctor in town. This was not okay with me. I set up an appointment with our family physician. I gave her a ride but she didn’t want me to come in so I sat in the car and waited.
After about a half hour she came rushing out the door, got in the car and refused to talk about it. When I finally got the story out of her it was shocking. My doctor had been rude and raised his voice to her. He had dismissed her complaint when it didn’t fit the symptoms of a migraine.
As far as we can tell, he thought she was making up symptoms to get drugs and all but kicked her out of his office. Suzie, who never complains and never lies, was so mortified that she refused to ever go to a doctor again about her headaches, no matter the pain.
When she graduated and went to work, they got more frequent, happening every month or two. It wasn’t until Suzie had our first child and quit her job that they eased up. No explanation was ever found. We could only pray we’d seen the last of them.
Now, after thirteen years, her headaches were back. It was as if the surgery had set them off again. I’d learned that anesthesia included drugs to dry out mucous membranes. I wondered if these might have a residual effect on her sinuses. Whatever was causing it, she was pretty miserable at a time when I really wanted her to feel better.
The only real solution was to give her pain medication which made her sleep a lot. Staying in bed just made her cough and feel left out of the family, so she napped a lot in the recliner in the living room. When she was awake she watched the kids, talked to Sandra or watched T.V.
Meanwhile, Sandra was busy non-stop, cooking, cleaning, reading, playing and pampering Suzie. She had packed her suitcase with small surprises for the kids to be brought out when the need arose. The girls were kept entertained with a huge puzzle Sandra had bought. For Billy, there were dominos which he played with constantly, lining them up and knocking them down in endless patterns.
Through the weekend I spent my time hovering over Suzie and generally making an annoyance on myself. By Sunday Suzie was tired of all of this attention and was insisting on getting up and moving around all by herself.
She would ditch her ever-present shadow, Me, by going to the bathroom. Then she would find the longest possible way back to her chair. I would find her later in the kitchen putting up glasses or in a bedroom folding up clothes. I would try to shoo her back to her chair but was only temporarily successful.
I was being overprotective because she wasn’t too steady on her feet. I would watch her weave down the hall or sway and grab for a handhold when she stood up too quickly. The drugs were just enough to keep her off balance but not enough to totally immobilize her as I would have liked. A totally selfish desire, I admit, but I was beginning to turn blue from holding my breath while waiting for her to fall.
She never did. She had an uncanny knack of righting herself at the last instant and thereby rendering me entirely unnecessary. I was reduced to pacing like a nervous animal in a cage. There were no long halls like the hospital had so I soon was bothering everybody and Suzie put her foot down. . . without falling.
She ordered us all to go to church.
Sandy was singing a solo in the children’s choir Christmas musical and, since Suzie couldn’t go, she wanted us to be there for support. Sandra hadn’t seen our church and Suzie wanted a few moments to herself, so she insisted she would be fine. Since our church was near the Opryland Hotel, she suggested we also stop by there for a walk. It was lit up during the holiday season with millions of lights and the sight drew visitors from all over.
The kids beamed and Sandra hesitantly agreed, so off we went. The entire time I was worrying about Suzie. The mind can generate an amazing number of nightmare scenarios in a ten-minute car ride. I could tell Sandra was nervous about being away but the kids were happy to be out of the house. They needed some time for fun. After all, they were kids and they’d been through as much stress lately as we had.
Sandy, to an unbiased father, was spectacular. Sandra agreed, so it was undoubtedly true. Billy thought the rest of the service was too long. For once I agreed with him, even though it was over at the usual time. Afterward, we collected Sandy and headed to celebrate.
The Opryland hotel was a marvel. There were two separate indoor jungles, complete with rainforest plants, streams, winding paths, fountains, and waterfalls. During the Christmas season animated characters, music and decorations were added so that every turn brought a new surprise.
It was a running, jumping paradise for Billy who led us on with shouts of discovery. The girls loved the plants, decorations and especially the gift shops. Sandra nodded appreciatively, though her heart wasn’t in it. Mine wasn’t either but I was determined to give the kids some fun. I would be back at work tomorrow for a long week and they deserved the break.
I waited as long as I could before suggesting it was time to leave. The kids moaned predictably but Sandra quickly nodded her approval. The weekend traffic was at a standstill as people waited in long lines to see the lights, but we finally got home.
Suzie was sitting in the recliner watching TV and drinking her favorite, ice tea. She was all smiles when we came in and evidently had enjoyed herself while we were gone. All my worries were unfounded. She and Sandra talked until late.
That night I woke up suddenly! I had no idea what startled me but my heart was racing. I must have been dreaming because it took a moment to realize where I was. I listened but heard nothing. I raised my head and looked at the clock. It’s red glow said 2:30. I had gone to sleep carefully on the far side of the bed fearing I would roll over in the middle of the night and grab Suzie.
I carefully felt for her. She wasn’t there. I looked around the room and saw a yellow glow of light beneath the bathroom door. I breathed a sigh of relief and lay back down.
I had grown very protective of her lately. I wanted to shelter the woman I loved from pain and danger but there was nothing I could do to help her through all of this. There was certainly nothing I could do to help her go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I told myself that it was good for her to be doing things for herself but I was still frustrated.
I watched in the shadows as she slowly walked across the room and eased back into bed. She breathed in a sharp breath as she carefully lay down using her elbow to lower herself slowly to her back. She couldn’t sleep any other way and I knew she would wake up in the morning with a backache as well as a headache.
“Are you okay?” I whispered.
“I’m fine, Darling,” she lied.