“Excuse me, Mr. Price? You have a phone call.”
I reached for my cell. Did the battery die? Why is someone calling me on the hospital’s phone? This is odd. As I walked with the attendant towards the reception desk the room felt much larger than it had before. I notice the sign - “Surgical Waiting Room.” There’s maybe a hundred chairs, several tables scattered with magazines, and it’s packed with people. I can hear electric doors buzz open over the sounds of someone coughing. There is a large TV screen with the initials of folks in surgery along with their status- Preparing For Surgery, Surgery In Progress, Recovering.
Thinking there must be some mistake I reached for the phone. “Hello?”
“It’s nothing serious,” said the voice on the other end, “but we have to operate again. We’re taking her back now and will let you know. . .” The voice seemed to trail off.
My head is spinning. Wait, what? Did the surgeon just say internal bleeding? How did this happen? Is she okay? Can they fix it? The room feels smaller now like the walls are closing. I can’t hear all the people. I’m hot and I feel sweaty. “Excuse me,” I said as I handed the phone back, “there is a problem and they are operating again, I think I’m gong to step outside.”
The rest of the day is blur.
A few hours earlier my wife, Julia, and I had been driving towards the hospital. Despite the time of day traffic hadn’t been too bad and we arrived a little early. I stopped for coffee at the Starbucks in the lobby, teasing Julia because she couldn’t have anything before her surgery.
Surgery. We were there for a routine hysterectomy, a procedure that’s performed in the United States over 600,000 times per year. In and out, and done. One overnight stay just for observation. Why the hell are they talking about nicked bladders and internal bleeding?
This was supposed to be no big deal. Routine. Julia kept telling me. “I’ll be home in the morning.” I remember thinking how pissed she would be if she found out I snuck out of the waiting room and walked down to Hawthorne's Pizza for some lunch. I was starving and all the staff had my cell number and it was routine. I remember the pre-op holding area and the nurses and Julia’s purple socks.
I remember calling Julia’s mother. She’d kept the children the night before so that we could leave straight for the hospital that morning. I remember putting my briefcase into the truck. I remember it being cold in the parking lot. I remember sending a few emails and texts, though I can’t recall to who or for what reason. I remember walking down Elizabeth Avenue.
Now I’m back in the waiting room and it’s a strange place. Earlier that day it had been packed with people but now it was nearly empty. The TV screen with the initials and statuses now blinked mostly empty. In fact of the dozens on the screen earlier that morning only one remained, JuP73 - In Recovery.
Recovery. Finally. I don’t really know how long this all took but we’d arrived early in the morning and it was now dark.
After what seemed like an eternity I was called to her room where she was sleeping. All things considered she didn’t look too bad. Apparently her bladder had been sliced open during the first surgery and continued to bleed. All was fixed. All was fine. The bleeding was stopped laparoscopically with only two small incisions, now covered with band-aids. As we talked it became clear that the side effects of anesthesia had not worn off and I wasn’t convinced that Julia even knew I was in the room. I got the final okay from the nurses and left her to rest knowing I would be back in the morning to take her home.
Driving home I felt a sense of relief. Although it was late I drove through town and past my office to see if anyone was around. When I ran into a good friend of mine we decided to have a beer together. As I told him the story of the day I began to feel incredibly exhausted. I headed home and by the time I switched out the light I’d been awake for over 20 hours.
I didn’t need to be at the hospital until 11:00 but had set my alarm for 8:00 nonetheless. As I made a cup of coffee I realized I’d missed two phone calls during the night. The message from the first, around 1:00 AM, said that Julia had more internal bleeding and was being rushed back to the operating room for a third round of surgery. The next message, around 3:00, assured me that she was in recovery and would be transferred to the Intensive Care Unit.
I’m confused and I’m panicked and I started getting ready to run out the door but I’m not sure if this is real. I tried to run through the events from the previous day because surely these are calls from then. Surely I’m just groggy and soon I’ll be bringing Julia home. I just need to clear my head.
My phone rings. I kid y’all not I’m staring at my phone and it starts to ring.
A nurse has Julia on the line. “This is really scary. I’ve just woken up in the ICU. I’ve got a bunch of staples holding me together, I’m getting a blood transfusion and I’ve got a wound vac.”
“I’m on my way baby. It’s going to be all right.”
It wasn’t a pretty site to walk in her room- I found her lying on the bed with equipment all around her that blipped and murmured and buzzed. Tubes ran from both her arms to these machines, one of which I recognized to be a blood transfusion device. Tubes ran as well from both sides of her abdomen and bags of medicine and blood and everything else hung from racks and from the sides of the bed. Her eyes were swollen nearly shut and she looked as though she might fade out any minute.
“What’s up Buttercup?” I said. She smiled with dry lips and said, “I’m fine.” I looked at her bandages when the nurse took them off and saw the rows of staples that crossed, holding together the incisions where, during the third emergency surgery, her abdomen had been opened.
We spent the following two days in the Intensive Care Unit and the four following that in a regular room. Our friends and family rallied around us taking care of the details of our house and kids so that we didn’t have to worry about anything. Six days after it all started Julia was home. As I write this she’s in the bedroom resting. It’s going to be a much longer recovery than we had planned and I can assure you, Hell hath no fury like a restless woman confined to a recliner. But she’s alive. I’ll take that.
Through all of this I didn’t have time to get the December issue of All Right, Sally to the printer. In the end I decided not to send it out at all. In fact, as I start the second year of this newsletter I’ve decided never to publish one in the month of December. I will take December to remember what happened and to spend time with my kids, my family and with my wife. To remember how much I love them.
Originally published in the All Right, Sally Newsletter in January 2018.