Sunday, January 22, 2012

Reflections on Two Years Ago...

I couldn't believe when I looked at the calendar this week and realized I'd completely missed the anniversary of Ken's hemipelvectomy surgery. And more than that, I can't believe it was two years ago--and somehow--and not just last year. It seems I've lost a year somewhere along the way. I remember we didn't commemorate it last year either. It slipped past us silently--like a ninja.

That surgery was our greatest hope--to rid him of the cancer that had returned--and our greatest fear--what would life look like for him--and for me--without a pelvis and one complete leg. But either way, it was full steam ahead. Ultimately, it was his decision and I knew he would decide to proceed with surgery after we heard the limited array of options. And he had my complete support--always.

The events of that day--surgery day--are as clear me to me now as they were that day--maybe clearer, I wasn't getting much sleep then. "Daunting" doesn't begin to describe it. But in 2010 we were all so optimistic, and had every right to be. But more importantly, there was no room for pessimism for such a complex, invasive and life-altering procedure. (There was never room for pessimism in Ken's life…period.) I was surrounded by family and friends in the waiting room that morning, but in truth I'd never felt so alone. Ken was my main support pylon in every respect and despite their best efforts no one could come close to making me feel as reassured as he did.

We didn't realize the surgery hadn't started on time. In fact, it started several hours later than planned. So as the clock in the waiting room spun at a snail's pace, mocking me, I wanted to crawl out of my own skin--and into someone else's life. As the morning passed, members of surgical teams who had been so appointed came to collect the family of a patient, or at least to give the latest information. Each time someone in scrubs approached the waiting area, I clinched my jaw, hoping it would be about Ken. Each time, it wasn't.

When the waiting area attendant told me there was a phone call for me, I got nervous. No one else had received a phone call in all the hours I'd been sitting there. When she pointed to the phone on the wall on the far side of the room, it was like in the movies when they do the trick with the lens that makes an object move further away. I felt like it took forever to get to that phone. I could hear the sound of my blood pumping--and pretty much nothing else. The surgery was over, and Ken had come through it expertly. I could start breathing again. As much as I appreciated that phone call, I really wished someone would have come in person like they had for everyone else. Never underestimate my ability to question why something is done differently than the norm, and interpret only the worst possible meanings.

Ken recovered so quickly that week in the hospital. Too quickly, I think, for his own good. He was freaked out when he found out early Friday morning he'd be released later that day--after undergoing the surgery on Monday. I was surprised, but not as freaked out. (Only one of us could be freaked out at a time and he had "dibs".) He was terrified, actually, about coming home. Who could blame him? No 24/7 professional medical care. So many unknowns. It was a watershed time for me because this wasn't something we could sit down and discuss together. Decisions couldn't be made by committee during that time. It was up to me. He needed to be taken care of--physically, but more importantly, I think--emotionally. I learned in some small measure to handle things as he would have before the surgery--and ultimately after it as well. Things would be fine. Bumpy at times, yes. But we'd figure it out. And we did. We weren't as prepared at home as we thought we were, but it didn't take long for a visiting nurse to get us set up properly. Add one pushy Russian physical therapist to an already determined spirit, and what you get is hope, and a recovery for the record books.

By early spring Ken was moving freely around the apartment with a walker, pushing himself to blissful exhaustion--"sneaking" up behind me as did dishes or made dinner, and enjoying scaring the bejeezus out of me. I wasn't used to him being up and around. It was the best kind of scared I've ever been.

I don't have much of a written record in my journal of the events of that day or what followed that week because I was too…busy, distracted, scared. But I went back through my emails from that week and read them. I was sending updates to a vast distribution list of Ken-lovers with any significant developments. And they responded with the most beautiful messages of love.

Though brief, this post will be my way of celebrating such a momentous anniversary in my life. When I look back on this very solemn day I feel many things: frazzled, worried, exhausted, but mostly relieved and grateful; that Ken handled it so well and that we were both surrounded by such an amazing and loving group of people--who continue to support and love me.

For better or for worse on that day life truly became all about the journey.


A couple of days after surgery, I noticed this valentine down the street from the hospital. It was made from snow and died pink. It was like a piece of love art. It always makes me happy to think about it. It's an artistic, grand gesture worthy of Ken.

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