Today is the day we finally arrive at surgery.
Four weeks of ups and downs (more downs than ups), all led to this moment, this conversation with Dr. Vianna. We had just gotten back to the room after my lamenting in Barnes & Noble, when he walked in and said “no transplant.” I think he said a lot of other things too, but I mainly remember him explaining that he wanted to go in and get a better look and feel, and attempt to re-sect the tumor without taking as much intestine as originally thought. OR he might be able to remove enough of the tumor that Nate wouldn’t need a transplant for another twenty years. And worst case scenario, they get in there, find there’s nothing they can do, close him up, and add him to the donor list as previously planned.
He said that if it were his belly, that’s what he’d want done.
We told a few jokes, he left the room, and we….were….speechless. Major swing of the emotional pendulum. Nate called his mom and immediately broke down.
Two hours later, the head of the entire transplant unit, Dr. Tector, came walking in our room- the legend we’d not yet seen in real life, but had heard so much about. He’s pretty much another superhero, and as I looked up at him standing on his very high pedestal (that I self-imposed), my mind went blank and I stuttered through several sentences before just letting him do the talking.
He gave answers to why all the waiting, including that for the last several weeks he’d been collaborating with many people from all over the world- Denmark, Egypt, Brazil, etc., and would be joining Dr. Vianna in surgery due to the complexity of the tumor. He told us he was going to do everything he possibly could to save Nate’s small intestine, and that he was hoping to bump some things in his schedule so they could get underway tomorrow (Wednesday)! He left the room, made some calls, but had to schedule the surgery for Thursday, the 17th — his preferred operating room wasn’t available until then, and he wanted the conditions to be to his exact liking (fine by us).
I was freaking out! But Dr. Tector wanted to talk life, and family, and irresponsible teenagers like it was the most normal thing in the world following conversation of a life-saving surgery. He gave us a thumbs up and walked out of the room.
We were elated, numb, crying, laughing, exhausted – all at once.
And people (you) were praying. We’d asked for a fourth option, for a “miracle,” for something to materialize that didn’t involve transplant, & here we were looking right at it.
Nate would argue the next day in the hospital was his worst yet. And had I not seen the critical days and nights in Phoenix (that he doesn’t remember), I’d probably agree. Prep for surgery was miserable. It meant no food, drinking gallons of something meant to clean him out, enemas (hope it’s okay I’m telling the world, Nate), and being marked for an ostomy bag.
Dr.’s were prepping us, trying to keep us realistic about the outcome not being certain, and that he may very well still need a transplant due to tumor/intestinal difficulties. Surgery was set for 9 the next morning, and sleeping was near impossible. Nate’s stomach was so full and uncomfortable, and I was practically jumping out of my skin. I crawled into his hospital bed with him that night (as I did most nights), and we tried to get a few hours sleep before the nurses came to get him.
Around 6am, Nurse Carey and Nurse Janel apologetically arrived early to take Nate for surgery prep. It was a confusing rush of adrenaline, phone calls, and movement down to pre-op. Our families, including Adam and Al, rushed to the hospital, met us in pre-op, and we prayed over him one last time before he was taken for surgery. I was given a sticker to wear (with Dr. Vianna & Dr. Tector’s names on it), a pager, and told the operating room was booked for 4 hours – but not to be alarmed if it took longer.
At this point, I was experiencing this weird sense of floating. My head was in a cloud and I had no sense of what I was thinking/feeling. I do, however, remember walking to Barnes & Noble with Adam and Al at the start of surgery, expressing my disbelief that the outcome of our lives was being decided in the next few hours. But there was no real conceptualizing its gravity – they were just words being said.
I remember my cousin, Travis. He came to the hospital that day and sat near me in the waiting room with a book. I remember leaning against his chair, and every so often feeling him squeeze my shoulder, communicating that he was there, and that everything was going to be okay. Whether he knew it was a big deal or not, I feel forever connected to him for being by my side that day, reassuring me.
Many people drove down from Fort Wayne to sit with our families in the waiting room. Wonderful friends and family (I love you guys) – all sitting with their own thoughts, voicing internal prayers, keeping each other company.
My pager went off and oh, the nervous stomach (I’m even feeling it now as I type this). Expecting an update from an OR nurse, I was surprised to see Dr. Vianna at the front desk of the waiting room. He asked me, Dave, and Margie to come into a little side room with him, and after walking in, Dr. Vianna, in all his presence and with his amazing Brazilian accent, said the words:
“It’s all done. He’s fine. I told you I would fix him.”
Truth be told, my eyes just filled up as I typed that. I still can’t believe it sometimes.
I’ll write about our reactions in that moment and what happened next tomorrow…