Bloody hell, what a challenging few days.
I don’t think either of us slept much the night before the surgery. I woke up around 4:00 am or so and couldn’t get back to sleep, but we had to get up shortly after 5:00 anyway. He had to get to the hospital at about 6:00 to be prepped, and I hung out with him while that was going on. The procedure was scheduled for 8:00, so I left at 7:30 to go back to an empty house with a brain full of thoughts.
No surprise that I couldn’t focus on much. Occasionally I’d have waves of intrusive negative thoughts, or a burst of sadness and anxiety to be released mostly in liquid form. I don’t suppress or bury emotions as a coping strategy, but I didn’t want to get lost in despair either, so I distracted myself while the emotions were churning below the surface.
I was waiting by the phone, so of course I would get a bunch of junk calls – two autodialed telemarketing calls that had only dead air at the other end, one survey, and one follow-up call about a survey I’d agreed to do on paper in a moment of benevolence days before.
When I finally got the call I was waiting for, the surgeon told me that the surgery had gone well, but that brought my anxiety down only one notch. Of course I was pleased that things had gone more or less to plan and relieved that the call didn’t start with the dreaded “I’m afraid that…”, but I had vaguely expected a more distinct sensation of relief. Perhaps that means that only a small part of my mind had been occupied with the worst case scenario after all. Or perhaps some of the potential relief had been eaten up by the counterbalancing fact that the surgery had been more extensive than anticipated due to unexpectedly bad damage (the valve was “extremely calcified” and a lengthy portion of aorta had to be replaced). It was sobering to find out that it was a nearer miss than we’d thought.
Or perhaps it was because the 24 hours after a successful surgery are critical, and I was still on high alert. I spoke to his nurse at the 4-hour mark, and I got the sense that his recovery milestones were coming a little faster than normal or expected or average or whatever the metric is. My anxiety clicked down one more notch. At the 8-hour mark, he was still improving nicely and the nurse anticipated that he’d be out of ICU at the earliest opportunity.
So I had a nice long soak in a hot bath (while reading about BDSM), and then I slept. That was my Friday.
His mother and I went to see him in the ICU on Saturday morning. He was sitting up in a chair, eyes closed. I took in the green hospital gown, his arm resting on the pillow over his chest and the call button clipped to the pillow, an assortment of tubes and wires. And immediately tuned out the tangle.
He was clearly tired, but he looked well, considering. First order of business – a kiss on the forehead. He leaned over for it, demanding it, and the intimate normality of that demand was deeply reassuring. His hair, which had been fastidiously looped in a doubled ponytail when I’d last seen him, was now a bit of a straggling mess. I untangled the elastic from his hair and combed it out with my fingers, giving him scritches on the back of his head in the process.
We are not demonstrative folk; we’re both sensitive and prefer subtlety, and neither of us go in for public displays of affection. And yet I could not have given a flying fuck who was in the room and who might see me kiss him, kiss his forehead, or stroke his hair, or who might hear the ‘I love you’s.
I had a little more trouble with the day’s second visit. I think the tubes and wires were starting to intrude into my consciousness, which is not good when you have needle phobia. (It’s not just sharps — any kind of breach or damage to flesh is a problem, though blood doesn’t particularly bother me.) And then there was all the stress, anxiety, fatigue, etc.
On Sunday morning he was still in ICU but looking better still. By late afternoon, some of the tubes were removed and he’d been transferred out to a different, calmer unit. When I asked for an update on his condition, the (male) nurse said “He’s a rock star.” It seems that the way to a nurse’s heart is to thrive in their care. At one point, we rearranged his pillows, which brought the nurse in to check because his heart rate had suddenly gone up. [For the gamers out there, I noticed that his scrubs said Aperture Laboratories; turns out his brother works at Valve.]
He got another tube out today. He’s already able to sit up, stand and walk a bit on his own. His mother was with me again for both visits, but she left early during the second visit and left the two of us alone. When she had gone, I joked that now we could have sex, except for the fact that the nurse would see that his heart rate jumped and we’d be caught in flagrante.
I’m finally starting to relax. Now to try to catch up on my rest.