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Difficult days passed while we waited for the day the surgery could finally take place. The constant grey skies that were a hallmark of this past winter matched our spirits. Ken was miserable. His hands remained swollen and painful, and his shoulder and back pain was incapacitating. Over the previous six months, Ken had lost over 60 pounds. His clothes hung on his much-thinner frame. His complexion continued to have a grayish tinge.
Things we take for granted as part of life, were difficult or impossible--things like eating with a fork, going for even a short walk, making love, rising from a chair, pulling up a blanket, driving a vehicle, shampooing hair...and the list goes on.
The famous Shakespeare quote, "Out, out damned spot."(spoken by Lady Macbeth as she goes a bit mad and tries to wash the blood of murdered Duncan from her hands) was in my mind often, except I was thinking of the pheochromocytoma and how this unseen, undiagnosed tumor had been lurking in my husband's body for years, wreaking havoc. The urologist who would later perform the delicate surgery, a skilled surgeon with a down-to-earth bedside manner, said to Ken, "These pheos are just little balls of hate." He told us he was going to assemble a hand-picked team to be present for the rare surgery, so he wasn't sure just when surgery day would be.
Narcotics that blunted the worst of the pain, the beta blockers, and the other life-saving medications that were stopping Ken's body from recognizing adrenaline, also made him light headed, weak, and sleepy. We rose early so I could help Ken get ready for the day and then I headed off for work.
It wasn't a time to stay home, however much I might have sometimes wanted to. In December, I had left my previous employment and, along with a business partner had planned a new business which we would call Insurance Solutions. What a relief, looking back on it all, that I did not know what was coming for Ken on the difficult day in early December that I left my office in a financial services firm for the last time. During the events of January, I regretted being absent so much and leaving the brunt of things on my partner. However, having something else to think about, setting up our new office, deciding about marketing, getting our phones and Internet set up and all the myriad of issues (anticipated or not) that go along with a new business venture helped the time pass.
Additionally, there was the fledgling ministry at The OASIS at St. Nazianz to think about--a good thing--but something that deserved more attention. Ken was discouraged that he was unable to be of help. It was good that Ken's disabled brother, Kevin, lives here because he helped with things like making lunch for the two of them and, in an odd role reversal, kept an eye on his brother.
Many people told us they were keeping Ken in their prayers and thoughts. Ken said that knowing this helped him get through that long month.
Surgery day, February 9th, finally arrived. We drove to Milwaukee's St. Lukes Hospital in a mix of rain, sleet and snow. Ken was nauseated and feeling really ill on the drive down. The morning passed with the usual hospital protocols. The anestheseologist told us that the fact Ken was feeling so dizzy and sick likely meant that it was time for the powerful medications he had been taking for over a month to end. The timing for the surgery was just right, it seemed.
Our pastor came and prayed with Ken before they took him to the operating room. A nurse said it was "kiss and good bye time" so that's what came next, and then Pastor Rich and I had lunch in the hospital cafeteria and talked about things totally unrelated to surgery or tumors or pain.
After he headed home, I sat in the surgery waiting room and tried not to think too much about what might be happening in the operating room. I had been told that the surgery could take 4 or 5 hours. I felt mostly positive about the procedure, even though we had been warned that it was a dangerous thing to remove a pheochromocytoma. I took a walk to the hospital chapel to pray, but I had already prayed so much that there were just no more words to say. For a while, I sat in the silence of the chapel and simply told God that I knew who was holding Ken. I knew others were praying, and I pictured some of their faces, taking comfort in the thought that I was not really alone, however lonely I might feel.
I returned to the waiting room and read a magazine. I played cards with a group of women who, like me, were waiting for a loved one to come out of surgery. We shared some relatively intimate details of life, as strangers sometimes do in such situations. I liked the card game. It was a simple one, and I decided I would teach it to Ken sometime. I must have been a little distracted though. I have no idea how the game was played.
The surgeon came to the waiting room sooner than I expected. Looking pleased, and making no effort to hide his relief, he said, "None of the things we anticipated happening did. It went surprisingly well. I'm glad you didn't have the surgery a month ago. Even though it was hard to wait, I think it was the right thing." I thanked him, not sure what I was saying.
Later, I went to the recovery room to check on Ken. He was not awake, even though he had been there for a rather long time. The friendly nurse who was monitoring him said with a smile, "With those rosy cheeks, your husband looks like a sleeping Santa Claus." I looked at Ken. She was right. He did have pink cheeks. I almost laughed out loud as I said, "He does have rosy cheeks, doesn't he? He has been grey for so long I forgot what his face should look like."
I was so relieved to see that healthy color that I almost didn't notice much else. I pulled up a chair to the bedside, and I reached out to stroke Ken's hand. But something was strange. I looked at the nurse.
"Have his hands been like this since he came in?"
"Yes. I noticed his hands. I have never seen anything quite like it. Probably it is just one of the effects of what he has been through."
Ken's hands had been swollen for six weeks, but now they were so engorged with fluid that they looked like they might burst. His knuckles were invisible in a round mound of puffy skin. There were no wrinkles on his fingers. His hands looked like a baseball catcher's mitt. I was shocked, but tried to be positive.
After a while, I left a still-groggy Ken. The pheo, the nasty little tumor that was"a ball of hate," was out, so the worst was over. Surely now, I thought to myself, things will go back to normal. Once he recovers from the surgery, he'll be like his old self, only better. But that was not to be.