Sunday, October 2, 2011

The year that was: My father's surgery - part 3

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9 
Part 10 

I have really struggled with writing all of this down.  I know I've communicated that before, but it is still true.  I am not sure why it is so difficult.  It just feels like a burden I'm carrying and trust me, I've thought about forgetting the whole series and deleting it, not putting it here for others to read.  I've had to force myself to continue writing.

This was just such a horribly dark time; physically exhausting and mentally and emotionally solitary.  

I don't like being so honest, really.  Honest feels ugly, revealing.  Honest doesn't mean hopeless, it doesn't mean faithless.  Honest just means you're a real person.  If you are me, honest means that you are afraid that people will think you are just being a big baby.  I don't like to be depressing.

But is there a place for "honest?"  I think so, particularly when we are not trying to harm anyone and when we have waited to be certain that we are accurately representing what happened.

Sometimes grief over hard times just needs to be honestly shared.  We need for others to recognize and acknowledge our sadness, or the difficulties we have faced.

I learned so many new things along last year's journey - more than I could ever hope to find time to write down.  Some things were very good - which I allude to and which I will share more of.   Some things were brutal, though.  (I'm equally stunned by both.)

I've learned even more starkly how sensationalist we humans are.  There was plenty of compassion when my husband was sick.  When my parents were sick, though, and troubles were compounded upon troubles, those trials seemed more easily dismissed.  A sick husband or a sick baby tugs on the heartstrings.  Sick old people?  It usually elicits a yawn.  Most people won't even bother to read about it.    

Old age is lonely; but caring for the elderly is a lonely role too.  I encourage you - if you know someone who is a primary caregiver for an elderly person, speak and do kindness for them.  Pray for them.  Hold their hand and cry with them a little bit, if they seem to need it.  Don't forget them! 

There were little indignities along the way.  The lady and her rude gesture were one, the day of Dad's surgery revealed a few more.

I've been involved in the care of the elderly for many years now.  Let me simply say without over-dramatization or inflation that getting old can be a terribly lonely and isolating process.  It is difficult to get good hospital care for the elderly, particularly if they are unable to speak for themselves.  We have good medical coverage for our elderly in America, that is, the dollars have been allocated.  Dollars don't equal compassion, however. 

My parents have spent their lives in the pastorate.  My mother cared for her own father when he was dying of cancer and cared for her mother as she dwindled away due to Alzheimers.  Both of my parents have made hospital visitation and nursing home visits a priority.  Even now, my father will visit the "old people" at the nursing home.  Never mind that many of them are ten years younger than he is.

But they live in a very small town.  They don't have many young friends.  Many of my father's peers have +
+died.  If they have not passed on, they are not able to get around much.

I was worried that my mother would not have anyone to sit in the waiting room while she had surgery.  To avoid her sadness and disappointment were this to happen, I called her pastor and asked if he would be able to come pray with her before her surgery.  (Small congregation - sixty people or so, total?)  He came, and I was so thankful.  During mom's surgery, I shared the wait with my father, her pastor, and an elderly aunt and uncle.

Prior to Dad's surgery, I called the pastor and left a message with the date and time.  For an elderly person from a small town, their church is their connection.  Their minister, present at a time of trauma or insecurity, brings a sense of comfort.  Without this touch, they feel a sense of loss, of disconnection.

The minister never came, never called.  I was heartbroken for my dad over this.  How many visits had he made to people who were having surgeries over his 86 years?  When his own time came, the only ones sitting vigil for him were a daughter and the same elderly half-brother and his wife.

I have not spent most of my married life around my parents.  We've only lived close for four years.  I'm not accustomed to this vigil sitting.  I did not feel comfortable spending hours sitting with my elderly relatives.  What would we talk about?  They'd had many surgeries themselves, struggled to shuffle around the hospital, became easily lost as they navigated the corridors looking for coffee or the restroom or food.  How would I hostess these old ones in a hospital waiting room?  What if they had an emergency themselves?  None of those things were real issues - I was simply uncomfortable.

I again found myself unready for this role.  Mothering, I knew.  Babies, toddlers, preschoolers, elementary ages, middleschoolers, highschoolers - I had all of these at home.  I know how to care for people, how to "do," - but to sit and visit with them?  To be the primary family member present at a surgery, to hold power of medical decisions - this was heavy and I would have pushed it aside if I could have.

I remembered one recent visit to my fetal/maternal specialist's office.  I was lying on the bed for yet another ultrasound, and the tech and I chatted while she scanned the blood-flow to our baby's brain.  I was telling her about my parent's upcoming surgeries, and how I did not know how I was going to handle everything that was still on the calendar before our baby was due.

She stopped, looked at me, and said.  "You will do it.  You will do it, because you have to.  It will be hard, but you will make it."  She was an only child, who was responsible for her parent's care alone, so she understood what was happening.

Her words lifted me and sustained me.  I was pretty sure they were a direct message of confidence from God.  :)  They were exactly what I had needed to hear.  I could make it through this.

I thought of her words this day, and although I was pushing myself forward every step because of dread and anxiety, I took strength from them.  The Lord God was with me, with my parents, with us all.

My aunt and uncle and I took hands, and in the absence of a minister, we prayed over my dad.  He was so peaceful and accepting as he put himself into the surgeon's hands.

So, then, we waited.  We made small talk.  I refilled coffee cups.  We endured bad cable tv shows.  (I think that's the worst part about waiting room.  No right to change the channel.)  We looked through every magazine available.

And we waited.

I realized something new about the elderly, about my aunt and uncle, in particular.  At their stage of life, waiting vigil was about the last thing they were able to do for their loved ones.  They took this responsibility very seriously.  I could not persuade them to leave to eat, even though I knew they had medications they needed to take.  We who are young are often in too big of a hurry to do the waiting - at least I know this is true for me.  Give me something to fix and I'm fine.  Ask me to wait, and I resist.  I gained so much insight and respect for them and for their "waiting."  If they had not come, I would have sat alone, again.  No one should be alone at times like that.  People going through surgeries or traumas should have plenty of arms to hold them up.  If they are leaving this life, they should be held and lifted up in love - if they remain and return to health, they should know that there are loved ones waiting to welcome them back, praying for them throughout.

And we waited some more.

It was taking too long.  My aunt and uncle began to get agitated and worried.  They'd sat through many surgeries over the course of their lives, and they knew when something wasn't right.

I tried to allay their fears, to say that I imagined that the surgeon had gotten a late start.  They said, "No, Holly.  Something went wrong."

I tried to get some information, but no one knew why the surgery was taking so long.

Eventually, several hours late, we received word that the surgery was over, and the surgeon would meet with us.  We were taken to the same consultation room that I'd sat in twice for Jeff, once for my my mother.

The surgeon, a man I'd come to greatly respect over the months, entered the room.  His eyes were tired and bloodshot. 

"Your father made it okay through the surgery....but his hip broke when I was completing the replacement."  He gave us the rest of the details about his care.  I thanked him for his labor on behalf of both of my parents.

I helped my aunt and uncle find their way out of the hospital, called my mother to let her know that things did not go quite as expected, called my children to see how they were doing, called my brother and sister who were enroute and would be arriving later that evening.

I collected my things and my dad's bags and took them to the room he would be moved to once he was out of surgery.  By now, I knew the joint replacement floor really well.  I knew the nurses and they knew me.  They were getting a little sick of seeing us, I think.  :)

I waited in the dusk for Dad to arrive.

Once the nurses had wheeled him in and left the room, he slowly opened his eyes and called my name.  I wasn't sure if he was coherent or not.

What he was, was thirsty.  He'd not had anything to drink for almost 24 hours.

I leaned close, waiting for words of love.

Instead, Dad's first words post-surgery were:


He'd survived surgery, he'd survive this too, somehow.  I dug thru dad's bag and pulled out the precious Bubba.  He fell back to sleep without a sip, and I sat back to wait for my brother and sister's arrival.  I was exhausted, done for.  I held his head and stroked his wrinkled face and smoothed his grisled hair, noting that he needed a haircut.  I mourned his wrapped swollen hip and the awful bruises from the iv and blood draws.
This was too much.  I'd like to tell you that I handled all of this with grace.  In fact, that's the way I originally wrote this post.  Yet as I reread it, I thought back to how it really was.  In the spirit of honesty, I have to tell you that I was angry.  I became angry with God - that after all of this, at the end of this horribly long summer, that we suffered this indignity of a broken hip. (I'm not excusing it, I'm just saying that it was there and that I had to deal with it.) How would I be able to take care of two elderly people with joint replacements that had not gone well?  How would we handle this when I had the baby?   I felt offended, as if wounded by an old friend.   I hated old age, trial, disease and infirmity.  It seemed like the series of unfortunate events, where nothing could go well.


  1. "In the spirit of honesty, I have to tell you that I was angry. I became angry with God..."

    Friend, I cannot begin to explain how your honesty is a balm to me today. I am not handling our current circumstances with grace. Not at all.

    Very different circumstances, I know. But it helps so much to know that someone else "gets" this feeling of offense. That explains it perfectly, by the way - feeling wounded by an old friend.

    Thank you for being honest, Holly.

  2. Hey Kari - thank you, my friend. I find that honesty of this stripe is difficult. I'm waiting for someone to jump on me and say "I thought you were more mature than that!" :)'s just a stopping point along the journey. It's not the end of the story, right? :) (Praise God!)

    I am praying for you and with you and your circumstances, too, Kari. I can see how difficult this has been for you. Of course I can't promise how your journey unfolds, but I can say with assurance that He will never, never leave you and that you will know Him better further down this road. THAT is His promise.

    Thanks for your patience with me in the tension...:)

    Love, Holly