It had been a grueling 36 hours. We’d left home at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning to get to a 1 p.m. appointment at the University of Michigan Hospital Cardiovascular Center in Ann Arbor. This was a follow-up to Tim’s aneurysm surgery last year. The one where he had three back-to-back emergency surgeries, three stints in ICU, and a month-long stay in a rehabilitation facility in Ann Arbor after the third surgery. Read more about that here.
Needless to say, these Ann Arbor visits are always stressful and exhausting, because we never know if Tim is going to be rushed into surgery and whether I’ll be left in an ICU waiting room, waiting to hear if he survived the surgery. And if he didn’t, how would I get his body back home? Yes, my mind always goes there.
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At the appointment on Tuesday, an ultrasound indicated that there might be an endoleak – a leak somewhere around that aneurysm stent that was causing things to grow in there. Not good. But there was an inkling that this might happen, because an ultrasound three months earlier in June showed a growth of one centimeter in the little “sac” around the stent.
So this appointment was going to tell us whether it had continued to grow or whether it had resolved itself, as these types of things sometimes do.
Alas, it had not resolved itself, but appeared to have grown even more. There it was. The familiar news that signaled many nerve-racking days ahead. First up was a CAT scan that would give the doctors a better look at what was really happening in there – much better than the ultrasound. But that wouldn’t happen until later that night or Wednesday morning. So they admitted Tim into the hospital, and we began mentally preparing for whatever was ahead.
I started trying to figure out how we’d get through this, not only keeping Tim alive but also how we’d survive financially. Through many years of health issues, starting with Tim’s liver transplant in 2003 all the way through last year’s aneurysm surgeries, we’ve never really gotten back on our feet financially – despite a LOT of fundraisers and help along the way. All the costs of trying to keep the day-to-day bills and mortgage paid, along with the many costs associated with multiple surgeries in a hospital four hours from home, have left us deeply in debt.
Not to mention that last winter alone we had to somehow come up with the cash to buy a new furnace, a new computer for my business, a new car (well, not new, but something reliable), and get two kids through college. It seems like life gets more and more expensive with each passing year.
But you know what? We’d figure it out. We had before, and we would again. I couldn’t quite get my head around how, but we’d get through it somehow. Old Mission Gazette was doing ok, with a steady stream of new advertisers. And our online store, OMPstore.com, was in place and ready to head into the holiday season. Even if I had to run my business from a hospital room. It’s not like I haven’t done that before.
And, most importantly, I had marshalled my prayer warriors long before we even hit the road on Tuesday morning, so I knew that no matter what happened, we were covered in prayer. No matter what happened, we were not in this alone.
Around midnight on Tuesday, they wheeled Tim off for his CAT scan, so that everything would be in place by morning, in case they needed to rush him off to surgery. Who are we kidding? I thought. Of course there would be surgery. There was always surgery. Our middle name is surgery.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of hearing one of the doctors say the next morning that no surgery would be needed. This was early, maybe 6 a.m., and he had stopped in for about ten seconds to give us a preliminary heads up, noting that our main doctor – Dr. Henke, who’d done the third and final aneurysm surgery last year – would be in later to give us more information.
I immediately thought, this guy must have the wrong room. That couldn’t be right. Maybe I was dreaming. Of course there would be surgery. No matter what the CAT scan showed, the ultrasound had showed growth in that aneurysm sac. Maybe the doctor meant that they would do a less invasive surgery rather than the big open surgery they’d done on that third surgery last year.
Needless to say, I did not put much faith in those early morning words. Surely Dr. Henke would be in a little later to give us the real news. And then he would rush Tim off to surgery and I would head to ICU to wait and see if he survived.
A few hours passed as we waited for Dr. Henke to bring us the real news. Imagine our utter shock when he came into our room and said, “Good news! You don’t need surgery!” Wait, what? Ok, that’s nice, but what do you really mean?
In fact, that’s what he meant. He explained that CAT scans are way more accurate when it comes to identifying endoleaks, but – as we knew – the contrast used in CAT scans is hard on kidneys, and since Tim has only about a half-a-kidney working, we have to protect it.
Dr. Henke explained that the last CAT scan they’d done on Tim was right after the third surgery last year (because of the contrast risk to the kidney). And the results of last night’s CAT scan were the same as the one they’d done last year.
Things hadn’t grown in there. He would not need surgery. We didn’t have to stay. We could go home today. We could go have dinner with our daughter at MSU on the way home. Suddenly, we went from preparing for stressful days and nights in the hospital to heading back to our beloved Old Mission Peninsula.
I’m still not quite sure I believe it. I keep expecting them to call and say there’s been some mistake. But here we are, back on the OMP as I type this. And shortly, I’ll be heading to a meeting at Peninsula Community Library, where I help with the communications team for the new library. Things are back to normal. Or are they?
When you’ve endured years of medical trauma, there’s never a time when you truly think you’re in the clear. There’s always a voice in the back of your head, saying, “It could happen again. Don’t get too complacent in your beautiful life.”
And when you get close to something happening again, you realize that voice is absolutely right. It could happen again. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to live each day as it comes, not focused on the past or future, but eyes fixed on what’s right in front of us.
It wasn’t lost on me that all of this happened on Sept. 11, a dark day in our nation’s history that we continue to grieve year after year. A day that some fear they will never recover from.
Living in the moment is hard. Living without fear is hard. There are always going to be forces trying to pull us into dark places. I think that means we have to work even harder to resist those forces and find ways to live each day as it comes.
For me, that’s a deep faith in God, a community of prayer warriors, a close-knit group of friends and family, and a profound sense that no matter what happens, there will always be a way through the dark – even if you don’t know exactly what that way is as you’re going through it.