I am a visual person. I am also a silly person. So when you put me in a pre-operation meeting with one of my husband’s friends J, who is equally silly, and a very serious Naval officer who happens to be my husband’s orthopedic surgeon… well, no good could come of it.
My husband R was scheduled to begin surgery to reset his pelvis three days after he landed at NNMC in Bethesda, Maryland. My mother-in-law came to our hotel room at six in the morning so I could see my husband before surgery. R’s parents and his youngest brother were going to watch the kids while his friend J and I waited for news.
The first thing I did when I saw my husband was hold his hand. It was cold and clammy, odd when his hands were usually warm and always held mine firmly like he was never ever going to let go. He was exhausted of course but I could tell in his eyes that he was relieved. Probably because the medication eased the pain, his family was here on the east coast to visit him, and he knew whatever was broken was going to get fixed.
The surgery was going to take nine hours. There was nothing we could do but wait. My husband’s friend J spent all day in the waiting room, continually updating their coworkers about R’s progress and listening to me. He shooed me out when he thought I needed to get out of the building. I think his ears needed a break from listening to me. I would.
I’ve always dressed from the shoes up, meaning I figure out which fabulous pair I’m going to wear and then wear an outfit that coordinates with said shoes. I packed my newish violet Coach platforms that I loved so much because I carried myself with more confidence when I wore them like I didn’t have a care in the world. In short, I felt like a badass.
I so needed a badass moment that day.
So I walked down corridor after corridor, waiting for my phone to vibrate, waiting for good news. I tried three or four different cafes in that huge hospital. I even met our family for lunch.
“Mommy! Grandma and Grandpa let us have ice cream for breakfast!” I smiled because rules go out the window when grandparents are around. I think that may even be a law in some states. During lunch, J called to let me know the doctor was ready to meet with me.
I didn’t have much to eat the whole time we were there. Great for the number on the scale. Not great if I feel like I’m going to fall over every hour. Also not great if some of the case workers are yelling at me to eat.
(Don’t worry. I’ve packed it back on since then plus extra just in case.)
So I’m sitting there with J and the doctor and it’s silent in the room. Too quiet. I get my pen ready to write.
Lots of medical terms. Lots of pauses to restate said terms.
The doctor said they took out some sort of tiny round screen out of his veins that caught a lot of blood clots and that would have killed R had they not put them in.
“Ew.” Oops, did I say that out loud?
“Pardon me?” the doctor asked.
Don’t say anything. Don’t do it. Don’t picture it in your head and–
“So you threw it away?”
“What did it look like? Oh, wait.” Stop it! Don’t go there! “Like when you wash dishes and you get the gunk out afterwards and you like bang the thingy on the side of the garbage can?” I even did the motion to go with it.
He didn’t even crack a smile although I’m pretty sure J was trying hard to stifle his laughter.
“Gross,” I said to myself. “Okay, I’m sorry. Keep going.”
The doctor talked about how nerves had detached on his left side and best case scenario was that R’s nervous system would somehow reroute these messages to compensate. I had a hard time picturing what this would look like and it probably showed on my face.
“The nerves were cut?” I asked.
“Yes, ma’am. Bundles severed. Cut. Snapped.”
“Like spaghetti when you want them to fit into a pot of boiling water.”
He gave me a Look. I apologized immediately.
Later we found out that nerves were not, in fact, severed. R’s latest doctors said nothing was torn and were probably “asleep” after sustaining so much trauma. The disappearing foot drop in his left leg and ability to walk most days without a cane are testiments to this theory.
The nervous system is an intriguing part of the body. R told me of patients who have lost their limbs who still feel as if they’re still there. R would feel inexplicable sensations along his leg or foot. Sometimes it felt icy. Other times it was like multiple needle pricks. Most times it was extremely sensitive to any touch.
When he was transfered to the VA hospital in Palo Alto, California, nurses noticed his feet were extremely dry. Blood flow to his legs and feet were inconsistent. He wasn’t wearing socks or shoes or even walking to encourage exfoliation. I asked for permission to apply Dream Cream, an awesome all-natural cream from Lush that worked faster on our youngest daughter’s eczema than prescription steroid cream.
R saw what the cream could do and asked for it by name in Bethesda and in Palo Alto. I was given permission back in Bethesda to apply this cream to his chemical burns on his back. Peeling stopped soon after. I put it on his right foot then his left. Then he screamed like I was using a machete to apply the cream.
“Oh my God!” I cried. “I’m sorry! What’s wrong?”
He explained that it felt I was using a cheese grater on his foot.
Don’t worry. I learned how to apply it better.
I also learned how to reign in my sense of humor and to show tact at all times. We were in and out of hospitals for over a year. We met dozens of patients and their families and most of these interactions were solemn and quiet. After all, there is nothing funny about pain, suffering, or war.
My sense of humor helps me process information and acts as a defense mechanism, obviously. It allows me to get to know people quickly. I don’t use it all the time but enough. Any more than that would get on anyone’s nerves.