I’ve been back and forth on how to approach this concluding post. The story doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a proper ‘ending’ since there’s a lot we both continue to feel unfinished about. But I think I’ll approach it by covering the first few days after surgery, then summarize some current thoughts being processed on the whole thing.
The day after surgery…
I was clingy. And emotional. But circumstances didn’t allow time together (family, friends, doctors and nurses- in and out all day), and when we did get twenty minutes alone, I cried the whole time. It was confusing. Honestly, we were both depressed and tired. Part of the reasons why were obvious. But as the days passed after surgery, part of it also had to do with the patients in the rooms next door. I think when the spotlight and pressure was taken off our situation, we felt the weight of suffering around us like we never had before. We almost immediately started wondering why us? Nate was the only patient (ever) on the unit that didn’t end up receiving a transplant. And the day Nate was discharged, a man a few doors down was dying.
I remember wanting to leave the hospital, but not wanting to leave the hospital (this was actually the start of my complete inability-to-gauge-my-feelings-in-order-to-make-decisions phase that lasted for months). I felt an intense attachment to our nurses and doctors – a definitive bond that had formed in the crisis. Wrapped up in that was my odd attachment [in general] to life in a hospital. It was safe, the routine predictable, and everything peripheral was irrelevant.
Nate…well he didn’t necessarily share in my hospital dependency, and was [understandably] impatient to return to life in the world. After three or four days of recovery, we were given the okay to leave. He got his last push of the strong stuff through his IV, and Nate, Allison, and I walked out the lobby doors.
We drove straight to Walgreens to pick up more pain medication. I’ll never forget how strange it felt standing at the pharmacy counter thinking that these people had no idea what we’d just been through. I had to suppress a laugh when the pharmacist asked Nate if he knew what to expect from the meds, how to take them, and how often.
After Walgreens, and after weeks of living in a fishbowl, we went into hiding in Pendleton, Indiana – thanks to the generous hospitality of extended family members, the Bollings. But man, those few days were rough. Nate woke up that first morning looking like he’d spent all night working at losing ten pounds (because he did – lose ten pounds).
In addition to the drop in weight and sunken eyes, we re-enter withdrawal to the story (oh how I wish we didn’t have to). It was bad. He had a hard time distracting himself from the pain and the side effects, but we managed a few shuffles outside (and more homemade food brought over by the amazing Leah Heuer and her dad, Dave).
We eventually made our way back to Fort Wayne, then Phoenix, and Nate slowly (emphasis on slowly) started to heal. His “zipper” was removed, and he pushed himself pretty hard, never wanting anyone to worry over him. Truth be told, though, it took months for him to regain energy. There were days, even in October, when he needed two naps a day just to get through it. But ever true to form, he never complained. People ask all the time how he’s doing now, and half the time I never know what to say because he doesn’t complain! I can tell you that digesting food isn’t his most favorite thing to do ever, and he still has to be careful about what he eats…
A sequence of emotions ran its course throughout the fall, mostly connected to thoughts on God, life, expectations, etc. None of them really seemed to match those of family and friends around us (or the circumstances for that matter), which was sometimes confusing. The almost immediate transition to Fuller and grad school fused with the expectations of how we thought we should be feeling, what we should have learned, how life should be changed dramatically (but it wasn’t, or it didn’t feel like it had), meant that things in the Pelz apartment were tense. Rather than expressing love more intentionally or feeling like a more solidified team, we were depressed and argumentative.
So of course to remedy this we took an 18 day trip to Europe with crazy amounts of concentrated time together. Okay, not really. We did go to Europe, but it was because the day Nate came out of surgery, I very clearly remember him saying, “We’re celebrating! Name the place and I’ll take you there!” Granted, he was highly medicated at the time, but it was still a great idea– never mind that by December, only six months post surgery, we ventured out on one of the most physically challenging vacations possible (kind of). Heavy backpacks and miles and miles of walking through big cities? Didn’t matter. We were going to see this through.
Honestly, somewhere along the way, things just clicked back into place. I remember us squeezing into the tiniest elevator I’ve ever been on in Barcelona, looking at Nate (from two inches away), and thinking that we were okay. Stresses had balanced, expectations had been laid to rest, and we’d made our way back to a similar page. And whether we realized it or not, we were a more solidified team after all this – how could we not be?
Anger was part of the sequence of emotions felt in those six months after surgery – some confusion about the sovereignty of God, and fear about death. There were many sleepless nights, millions of questions with no answers, and finally…I just let it go. I can’t begin to explain the mystery of what happened here, how God chose to work, how prayer played into it, and why (always I wrestle with the why). But I’m grateful. While I never really had the high highs of celebrating Nate’s healing, there were moments when I’d look at him and really notice him – during ordinary things. And I’d feel a rush of gratitude in remembering the hospital and what almost happened.
But more importantly in my opinion, in a time when I could hardly get dressed in the morning or put two coherent thoughts together, a community of people (mostly unseen) stepped in and made me feel like I wasn’t alone, and that all was not lost.
As I’ve written this story, and reflected on the events of this last year, love seems to be the theme running throughout. Every card, email, prayer, visit, thought, gift – hundreds of people from all over the world, from different chapters of our lives, who didn’t know each other or maybe didn’t all like each other – together got us through this. What an honor and what a blessing to have been on the receiving end of so. much. love. It moves me and humbles me, and makes me think the why I keep asking for doesn’t really matter.
Life and God…more mysterious than ever.
But we (all of us) move forward, and we do the best we can. We live and we love together and we affirm the doubt and confusion as part of being human; as part of coming to terms with the mystery that is faith in a God who doesn’t always make sense.