So the other night, I dreamt I slept with Ironman. Who says, dreams don’t come true?
In the morning, Hubby drives over to the hospital for his surgery. I sit in the passenger seat, fully aware that I will be his chauffeur for the next two weeks, which won’t be easy, because Hubs absolutely prefers to be in the driving seat. When we arrive at NorthShore in Manhasset, a couple of friends greet us. They came to be a support. Shortly afterward, Hubby’s family meets us in the waiting room, and between the company and all the texts and messages conveying well wishes—I certainly feel surrounded.
Off they whisk Santhosh for bloodwork and as we wait. Jack, whose wife has her fair share of frequent flyer miles in the hospital, says, “A lot of the time is just waiting.” Waiting for your turn. Waiting for the surgery to finish. Waiting for recovery. And then waiting for the green light to go home. It’s nice to not wait alone.
When the waiting room volunteer calls Santhosh’s name, all six of us stand up, and he puts his hand out to stop us. “Woah! Maybe one or two of you can come back there, but not everyone.” Jack insists I go first. And when I see him, Hubs is already gowned up and laying on a hospital bed, just waiting for his turn in the O.R.
“I asked the guy what time you were going in,” I tell Hubs. “He said the first guy showed up over an hour late, so even though you’re second, it’ll be a little bit.” I playfully tug on his chest hair. “This will probably set the whole schedule back a few hours, if you ask me.” Hubs laughs, so I add, “Wait. Hold still,” as I fish out my lipliner. “Should I draw a big X over your heart so they won’t miss?” and we laugh some more.
Papers signed and prayers said, the surgeon shows up to answer any last second questions. They’re putting in a sub-cutaneous defibrilator or ICD to give his heart a fighting chance if the fibrosis from the HCM (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) causes an arrhythmia.
“You might never need it,” Dr. B., the surgeon says, “But if you do, you’ll have it.” And with all we’ve learned about hubby’s condition in the last six months, this seems like the best next step to moving forward. The doc also explains, “This device will sit under your skin, under the left arm, and the wires will run across and up your chest and sit above the ribcage, not touching or entering the heart muscle as in devices of the past.”
I ask, “How big is it?” and he makes a two by two square box with his fingers and then a centimeter space between two fingers to show the thickness, but assures us, “As the years go on, technology will get better and the ICD will get smaller and the battery life longer.”
Hubby’s brother brings a ’91 Bulls Championship cap to show his baby brother because he knows him well – pretty much anything to do with the Bulls cheers Santhosh up. Jack tells a few stories, and Hubby’s mom insists we take a few pictures.
A kiss. A look. And they roll Hubby down to the OR while the rest of us head to get coffee. Hubby’s mom stays with me, telling me stories which makes the time go by rather quickly. When two hours pass, we walk back to the waiting room, and sit down, but I recognize my need to be alone and tell Amma, “I’m right outside,” exit the room, and pace up and down the hallway.
Worry suddenly floods my mind: He should be done by now. What’s taking so long? Has something gone wrong? Why hasn’t anyone come out to talk to us? As the tears begin to spill, I pour out my fears to the one who knows my every thought, and as I pray, the tears just keep coming like a dam break I cannot contain. Pacing and crying. Crying and pacing, finally, I catch sight of the surgeon approaching the waiting room.
Deep breath. “You’re just the person I’ve been looking for,” I tell him, and he smiles. Then he assures me hubby did great.
“And the device works great. We tested it, and it worked on the first try.”
I saw hubby’s expression as the surgeon explained earlier that they would create a situation where he would need the ICD in order to test it. Santhosh’s face said it all. He knew that meant to make his heart have an irregular rythm in order to see if the ICD would correct it.
Maybe Dr. B. saw the worry on my face, because he followed with, “Don’t worry, he was completely out when we tested it, and he’s still pretty groggy with the anesthesia. Someone will come and get you when they roll up him to recovery.”
He walks in and talks to Santhosh’s mom, conveying the good news, and I walk back outside to call my Dad. Dad barely picks up his phone and I am a hot mess, trying to hide it, but he knows I’m crying right away. “What’s wrong? Is he okay? Is everything okay?” Dad asks.
“Yes. Everything’s great. Everything went fine.”
“Then why are you crying?”
And all I can say is, “I don’t know.” But as I hang up with my dad, I know. I’m simply overwhelmed. Maybe I’ve been holding it in. It is so real now. Hubby really has some crazy device inside him now. And from now on, he can no longer go through airport metal detectors. That’s just one of the changes we will deal with from now on.
But I don’t cry with just anyone. Something about talking to my dad, and later when he calls me back and asks, “How’s my crybaby doing?” I thank him for being there for me when I needed a shoulder to cry on, even if it was over the phone. And I make sure to laugh and tell him, “I’m good now.”
Several hours later, Santhosh is finally alert enough to talk, a huge ace bandage wrapped around most of his chest. Just as predicted, they shaved his whole chest, and he recounts the prep team’s poking fun at my man of many hairs. One guy said the classic, “Time to take the sweater off,” while another joked, “Get a few razors. Heck bring the whole bag.” But he can’t laugh, because laughing hurts. Any movement hurts right now.
Nine o’clock rolls around by the time a room opens up, and the girls are able to visit him. And Sarah, our youngest, asks some poignent questions while eyeing her dad in the hospital gown under the covers. “So… are you wearing underwear under there?” is her first. Twenty minutes later: “Is it weird to sleep naked?” And finally, “Are you sure you don’t want to put on some shorts, Daddy?”
Questions answered, good night kisses given, we leave hubby to rest and drive home to sleep.
The next day, I drive back to the hospital and wait for hubby to get discharged.
When hubby first received his surgery day, Sarah and I went straight to the toy store on a secret mission. We came back and after dinner gave Hubby the goods. When he unwrapped the package, he smiled ear to ear as he ran his fingers over Ironman’s heart. “I think I’ll grow out my goatee like Tony Stark to make it official,” he said, and we all gave him the thumbs up.
As we drove home the day after his surgery, I asked him, “How does your body not react to the device? I mean, it’s a foreign device inside you?”
“It’s made of Titanium,” Hubs says, a metal that the body does not generally fight off for medical reasons I haven’t looked up yet.
Then Hubby Google’s Ironman, and says, “I guess you were spot on.”
“About what?” I’m driving so I don’t know what he’s reading.
“Ironman’s suit.” Hubby smiles. “Guess what it’s made of.” And together we say it.
When we arrive home, I leave to pick up some pain meds, which he needs asap as the earlier dose is quickly wearing off. And we’re taking every moment in stride. I joke with how he should enjoy this royal treatment. “It’s not every day I get to help you put your socks on.”
He says, “This is what it will be like when we grow old together.” And all I can think is, I hope that we can grow old together now that you have an ICD, but I know full well, every day is a gift. There are no guarantees.
But I thank God for today. For my Sunshine making it through surgery. For being surrounded by friends and family. And for a chance to keep moving forward with Cycling for Change. Because Hope changes everything. I’m aware of the power of hope more than ever these days. It’s time to share it.