Before they could even wheel me upstairs, I asked if I could stay in the maternity ward so Claire could come stay with me. They said they’d ask about it, but for now I needed to go to the surgical wing.
The nurse who greeted us was brisk, no-nonsense, and kind. She was a young brunette with a ponytail who looked like she ran eight miles after work every day. She whipped around the room setting up my wires and IV, and I gave myself a mental high-five that I’d scored a good nurse.
Mike had arrived in the ER and traveled up with us while his mom watched the kids at home. He and my mom stood at the foot of my bed and we all quietly registered that it was 9:30pm and there was nothing left to do.
They both offered to stay, but I said I’d be fine; there was no reason for all of us to wake up for the nightly vitals checks. My mom had the pained expression all moms wear when there’s nothing they can do to help their baby. Mike insisted on staying, but I absolutely wanted Claire with him, and no one else — our mothers are wonderful with our kids, but Mike is the kind of dad who innately knows how to care for a newborn. Innate, or practice with the four before her…either way, I knew she’d be at perfect peace in her daddy’s care.
“But tomorrow is your birthday,” he said sadly.
I had barely had the thought, and didn’t care at all. I love birthdays, but they seem absurd when you’re consumed with health issues.
After they’d left, I asked Miss Efficiency when the doctor would be by to assess and make a plan. She said she’d check.
I had missed the hospital dinner hour of 5pm, so I asked if there was anything in the snack room, since I hadn’t eaten in a long time. I also needed to pump again. The nurse brought a peanut butter snack pack, crackers, a sad turkey sandwich, and some oreos. I sat on the edge of the bed and pumped milk. The room was dark except for the blinding light over the head of the bed. Glamour? Loads of it.
Miss Efficiency whipped back the curtain and started typing on the computer and said the doctor should be in around 11pm.
It occurred to me I had a television. What else could I do with my time?
When 11pm came and went, the nurse said she didn’t know why he hadn’t come.
In the morning, after two night pumping sessions, still no doctor. I asked a new nurse why I’d been in the hospital for twelve hours with no sign of a doctor, and no plan for a procedure, and she didn’t know what to tell me.
“I’ll check,” she replied.
“I’ll check,” may be the most commonly used phrase inside hospital walls.
Mike brought the kids in for a morning visit, and I fed Claire while the kids roamed the room and ate my breakfast. I’d over-ordered on the muffins, eggs, juice, yogurt, and fruit, because bogarting my hospital food is one of their favorite pastimes.
Siri sent bright flowers and the kids brought candy and cards for my birthday. I felt like a deflated balloon hanging in the corner of the room, watching the scene from above. I knew how much the kids were expecting me to be happy, so I tried to force myself to be as excited as they were.
Jenny and Heather visited with birthday treats and fresh cheer. I was so grateful they’d come, and so struck by how energetic and vital they looked. “That’s me,” I thought to myself. “I get dressed and run errands and hustle kids and get things done. I don’t sit here like an invalid.” It was hard to talk because I didn’t have any news about my condition, any plan.
After they’d left, my beloved doctor, the one who delivered most of my kids (not Dr. Not My Doctor!) came to see me. He arrived at 1pm and Mike was with me for our meeting with him. Just the sight of him flooded me with relief that he’d know what to do and when to do it.
“We’ve been in this room for 16 hours, and you’re the first doctor who has come in,” we told him. He was stunned.
Then he told us everything was going to be fine. He would arrange for the abscess to be drained, the fluid tested, and a drain tube put in. He was frustrated because he said if Dr. Not My Doctor had come when he was supposed to, they could have booked the procedure already and prepared me for it. Now there likely wouldn’t be an opening in the schedule until tomorrow.
Mike was furious. I was like an indignant Nordstrom customer, appalled at the lack of service.
He reassured us that he would do everything he could, and as he turned to go, he looked back at us and said, still in disbelief, “You never saw the whites of his eyes, huh?”
“Nope,” we both said. “You’re the first doctor we’ve seen.”
He shook his head and closed the door.
We took a moment to check in with each other since my mom had taken the kids home. Mike looked utterly exhausted and overwhelmed, and he was.
This picture makes me cringe, because it perfectly captures the sheer exhaustion and white-knuckling this ordeal required from us. It was a thrill of joy to see Claire every minute, but a plummet to earth with the management of four other kids, meals, school routines, housework. Seeing Mike handle it all while I sat in a hospital was hugely stressful.
My mom returned a few hours later, and we were surprised when a nurse came in and said they’d scheduled my procedure for 5pm that day.
“You mean in half an hour?” we all asked.
“Yep,” she replied, assuming we’d be happy. We were, but this was not my first rodeo, so I knew this had implications.
“But I’ve been eating this afternoon,” I said. “How will they give me medication during the procedure?”
“Oh, you won’t be able to have the normal pain medication, but it will be okay. They’ll give you something to help calm you.”
My heart began to race and I clenched my fists to resist panic. My strength just wasn’t there after the last two weeks of ordeals, and being told to be strong and deal with it left me feeling unable to do either.
As the nurse rolled a different bed into the room to wheel me away, I looked at my mom and started to cry. I felt like I was five years old, out of steam, no pride left to halt the embarrassing tears.
I sniffled my way through my ride down the corridors and the elevator. When I arrived in the procedure room, it was like Santa’s workshop.
“Well HERE she is, look at this great new mama! She’s here and she should be home with her baby so let’s get her in and out of here, guys! Oh no, oh what are these tears? What’s troubling you? How can we help?”
In walked the blonde happy nurse from my CT scan in the ER. She recognized me instantly and beamed, but then saw my tears and wrapped me up like I’d been her patient for years.
The other nurse chimed in, “I know, let’s play some music — does that sound good? What song do you want? Any artist you want and we’ll play it.”
It’s hilarious the way the bedside manner methods work; as an adult with a functioning brain, I know this is what they’re trained to do when a patient is distressed. I think: this won’t work on me. I’m upset, I’m about to be worked on, and babying me is going nowhere. Try the next sucker, doc.
But as a human with a functioning heart, I completely gave in to the infantilization. I stuttered through explaining that I was told I wouldn’t have pain medication, and they gave me every assurance that I’d be pain-free. They also insisted I name my favorite singer.
“What’s her name?” I wondered aloud. I’m one of those people who, when asked for my favorite song or artist, suddenly cannot think of a single song or artist, much less my favorite. But out of the sterile air her name came to me:
“Lauren Daigle,” I replied. “I’d love to hear Lauren Daigle.”
“Wow!” the sweet nurse said as she typed, continuing the game that I was eight years old. “Look at this! She’s won a Grammy! Did you hear that everyone? She’s won Grammys! Let’s her this gal sing!” I laughed as I cried.
As Lauren’s voice filled the room reminding me of who our good God is, they began the sedative and the doctor began his work. I don’t know how we got there, but I told him I was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, after he said he went to medical school in Philadelphia.
“Turkey Hill ice cream,” he said. “That’s from Lancaster, isn’t it? Turkey Hill ice cream got me through late nights studying in med school.”
I was amazed at this microscopic connection, and the immense comfort even the tiniest commonality brought.
He described everything they were doing, and when they accessed the abscess, he warned me I’d feel the fluid as it erupted. It was like they’d poured warm tea all over my abdomen. They rushed to mop it up and made various comments on the color and viscosity.
I mouthed the words to the songs and felt the faint detachment of whatever sedative they’d given me. Before long, they had stitched my skin closed around a drain tube with a bag taped to my side. They said it’d be with me for a week.
Back in the room, I lifted my hospital gown and saw the tube coming out of my side. I looked at Mike, and all of the things I am privileged to carry came tumbling down on me at once. I told him I couldn’t recover from a c-section, have a newborn, care for four children AND have a tube hanging out of me that needed to be checked and drained and cleaned regularly.
Of course I could do these things, and many people do far more, but in that moment I felt like I couldn’t. I went dark for half an hour, unable to see the way forward. My mom told me the darkness wasn’t my mentality, it was the after-affect of the drug used during the procedure. This rang true because my brain felt hopeless at a chemical level.
It was an awful hour, made worse by the pending doom of them leaving me for the night, which neither of them knew how to do being that it was my birthday and I was so depressed. I didn’t remotely care that it was my birthday, but it made it emotionally harder for them to navigate.
Late that night, two nurses came in to do the first “flushing” of the tube. They showed me how to twist different parts to insert a syringe and push clear fluid through. Except when they tried to plunge the syringe, it wouldn’t budge. They took turns pushing and twisting and all I could think was of my checkered post-birth past and how forcing anything caused a visceral reaction.
I insisted they stop and get a doctor, and they said they’d have him look at it in the morning and they wouldn’t push anymore.
Look, I’m a squeamish gal. There’s no getting around this. It’s not blood. It’s things that are both inside and outside the body at once. If a surgeon goes inside me to make me well and sews me up so all evidence is concealed, groovy. If he puts a cast on the outside of my arm, hand me a pen and I’ll sign. But catheters, colostomy bags, chest tubes, tracheotomies, IVs and drain bags? Shiver me timbers and run for the hills.
I had two of these happening at once. It was all I could do not to look at my body below the neck. Every time I got out of bed to use the bathroom or sit on the edge of the bed to pump, I clenched my teeth and moved at a glacial pace to avoid yanking my IV or drain tube. The sensation of either one moving inside made me cringe.
I prayed and prayed that somehow I wouldn’t have to go home with the drain tube. I couldn’t imagine being around the kids without them accidentally snagging it. The thought made me wince. It wouldn’t be their fault, but they are all over me all day; there’d be no way to avoid it.
The next morning, Valentine’s Day, at 8:30am, my wonderful doctor came to check on me. I told him what had happened with the nurses and he did an assessment on the tube and tried the syringe. He knew immediately that it meant the abscess had drained fully during the procedure, and this was why there was nothing in my bag. He said the syringe wouldn’t shoot the fluid through because the blood where the abscess had been had successfully clotted at the site.
I smiled as hope shot through me.
“Do I have to go home with this then?” I asked. “This thing really freaks me out.”
“I know it does,” he patted my leg kindly. “I’m going to talk to the team who performed the drain and see what the results were on the fluid and I’ll let you know.”
Say no more, doc! I’ll alert the prayer people!
I texted the families to pray and sent a message to Jackie, my friend from church who’d been sending me verses and words of encouragement.
A little after 10am, my friend Nina came to visit, which was miraculous in itself — it was a weekday and she had a babysitter watch her four homeschooled kiddos to be able to see me.
She sat on my bed and prayed over me that God would free me of the tubes and I’d be healed before I even went home.
We went over to sit by the window, me gingerly approaching the hospital recliner with my IV pole, she sitting in the sun-filled window seat. We were only talking a few minutes when a nurse came in holding handfuls of gauze and scissors and tape.
And I knew. Freedom was at hand.
She told me I’d been given the all clear to have the tube removed.
“Right now?” I gasped. “Really — it’s coming out and I don’t have to wear it home?”
“Right now,” she smiled.
I shrieked with joy. Nina and I looked at each other in awe. Answered prayers never lose their shine.
The nurse laid me down on the bed and Nina held my hand as she removed the stitches and pulled the tube straight out. Nina deserves a lot of credit, as witnessing this extraction was more than she bargained for in her hospital visit.
After Nina left, I laid there stunned, completely overwhelmed that I went from a week at home with a drainage tube to total healing inside hospital walls. I was going home without the ball and chain.
I started to cry from gratitude, life-giving, humbled gratefulness. I knew I had to worship through song. It was as urgent as being hungry and eating, thirsting and drinking, being tired and falling into slumber.
I stood up (without cradling my side!) and guided the IV pole to the enormous window. I turned on a favorite song and raised my arms to honor my Great Physician.
Hallelujah, praise the One who set me free…
I sang to the Lord for how gracious and compassionate He is, my Rescuer.
The sun warmed my eyelids as I cried, lost in the joy that I wasn’t the one who got me out of my misery.
Jackie came to visit that afternoon (I still had antibiotic IV treatments before I could leave). We drank Jamba Juice and marveled that I would be going home in a few hours.
And go home I did.
I was too weak to dance so I let my smile do the dancing.
Who wouldn’t glow going home to this doll?
In the many months since that day, one thought has haunted me again and again: I got out. The majority of people I know, and many that I don’t, haven’t yet experienced walking to the other side of wellness and good health – maybe most never will before old age. It’s a gift most of us take for granted, that we can hop out of bed each day, put on our clothes, eat our food, and fret about all the things we need to fret about.
But this past year I’ve come to see that while hospitals may be places down the street, they’re figurative places, too. For one reason or another each of us will likely have to go there, and we’ll discover that the doors are locked from the outside. When you’re in there, you don’t know if you’ll be given a key to leave. You don’t know if you’ll get well. Figuratively, if you don’t get well, your hospital becomes a prison. You might go home, but you are locked in a state of physical pain from which there is little escape.
And instantly, as quick as a glass shattering on the floor, you realize: all my life I’ve been outside the hospital, and millions of people have been inside. They weren’t given keys. Those in chronic pain, those with prolonged illnesses, those with bodily failures that modern medicine cannot fix, those with disabilities from birth or newly acquired, those with injuries that happened out of the sheer blue sky that can’t be undone — they’ve been carrying the burden of suffering while I’ve blithely lived my healthy life.
But now you’re here, and the door is locked, and you realize that you too, may be denied a key to escape your bodily ailment. And just as quickly the next thought arrives: what will you do then?
Will you despair? Will you adapt? Will you give in to bitterness? Will you rage against the unfairness of your position?
When I was lying in bed in the darkness of the hospital room, listening to the machine beeps and staring into the glow of my phone, I looked up a favorite blogger in hopes of reading an encouraging word. I was struck dumb that she was recommending a book called, “Suffer Strong.” The title and cover image alone made me put down my phone and close my eyes in the harsh recognition that I was not suffering strong. I was weak. I wanted this to end. I wanted to go back to my life before I was locked in the hospital.
And the arrogance of that thought – of that feeling – is what haunts me today. Though it’s an entirely natural human desire to want to be healthy and able to function, how dare I be so blind to those who cannot escape their ordeals? It’s not as though I was unaware of suffering before — I have several people in my life who suffer substantially physically, and of course I’m aware of global human suffering. But having gone through the briefest of visits to this prison of suffering twice now, I could feel true empathy for the countless others who are permanent residents.
In His mercy, God healed me and allowed me to recover. I don’t know why He did, and I don’t know why He sometimes permits others to continue to suffer. These are questions I’ll always have. I know enough to know that God is good, and He works to bring beauty out of our ashes.
To my shame, I still haven’t read this remarkable book. My escape is still fresh, and I am very aware that the keys I was given to leave the hospital are no longer jangling in my pocket. Should I enter bodily suffering again, I have no assurance I won’t be there indefinitely.
But now that I know, really know that life could be taken away, or made infinitely more difficult by physical burdens, it has fundamentally altered me. As cliched as it may be, every single day I have felt a foundation of contentment that wasn’t there before. I’m alive, my kids and husband are alive, we have a God who loves us, and a roof over our heads. It is blessing over blessing. And if the Lord decides that we are to move into that hospital permanently, I am praying He will be my portion to suffer strong.