Saturday, February 11, 2012

6 Years Ago an Aneurysm Changed our Lives

Six Years

A Saturday morning six years ago, I was sitting on the waiting room of the ICU of a hospital. I was feeling bomb- shelled. A handful of my closest relatives had spent the night with me waiting to hear from the surgeons who began operating on my wife's brain, trying to stop a bleeding that happened the night before.

One of the surgeons had come around 3:30am to tell us that they had completed the surgery. The aneurysm causing the bleeding had been clipped. Now it was a matter of waiting to see how her brain reacted to this traumatic invasion. They had brought her to the ICU. She was hooked to a respirator, which kept her alive. Her brain was too weak and traumatized to do this alone.

The surgical team had taken a couple of bone plates from the left side of her head to allow more room for the brain to swell. She had a white bandage covering her head. She laid there, unconscious, oblivious to all the commotion of the ICU and to the angst that had flooded hearts and minds of family and friends that slowly had been informed of the tragic event.

We could visit her in groups of two for only a few minutes. She needed rest. I remember her sister, holding Jan's limp hand with a look filled with sadness and the weight of a thousand tons on her shoulders. I don't know how I looked, but she reflected my feelings. I did not really know how to feel when something like this happened to my wife!

During the day a couple of surgeons came to explain to us what was going on. They said her brain was "angry" and was reacting by seizing up. If this continued, the brain would swell, seize up, and potentially die. We had to wait for 72 hours to see whether her brain would stabilize. If her brain died, Jan's body could continue to live thanks to the respirator, but she would be like a vegetal.

Friends continued to arrive in a steady stream during the day as well as relatives from other towns. The word had spread like a wildfire. I remember the mountains of love and support I received that day, while at the same time, I was going in a free fall inside of me.

Initially I had gone through the motions of calling the ambulance and going through ER on just adrenaline. Now, the initial shock and fear was turning into a tension. One part of me was willing to accept the comfort received from loved ones.

At the same time, another part of me was falling into a dark vortex in which I had to face dire prognosis from the surgeons; the implications of the paperwork I had to sign with the order of “do not resuscitate”, if her brain would die; the multitude of questions about this tragic event. I could not reconcile what I knew about a loving God with this incredible pain that was swelling somewhere in my core. I needed to find an explanation that would tell me why this was happening to my wife. Why her? Why now? Why didn't this God stop this from happening?

Our life together was collapsing in front of me and I could not do anything. I was having the equivalent to an emotional aneurysm. Many people told me many things. I am sure many of those words were very wise. However, blinded by pain I was unable to remember most of them. I can only remember their faces full of concern and compassion. I needed them desperately, but they seemed to be standing on the other side of thick glass wall. The only comment I remember is what Jan's dad told me "keep things in perspective". I didn't know then what he meant. Years later, his wise advice sank in.

My spiritual mentor arrived during the night. She didn't say much, rather, she walked alongside in silence while I paced in that ICU corridor. We walked shoulder to shoulder for hours. She did her work without words. Occasionally she touched my shoulder gently to let me know that she was still there. I cried bitterly in silence. Eventually, I was able to get a sense of comfort and companionship. In my darkness and desperation, I needed a light, a rock to regain my footing. Deep inside, I heard a soft but convincing voice, assuring me that I was not alone

Six years ago, my life changed forever. It had changed several times before, but not as dramatically and painfully as this time.

In hindsight, I can see that six years ago I began my graduate work in relationships. That day I began to clarify who I was and what was my purpose in life. I knew I was starting a long and difficult road in which I had to trade logic and strategy as essential tools in life for compassion, patience and totally new understanding of integrity: being one with my words and commitments.

After all, five months earlier I had told this unconscious woman in the ICU that I would love her in health and sickness... and now the opportunity to prove it to her was in front of me.

Six years ago, I began a path that has taught me how far human love can go.

I am grateful.