A few months ago, I underwent surprise heart surgery to repair my mitral valve (it was leaking in a major way). I have the explanation that I give to people that ask about it down pat. I vainly make sure they know it wasn’t a heart attack, that I don’t have clogged arteries, that it was a genetic defect, that in all other ways I’m completely healthy, that it wasn’t my fault. I am not shy about it when they ask.
And ask they do. “How are you feeling?” “What happened?” “Do you have any restrictions?” And comment. “We really missed you”. “It is so good to have you back”. “My husband had something very similar; feel free to call him if you have any questions”. (I never did). “You look great”. “I’m so impressed at how quickly you’re recovering”. “You do a 5k every day? That’s great!” “Wow, I didn’t expect to see you back at the boxing gym so soon”. “You’re coaching soccer again! That’s great!” “How are you feeling?” The support and good sentiments have been overwhelming. People at work, people on facebook, neighbors, friends, family. They all let me know how much they care and I really appreciate all of it. But that’s not what I wanted to share just now.
My wife, Susan, has been a rock during all of this. She really kept it all together: watched over me while I was in the hospital, kept the kids grounded, waited for me during during my diagnostic and repair surgeries, and took care of me when I got home. And while having surgery (and particularly cardiac surgery) is a scarey thing, I think it is much worse for the significant others than for the actual patient. This was brought home to me when during a post surgery checkup at the hospital, I noted a bank of windows along a corridor that I hadn’t noticed before and commented on them to Sue (who had driven me and accompanied me to the appointment). She looked sadly at me and told me, “Yeah, that’s where I’d go to cry”. I looked at her, a little bit startled.
She had to see me with heart monitors, oxygen masks, eKG leads, tubes, tubes, and more tubes all coming out of me. She had to watch them prep me for procedures. She had to wait while I was in surgery. For. Six. Hours. She had to go home and explain to preteen children what was going on without unduly scaring them. She had to keep it all together for them. She had to contemplate the prospect that she might be planning a funeral shortly. She had to spend time beating herself up with guilt over symptoms that neither of us noticed in the moment, but suddenly remembered in retrospect. After I was home, she had to help me into and out of the shower, get things for me, drive me places, help me on the stairs, see me in my weakened state. She spent a lot of time blaming herself for something that wasn’t her fault.
So she saved most of her crying for that lonely hospital corridor.
Like me, she gets a lot of questions, but unlike me, the questions she gets usually aren’t about how she’s doing. They’re about me, about how I’m doing. “How’s Tim?” “I saw Tim’s picture on Facebook, he looks great!” “Is Tim doing ok?” “Is he back to work yet?” “We were so happy to hear about his recovery” “How’s Tim?”Don’t get me wrong, there were those who made sure she was ok. Joanne took care of the kids. Michelle took care of Sue and stayed with her during the surgery. And Tara made sure the family was fed. I can never thank them enough. The medical team at Saddleback Memorial
were also great, both in their care of me and in their sensitivity to Sue. There were others who were looking out for her, but for the most part, it has been all about me.
So, I offer up these thoughts and observations to thank my wife for going through it all for me (Love you, sweets!), to thank those who looked after her, and to highlight in a small way how much harder it can be for those who wait, for those who need a place to cry.