Sunday, May 17, 2009

Under the knife

A little over eight months ago, on September 1, Larry and I found ourselves in the hallway of New York Presbyterian Hospital, around 4:00 in the morning, meeting the surgeon who would be stablizing Nicole's neck. He looked so young, yet he was so confident and serious. He explained to us that the surgery was necessary, as her injuries were life threatening. But he also explained to us the risks of surgery--that she would be paralyzed for life, that she may not talk again as it was so close to her vocal cords, and if she did talk, she most likely would not sound the same. Also there were the risks associated with anesthesia, etc., etc., etc. Then he asked us to sign the papers that allowed him to do the surgery.

We basically had no choice. She had crushed her C5 and C6 vertebrae, and they were pressing on her spinal cord, which was already badly damaged. Surgery would take place at 6:30am--in just over two hours.

We asked Dr. Angevine to do his best, said a prayer, and went to the waiting room where we sat, in shock, as they wheeled Nicole into surgery for the next ten hours. Around 8am we left the hospital, making sure the nurses all had our cell phone numbers. We ate breakfast in a little Dominican cafe, which was interesting and tastey. We walked around the area, Washington Heights, which was good, because it became our "home" for the next month. We went in a wonderful little chapel in a basement of the "old" New York Presbyterian hospital across the street from where Nicole was staying, and we just sat in silence, thinking, praying and doing a little crying. I remember sitting in a little courtyard outside the chapel, talking to Josh, who couldn't get a plane out of Jackson due to the hurricane that never materialized. He was a basket case, so I spent my time on the phone calming him down, when my own mind was reeling. Larry and I walked down the block to a Starbucks and tried to get an internet connection for awhile, then we walked through the children's hospital lobby--a bright and cheery place--when my phone finally rang. It was Dr. A, telling us all had gone well and that Nicole was in recovery. We made our way back to the hospital just as they brought her back to her room. She was in a drug-induced coma for the afternoon and evening, so all was quiet. Just the steady beeping of the many machines she was hooked up to.

A week and a half later, on September 11, it was time for the second surgery, on her lower back. By then Josh had been by her side each night, and on the day of her surgery, we all shared a cup of coffee before Josh headed back to our room to sleep. We jokingly asked Dr. A if he had eaten his Wheaties that morning, and he assured us he had. The surgery was to last 9-11 hours, and several of the nurses encouraged us to get out of the hospital. One nurse in particular, Dorothy, reminded us that we would not be allowed in the operating room, we couldn't help the doctors, and that we'd most likely go stir crazy if we sat around all day. She told us to "give her up to God," get a cab and go to Central Park. After all, it was a beautiful fall day in New York. But we dared not venture that far away. Instead, we explored "our" neighborhood again, eating in our same little Dominican cafe, and I ended up having a manicure and pedicure--the best I've ever had--for $25! We walked around a little park near the hospital, visited the chapel again, and once again, were back in Starbucks when we got the call that Nic was in recovery. Again, another successful surgery!

Tomorrow, she goes under the knife again. It's not a matter of life and death this time, and it won't make a difference on whether she walks or not. But to Nicole, it's just as important. She'll go under general anesthesia at River Oaks Hospital to have plastic surgery which will reduce the size of her trach scar on her neck, the surgical scar and peg (feeding) tube scar on her belly, and the scar from the laceration on her back. She doesn't mind the scars that go up and down her neck and back, like zippers. They are "clean" scars and actually pretty cool. For us all, those scars represent what she's been through and are beautiful because they mean she's alive! But the other ones, particularly the trach scar, are so "in your face." The trach scar tissue is still attached to her trachea, so it moves up and down when she talks or swallows. Our friend and neighbor, Dr. Dev Mani-Sundaram, will be performing the surgery.

Larry and I will most likely hang in at the hospital for her surgery. I'll take my laptop to keep me busy. I can't help but feel a bit anxious--after all, it is surgery, and Nicole has a history of "coding" after surgeries. But I know she'll be in capable hands and that God will be watching over both her and the surgeon and his medical team.

This will be yet another step in the healing process for Nicole. She's come so far and is so brave to endure all she has had to endure. While I'm a little anxious, she's excited and ready!

Blessings to all who read this!

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