Having been in the hospital for the better part of a week, there were two things that made me nervous about coming home. The first was the actual ride home. Part of the surgery had involved cutting through some of the muscles in the back of my head and neck in order to expose enough of the skull to cut out a portion large enough to give my surgeon access to the top of my brain stem. As a result, my neck was weak. My surgeon had made it clear that I would need to focus on regaining strength in my neck during my recovery. So as I thought about the two hour long drive home through Los Angeles traffic, it was hard not to think about the time Kerrie was rear-ended on the 405 last year. Or all the times, regularly, that crazy Los Angeles drivers had caused her to brake hard and even swerve to avoid the ubiquitous no-look lane changers. Thankfully, Kerrie is an excellent driver and put on a defensive driving clinic when she took her battered and bruised husband home. Post surgical whiplash would have been a nightmare.
The other thing I worried about was being away from the nurses. I found that there was something very comforting about being in the hospital. Yes, there were a lot of reasons I wanted to go home, but while I was in the hospital I knew that the most expert and professional help imaginable was just the press of a button away. I had also adopted a very philosophical appreciation for the IV lines that I no longer had. Every swallow was a fight for much needed calories. When I had the IV lines, I knew that I was at least getting all the fluids I needed. And the arterial line in my right wrist was to me something of a fail-safe. If push came to shove, they could pile a whole bunch of nutrients through that tube. Now I was well and truly on my own.
It’s funny the things you think about in these little medical transitions. Bad drivers and IV lines…
Getting home was awesome. When Kerrie helped me into the house, I was greeted not only by my family but by a group of neighborhood kids as well. There were balloons, plates of cookies, and cards. Alexis, one of the most talented girl’s lax goalies I have ever worked with, brought a box of Raspberry Susan Cookies, the kind that had a soft shortbread base and a jelly center. With a sip of warm coffee, a small bite of one of those cookies would dissolve in my mouth. I had found my first new comfort food!
Several of the welcoming kids read Psalms to me. Zach “G-mo” and Alexis read me Psalms 42 and 43:
Why are you downcast, O my soul? And why are you disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I shall yet praise him, my Savior and my God.’
The biggest challenge I faced on that first evening home was taking my meds. When you are in the hospital, a lot of your meds are getting pumped into you via the IV lines. Now I had to swallow everything myself. And it was incredibly difficult. My best-beloved would literally have a handful of pills for me several times a day. Those first two days home I was taking a total of thirty pills a day. Madness.
But my first day home was short and sweet. I got home in the late afternoon, and was sleeping by dinner time. My second day would not go so well.
Tuesday morning was a doozy. The church house Kerrie and I live in was in the middle of having the downstairs bathroom remodeled due to a compromised, forty-plus year old shower pan. The job was supposed to have been completed before my return from the hospital, but the shower pan had needed to be custom ordered and the supplier was giving our contractor the run around. Dave our contractor is an incredibly competent and gracious man and was doing everything he could to minimize noise and disruption, but my poor confused puppy Pippin was in hyper-vigilance mode – she seemed to sense that all was not well with her human and she wanted those contractors gone, so she would go on these barking and howling fits as if to raise the dead. It was a long day.
Kerrie’s parents were still with us and were so helpful. The kids’ school years were just getting underway and I was such a complete drain on my wife’s time and energy that Dad and Mom were invaluable in creating stability and routine for the teenaged Bjerkaases. What a blessing to have great in-laws.
Kerrie had made two significant purchases in preparation for my home recovery. She bought two great big pillow wedges that I could configure in different ways to enable me to get support sitting up in bed or on the couch. And she bought me a machine: the Baby Smile Nasal Aspirator. It was a machine with a suction tube on it – originally intended to declog an infant’s nose. Well, this big old baby opened up the end of that tube as wide as it could go and I now had my own suction hose to help get rid of all the spit my now defunct swallow reflex was failing to address. My dependence upon that tube at the hospital had become so complete that once home I wouldn’t even think about going to sleep until I had duct taped that new hose into my hand. When I woke up with that drowning sensation I needed to know instantly and exactly where that hose was. What a way to live!
And I discovered a second comfort food. Kerrie’s parents bought me a case of Ensure Plus Nutrition Shakes. They came in Vanilla, Chocolate, and Strawberry, had 350 calories each, and were much easier to swallow than the fortified chocolate puddings the hospital gave me. The first week home was a constant struggle to get calories down. Those Ensure shakes were a Godsend.
I had been well prepared by the surgeon for what the first two weeks post-op would entail – at least as far as the surgery itself went. I was told that I would spend the first two weeks basically sleeping. And that is what I did. I would sleep for a couple of hours, be up for a half hour or so, sleep for a couple of hours, get up for a few, sleep again… It was exactly two weeks after the surgery date that I would finally be awake more hours than asleep during a single twenty-four hour period.
Wednesday was more of the same but Thursday morning was worse. We woke up to discover that our dear dog had gotten up onto the table and eaten all of the remaining Raspberry Susan Cookies that Alexis had brought over – and then Pippin had lost those same cookies all over the dining room carpet. Scrappy dog! But to be fair, I think she was very stressed out. Pippin is the first dog I have ever had – and she is only two years old. As a new dog person, I have found that the bond between people and their dogs is something of a marvel. She has clearly been agitated and she obviously knows that I am not myself. It is as if she is one of the kids. They have all been taking this fairly hard as well. School out here in Ventura County (in the Oak Park District anyway), started on August 8th. One week into the new school year, Dad has this complicated surgery. Today (September 5 as I write this blog entry for August 21-24), all four of my kids are at school for the first time since my return home from surgery. Nervous stomachs, fevers, headaches, vomiting… these symptoms have all plagued one or more of my dear kids on any given day for the past two weeks. It is a powerful reminder to me that not only is my suffering not my own, neither is my recovery. Those who love us will sympathetically share in our misery – consciously or not. They WILL share in whatever victory I am able to wrestle from this new set of challenges as well.
Even worse than Pippin eating all of my Raspberry cookies, Thursday morning also saw Kerrie’s parents fly home to Columbia, MD. Boy, was I sorry to see them go. Their presence here had been like having a warm blanket wrapped around the house.
Lord, thank you for such faithful parents – Bjerkaases and Williamses – who have shown Kerrie and me how to live lives of overcoming joy in both happy and sad times. And help us be those parents to our own kids and every other soul you bring into our home. Whatever our circumstances may be on any given day, you have given us all that we need for life and godliness – and may we never forget it! (2 Peter 1:3).
Tomorrow: Faces in the Carpet and Where is that Children’s Choir?
N.B. The picture is of my replacement box of Raspberry Susan Cookies. Look good, don’t they?