It's still dark. I'm sitting at the Jack Hughston Memorial Hospital in Phenix City, Alabama. The hospitals was built recently and specializes in replacement surgeries. It's on a hill surrounded by woods.
Tears of love and fear are streaming down my cheeks. Bud, my husband of 13 years is having double knee replacement surgery. His surgeon told me he'd call on my cell phone after the two-hour operation. He also explained since Bud has a heart stent and takes medication for high blood pressure and diabetes he will be in ICU for 24 hours.
There are others around me who have loved ones facing surgery. They look tense and sad. Like me they cling to a large plastic bag with their loved ones clothes.
My watery eyes are trying to focus on Robert J. Wicks' book “Prayerfulness: Awakening to the Fullness of Life.” I just finished the chapter on “Honoring Life's Fragility” and began reading “Face Sadness Directly.” My heart is so open and my emotions so raw I must put the book down often as tears of love, gratitude and fear flow.
Wicks' book is enabling me to visualize Bud in God's hands, reach out to others and feel loved and blessed. With gentle nudges Wicks shows me how to befriend and transform my doubts, concerns and suffering into prayerfulness.
The cell phone rings. I hold my my breath. The news is good. The surgery went well. My tears flow like an open faucet. What a relief. I say a heartfelt prayer of gratitude.
A nurse tells me I can visit Bud in ICU. However I need to sleep in another hospital room tonight.
Bud's eyes are closed when I enter ICU. He looks serene. He opens his eyes briefly when he hears my voice. I take his hand and kiss him on the forehead, “How are you doing sweat heart?”
“My knees hurt,” he mumbles and goes back to sleep.
After talking to the nurse about Bud's medical history and his vital sign monitoring equipment I go for a walk in the woods. While strolling up a steep path among oak trees I look up and gasp. Four deer, two does and two fawns stand in front of me. We all freeze. My heart fills with joy. In the Native American tradition deer are a symbol of love. Unusual encounters with animals are an omen. I feel strongly Bud is being held in the arms of God. He is loved – he is love.
Although Bud had a difficult night and was in a lot of pain the physical therapist told to him to use a walker to take his first steps using his new titanium knees the following morning. Amid many groans and grimaces he stunned the physical therapist by not only performing the tasks but exceeding her expectations.
An ICU nurse came in while Bud and I were chatting. “How long have the two of you been married,” she asked smiling.
“Thirteen years!” I said proudly. Actually a total of 15.”
Her eyebrows shot up in surprise, “Really! We thought you were newly weds!” she looked at me, “You're so attentive.” Bud and I chuckled with delight.
We thought we were home free when Bud was transferred out of ICU. He began eating, walking and growing stronger. To our dismay he was back in ICU on day three.
His face was pale. “I feel dizzy and nauseas” he stammered. He almost toppled backwards when the physical therapist told him to walk. Suddenly his eyes were open but not responsive.
The nurses eyes widened in alarm. She snapped her fingers and waved her hand in front of Bud's face and yelled, “Mr. Queen look at me! Can you hear me?”
The physical therapist barked, “Mr. Queen stay with me!” His stare was blank. No response. She groaned, “He's blacked out. He's going in and out of consciousness.”
A nurses aid hit Bud's bedside alarm while we carried him back to his bed. The room filled with people as the shrill vibration of the alarm and “Code Blue” reverberated through the hospital.
Bud was rushed back to ICU. I felt faint with fear.
After a series of tests I was allowed to see Bud in ICU. He was placed back on oxygen and given a couple of pints of blood. His oxygen and hemoglobin were low. The doctors later determined his body was reacting to the pain killer Oxyconton. He was given a less potent pain killer.
Bud spent a second night in ICU. Alone in the room it felt like forever. Speaking with friends on the phone helped ease my panic. I was relieved and grateful and thanked God when Bud's health was stabilized.
A week after Bud's surgery he was cleared to go home. Tammy, a dear friend, neighbor and earth angel waited at our cabin to help Bud and me. She not only made a pot of chili but also rearranged the furniture to accommodate Bud's walker.
What I learned is that there are Earth angels everywhere. I got and gave love, support and hugs from hospital staff and the families of other patients. Facing the fragility of our lives has made me more appreciative of life's daily wealth and the moments we have together. I try to live more in the now, to love more and fear less. To practice being rather than doing. To flow with the day rather than rushing, drifting or attacking it.
Bud now calls me his angel. He is my angel. Our many love-filled, joy-filled moments are among the dearest memories of my life. He truly is my heart's companion.
He helped me learn to trust and let go of my fear of abandonment when we first met. With him good things are twice as much fun and bad things are only half as bad. With him I have someone who's understanding and supportive, who's fun and makes me laugh. He's someone I love who is also my best friend.