I say the following statement most ardently: “Surgery” and “waiting room” are two phrases that I would love to never use again. If I never had to wait in a room while Patrick had surgery, it would be too soon. Alas, as I write this, Patrick is back in surgery. And I’m waiting for him to be returned to me.
Every waiting room in every hospital is the same. Holding cell. Coffee Station. Uncomfortable couches. A sharp, antibacterial quality in the air that makes your skin feel dry. Buzzing TVs blaring one terribly depressing/horrifying news story after another. People sitting in restless, anxious, half-sleep, that only occurs when worry is coupled with severe exhaustion. Later. Rinse. Repeat.
Sitting here, I can’t help but think back on the surgeries that Patrick has already endured. I see flashes of the 6 hours I spent in the hospital chapel, while doctor’s performed a high-risk “craniotomy”, which prevented the pressure in Patrick’s brain from killing him. A week later, he had surgery to reconstruct his shattered distill femur and patella. I remember his first cranioplasty, where like something totally sci-fi, the doctors constructed an implant from a CT of his skull, cut open his head, exposed his brain, and put the implant in! (vat es dis?) And I recall his 2nd craniotomy, where the plate had to come out due to infection, leaving him with an unprotected brain, and forcing him to wear a helmet for the past year. Whew. It’s hard to believe that we have any steam left in the engine to begin another process of reconstructive surgery. But somehow, we chug on.
Today Patrick is having “tissue-expansion surgery”. The surgeon will place two silicon implants under his scalp, with a port at the end of each of them. Over the next 5 weeks, we will make the hour drive to her office, where she will inject saline into the ports, causing them to expand. This will allow Patrick to grow new skin, which is necessary, because due to the severity of his previous infection, the doctors had to cut away a lot of infected skin. This left him with a potential “skin deficit” for pursuing a 2nd “cranioplasty”. Once enough skin is grown, the neurosurgeon will go in, remove the expanders, put in another CT designed implant, and use the extra skin to close things up nicely. Which means that for the next two months, these implants, which henceforth we shall lovingly call “Frank” and “Stein,” will be taking up residency with us.
It’s hard to believe that it has taken us 8 months to get here. Ready for some medical jargon/procedures to blow ya mind? Here we go. So, the first plastic surgeon we saw wanted to do expanders and then a titanium mesh implant with no brain cement. I asked if we could hold off until Patrick got some professional physical therapy before having surgery again, (a question that wouldn’t have otherwise been asked), and the doctor agreed. In January we went back, but at that point, the plastic surgeon didn’t want to do expanders anymore. He also didn’t think he needed a neurosurgeon to assist him. We got a second opinion, and were advised that going to a plastic surgery for cranioplasty was like going to a carpenter when what is needed is a table maker. We were referred to Cooper Hospital an hour west of us. It took us 6 weeks to get an appointment. The neurosurgeon advised against titanium mesh because due to its abrasive nature, it breaks down the skin over a period of years. He referred us to plastics. Another 6 week wait. Plastics consulted with Nuero and were on the fence about tissue expansion as well, but decided to err on the side of caution. They booked a surgery for the first date they had open.. another 6 weeks out. Then, on the eve of the surgery, they had to cancel because the “niche” expanders didn’t come in. We could’ve used the ones they had in their supplies, but we said um, hell no to that idea. So they rescheduled it for.. two weeks later. Which brings us to today: two months of expansions before we can have the final cranioplasty, and then months of healing after its done. It’s exhausting to write it all, and it’s just a tiny piece of what we deal with every day.
It’s hard to believe that at 18 months post we are still dealing with the initial injury. We are both so eager to get this done and over with, to be freed of the helmet, and to move forward. Patrick is very tired of hospitals and so am I.
Back in pre-op, I felt a rush of wonder fall over me, watching Patrick’s bright and vivid eyes dart around the room as he met the team who would be working with him. He smiled, shook their hands, laughed, made them laugh, and immediately put them under his charismatic, totally lovable spell. I helped him get into his gown, stealing kisses in between donning his blue cap, and putting on his “grabby socks.” He held my hand as the team went over the procedure, the post-surgery care, and the risks.
And then as they were about to take him away, he turned to me and said “….my home is in your heart.” And I just about lost it. They started to wheel him away and I felt the tears coming to the surface, but bit down hard. I kept a strong smile on my face until our hands touching were only fingers brushing, and then finally we had to let go. I got weepy only for a second, before pulling it back together. Surgery always makes me cry, but I am stronger today than I was a year ago.
Of course I am scared about the unknown. We’ve never been here before. My main goal is just to keep this wound CLEAN, prevent any and ALL infection, and keep my man out of pain. We’ll be taking it easy. Watching movies for a few days. Counting our blessings. Getting to know Frank and Stein. We hope they are friends to Team Patrick, and not foes. In any case, thanks for all your prayers, healing vibes, light and love. If you’d like to leave a message for Patrick below, I’ll have him read them when he wakes up…