In the weeks and days leading up to the surgery, Jeff had a lot of prep work to do. There were more tests and lot of insurance matters to settle. He also had to set up medical leave from his job, which I am happy to say was quite generous. Meanwhile I did my own prep work.
I knew that I would need to ask for help. I reached out to everyone I knew. I cast the net so wide; I didn’t even have the right to contact some people as I had been out of touch for so long. Despite any long lapses in contact, almost everyone responded.
On top of that, we had a lot of support from the people in our building, from our friends, to our neighbors, to the doormen. Key people knew what to expect and how to help us. We were not going into this alone. With all that support, with Jeff’s mother coming up for the surgery, and with all the prep work we had done, we were as ready as we were going to be.
Meanwhile, the surgery was scheduled for two days after Jeff’s birthday. I wanted carve out some time in which we wouldn’t have to think about cancer. I wanted him to have a night off to relax and enjoy himself. We were able to go out for a nice steak dinner right before the pre-op dietary restrictions kicked in.
As it so happened, we sat at a table next to two oncologists. So much for a cancer-free night. We did talk to them a bit and it was actually helpful. There is something about running into an oncologist in normal life setting (not in a hospital) that is comforting.
It was fun night, even with the upcoming surgery on both our minds.
On the day of the surgery, Jeff’s mother and I dropped him off at 6:30 in the morning to be prepped for the operation and then we began our wait. We expected the surgery to run four to six hours…a very long time.
We both had books. I also arranged to have friends stop by at various intervals. I knew we’d go crazy otherwise, just sitting there worried. Having people come by — not staying the whole time, just a quick visit for maybe a half hour or so — really helped. It broke up the waiting time.
I also had some knitting with me to keep me occupied. This was another thing I had planned ahead. I went to my local yarn store to get yarn to knit some chemo caps. I walked in on the verge of tears, or maybe in tears, and asked for help picking a good yarn for the hat. As it turned out, there was an oncologist there. It gets better; she went to college with my husband’s surgeon for the RPLND. They are friends and colleagues.
Once again, there is something comforting about oncologists out in “the wild.” The encounter made things seem more hopeful, less clinical, and more about life than death. On top of that, knitting is a very therapeutic hobby. In this case, it also helped me by pulling me to the right people just when I needed them most.
Finally, we got the news that surgery went well and that he was in recovery. Also, we got some good news, the preliminary pathology results were clean, which meant most likely he would not need chemo.
After a couple hours, we finally got to see him, but only for a few minutes. He was still unconscious but stable enough for us to see him. We would not be able see him again until the next day, and even then it would be limited.
The next few days, I would work from home for a couple hours in the morning while Jeff’s mother tried to relax. Then we would go see Jeff for maybe 10–15 minutes. We’d then eat lunch at the hospital and then go back up around 3 to see him again for another 10–15 minutes. That was all he could take.
Recovery was hard. The incision was big, covering half his torso. It was really long and the staples looked scary. But was clean, precise, and healing very well. He was in a lot of pain for days. When we would see him he was coherent, but very worn out. To keep the lungs healthy and to prevent pneumonia, he was woken up every hour to do the breathing exercise. He also had to get up and walk at regular intervals to help the healing process.
There were days when he felt absolutely wretched. Seeing him like that was hard. Also hard were a number of well wishers who kept asking me if they could come by the hospital to see Jeff.
I had told people ahead of time that we would not be having visitors. I explained that people who go through this surgery are in a lot of pain, really worn out, and visits put a physical strain them. It didn’t matter. I got daily calls, emails, and texts from people.
“I really want to see Jeff.”
It’s not about you. He doesn’t want to see anyone. Did I not explain this before?
I kept saying no and tried to be as calm and polite as I could.
I had to be a rigid gate keeper. I know that there are people who are still angry with me about this. However, I don’t for a minute think that I should have let people come. His mother and I were the only two people Jeff wanted to see, but even that was for short periods of time. He still couldn’t handle more than 15 minutes at a time. I wasn’t going to let anyone create undue stress.
However, most people understood and gave us the space needed. Overall, people asked what they could do and didn’t assume anything. Many others put themselves “on call” for whatever was needed. This covered everything from shopping errands, to coming by to spend time with me and Jeff’s mom in the evening, to helping with our pug.
Jeff got a little bit better each day. On his seventh day in the hospital I stayed with him in his room the whole day. We chatted off and on. I did some work from my laptop. At the end of the day, the doctor said he could be discharged the next day.
Our friend Brian had been “on call” for the assignment of helping me bring Jeff home. Brian still laughs about it, saying that he didn’t do much. In truth, he made the difference between Jeff coming out safe and sound and minor disaster. Having someone there to help with bags, with doors, hailing a cab, and helping Jeff in and out of the cab was a tremendous help.
Once home, the long recovery period began.