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The minister across from us was waiting for his daughter. The woman with the tightly wound hair read silently to herself with her head down and her foot wiggling violently back and forth, as if she were River Dancing in her sleep. There was an Indian couple off to the left by the coffee machine and one lone man, probably in his late twenties, half asleep and slumped in his chair. Two volunteers manned the front desk, and the waiting room was large and spacious, and came equipped with a big screen TV that hung over our heads blaring Anderson Cooper and his teeth.

Tom had grabbed us a corner couch nestled off to itself between two fake ferns and a coffee table in the middle. He and Allan bought enough food to feed West Africa and by the time Lysa and I arrived, they were sitting on the couch, with the munchies spread out like some bizarre, hospital picnic. The last time I’d been in a hospital waiting room was in the 80’s when my best friend Ginger was spending her final moments gasping for breath, and surrounded by doctors and nurses is space suits, terrified this strange new immune disease was going to leave splotches on their skin. I didn’t have a lot of practice with waiting rooms.

And this time, it was my wife. My wife was having brain surgery to remove a tumor. From her brain.

A week before Chrisanne and I had spoken to the neurosurgeon: a bright and slightly too young looking Dr. Chu.

“This is a benign tumor, but we really won’t know until we get in there.” He said with this calm and whispery voice. Dr. Chu had beautiful skin. Probably the most beautiful skin I think I’d ever seen on a man before. And certainly on a neurosurgeon. And every time he spoke, I kept picturing an Asian Marilyn Monroe.

“So, exactly what does that mean? What exactly are you going to do when you…get in there?” I asked, Chrisanne by my side smiling from ear to ear.

My wife, who’s fascination with this tumor thing was starting to get on my last nerve, found everything that was happening to her “Fascinating”. She’d looked up the operation on You Tube (and watched it twice…once in slow motion I think), she’d been to the acoustic nearoma website, found pictures of brains with various other tumors, and was mesmerized by her own MRI.

“Well…what we’ll do is make an incision here…” he pointed to the lower right part of my wife’s head, as she turned and smiled again, “…and then we’ll make another one coming across it, like a window.”

“Uh huh.”

“Isn’t this awesome?” Chrisanne chirped.

“And then, we’ll make a hole in her skull, and open it up and we’ll begin the removal of the tumor.” he whispered.

“You’re making a window and a door in my wife’s head? So what…like a duplex or something?”

Dr. Chu snickered. I did not.

“Sort of, yes.”

“This is so cool.” Chrisanne said.

And so, we sat on the conjoining sofas in the too green waiting room, and ate from the large spread of food, and I was surrounded by some of the best friends I have on the planet. And I sat, with my computer in my lap, watching Lysa work on her show she was off to direct in the summer, and with Tom nestled next to me skimming Facebook and occasionally showing me pictures I haven’t seen since before I was married.

The woman with the tightly wound hair left our circle eventually. I watched her find a chair off in the corner by herself. She was deep in something, and I understood it. I got it. I didn’t know who she was waiting for and she never spoke to any of us, but when she left, when she needed to get away from the crowd that overtook her space. And I got it. I needed these people with me. I needed them to see me, to hold my hand and pretend nothing was happening and eat and go on, and laugh, and leave the room to go downstairs so I could smoke and come back and talk to the minister and hold hands with the Indian couple, and keep me from wanting to jump head first from the third story we were on. My friends did all that, and because they did all that and because the woman with the tightly wound hair saw all that, she had to leave.

And I got it.

I would be fine, and then I wouldn’t. And as the hours dragged on and as the afternoon turned into evening, I wouldn’t be fine. I’d picture the window and then the door in Chrisanne’s skull, and her on a long white table being cut and sliced by people in blue gloves, poking her naked brain. At times, when it was too much, I’d go into the restroom and shatter like a piece of glass. I’d hide my weeping in my hands, or grab some paper towels and cram them into my mouth heaving and shaking on the toilet. Then I’d come out and see Tom’s huge eyes, and his Cheshire cat smile, and I’d be okay. Or Allan would suddenly appear, and take my hands, or hold my shoulder, and I’d be all right. Or Lysa would peer up from her script and wink, or giggle, or talk about “My Fair Lady”, and for a couple of minutes, I’d be okay.

And then I wouldn’t be, all over again.

Because the woman I’ve loved since 1976 was having her skull cut open by people I didn’t know, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I was helpless. Utterly and totally helpless.

Finally, around 6pm that night, after Lysa had to get on the road for her summer gig, we were told Chrisanne was out of surgery and safe, but that she lost a lot of blood and had to be taken to the ICU. Because Allan has worked at Cedars here in LA for almost a decade now, he not only knew most everyone in the hospital, he knew every turn, every trick, every phone number, and every crevice of that hospital. There was appoint at which my brain shut off and I was moving by wrote, at which point, both the boys became my guides. They lead me by the hand and took me to another waiting room, where Tom had packed up the rest of the food and where Allan had brought us through secret tunnels and elevators and few caverns. I felt as if I was walking through the opening of a “Get Smart” episode.

We paced and waited and called and waited some more until about 2 hours later, we were lead to a tiny room with several beeping machines and my wife lying flat, her head bandaged and swollen. I remember standing at the edge of the bed, my hands clutching onto themselves and my breath short and shallow. She was white, white, and her eyes flickered back in her head. Tom and Allan stood next to me, silent and calm and I went to her side, passed the night nurse, and touched her hand. She opened her eyes as wide as she could, and mouthed a drunken:

“I love you.”

After the boys left, I slept overnight in the chair they set up for me in the corner, occasionally bolting upright when the nurse would slide the curtain aside, or when Chrisanne would moan or ask for water. The next day they put her in a private room, and set up a cot in the corner where I laid our bags and set up shop. The next few days were crucial, and anything could happen. But she was alive. We didn’t know if anything had yet happened to her face, or her hearing, but she was alive on the planet and I could touch her and see her and no one else was going to get their hands on her ever again. That was the last time. My wife takes care of things, see. It seems as if it’s me…but it’s not. I’ve done things, sure. I’ve lived through being homeless, through heroin, through AIDS, through my parents death, through my friends death, and through this new journey of finding my way to getting a master’s degree to set me off in a brand new direction. I’ve done stuff, sure. But when the chips are down, when things need to get fixed, or solved, or thought through, or made better, it’s my wife who does that. Not me. So she can’t leave. Who’ll solve the problems?

So the next few days were crucial.

The second day of my hospital adventure, Chrisanne was a bit more alert and attempting to speak and chew and breathe and find herself again, and I was on my way to the cafeteria to get what they called a hamburger. As I walked down the hallway, coming directly at me was the woman with the tightly wound hair. Though this time, her hair hung down over her shoulders. And there was something else. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, and it wasn’t as if I knew her, and although there was little to no time spent with each other in any way, I could see something had changed. She was completely different. She was lighter. She was bigger and brighter and the thing that seemed to weigh her down in the waiting room, and that nervous hyper speed she kept in her right foot, was gone. She was at ease. She was finally breathing. We both stopped in the middle of the hallway, she with her purse around her shoulder and me with mine.

“Hi.” I said, as if we’d missed each other for lunch.

“Hi.” she echoed back.

“How are you?” I asked.

“Better. And you?”

“Better.”

She smiled at me, and headed to the room towards whoever it was she was she’d been waiting for. I picked up my tempo and headed for the almost hamburger, and as we passed each other, we smiled. Big, large, broad and wide. I turned to watch her disappear around the corner and I heard a faint hum escape her lips.

And I got it.

I completely got it.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
allanh
Jun. 18th, 2012 03:06 pm (UTC)
I'm pleased that you and Chrisanne got this taken care of so quickly after diagnosis. When I showed him your response to my comment from last week, Randy said that most acoustic neuromas are benign, and that his most vivid memory of post-op recovery was a nurse brightly telling him that "drinking straws are going to be your new best friend for a couple of months".

So we went out and bought the most vividly-colored plastic bendy drinking straws we could find. It took us three stores to find precisely what Randy wanted.Eyesearing fluorescent colors, mind you; none of this namby-pamby plain white-with-blue-and-red stripes stuff for HIM.

As far as Randy was concerned, if he was gonna have to use a drinking straw, he was gonna use a FUN one.

*hugs*
(Anonymous)
Jun. 19th, 2012 12:16 am (UTC)
Allan
Yup. Check that.

Chrisanne is furious that it's taking so long. I keep reminding her that it's been two and a half weeks, but when she has trouble eating, or tasting something or remembering a word, she Gestures towards the Heavens.

I have a feeling that's one of the main reasons she's doing so well.

We're trying to find both humor and tragedy in this beast, because if we don't, we're doomed. I love the Straw Hunt. And I love that Randy went straight towards exactly what he wanted....and got it. If anything, this journey is teaching us both that whatever it is our heart tells us to go and get....We Go And Get It. No more waiting.

And I've decided to put a couple of feathers in Chrisanne's turban. Makes her much more Gloria Swanson-like.

<3 <3 <3
allanh
Jun. 19th, 2012 04:54 am (UTC)
The Last Word.
At one point, early on his recovery, Randy was having problems speaking...and he was furious that it was taking him so long (subjectively, not objectively) to re-learn how to use his face. He spent a lot of time glaring at me because he couldn't QUITE verbalize everything he wanted to say to me when bantering back and forth. The doctor told me to enjoy it while I could, because he was certain that once Randy was fully recovered, that I would never again be able to have the last word.

And dayum...he was right.

Thankfully.

(And it is entirely possible that I might have looked at Randy once or twice during minor squabbles during our arguments and said "We had FACES then.")

(Extra points if you figure out the connection between this entry and the icon I used.)
tigrrmouse
Jun. 18th, 2012 09:08 pm (UTC)
I love how you write. I love your willingness to share this, because it is a kindness to other people who have also sat frightened and holding their breath in waiting rooms. I love that you have the grace to notice and think about a stranger who was also clearly going through something at the same time that you had something so enormous happening in your own world.

And I love that Chrisanne came through her surgery well and pray that she continues to recover.
abillings
Jun. 19th, 2012 12:18 am (UTC)
Tigrrmouse
What lovely, thoughtful words.

I so appreciate what you wrote. I'ma bit overwhelmed by it, but I do appreciate it.

Thank you. We're both trying our best. I guess that's all we can do. That...and thank the many Angels my wife seems to have fluttering in her general direction.

xoxoxo
mort_83
Jun. 19th, 2012 02:58 am (UTC)
Wonderful post. So open. Thanks for sharing. Glad things are going well. Healing wishes to you both. I sort of know how you felt--my Mom went through something similar last summer. She had a section of her skull removed in order to drain a huge hematoma. She was 87 at the time. Odd thing was that I went from fear to curiosity. They installed a drain shunt in her head and a transducer-she looked The Borg. I even watched the surgeon pull the tube out of her head. It somehow became interesting in a detached sort of way. It wasn't my Mom's head, just a head with a tube coming out of it. Like it was normal. It went well, and she's fine now.

Best wishes.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )