There is no way to tell this tale without appearing melodramatic or cliché. But tell I must.
My wife, Amy, went into surgery on January 7 for the routine removal of a branchial cleft cyst under the surface of the skin, on the right side of her throat. In by seven, a tiny incision, out by eleven, they estimated. I was able to tend to the kids and work at home, a phone call away from picking her up, getting a pain prescription filled and trundling her off to home and bed, according to Plan A.
Knowing how doctors and hospitals take their own sweet time about things – which I do not mind, quite like the ground mechanics that take whatever time they need to fix my plane before takeoff – it wasn’t until two o’clock that afternoon that I began to wonder whaddup. Minutes later Amy called, sounding groggy, saying they needed to keep her for a bit longer, that there were “complications.”
Arriving just after four, and shuttled into the recovery room, Amy appeared as expected: pale, drawn and nauseous from the morphine. While they prepared and dressed her, the recovery nurse, when asked about the “complications,” said the doctor will go over that tomorrow at Amy’s follow up appointment. So far, so good. Got her home and tucked in with Lord of the Rings playing softly as she drifted back to sleep, safe and sound at home.
End of scene? Hardly. Let me introduce Plan B at this point.
As I drove to the pharmacy for the 50-pack of Vicodin, my mobile rang – it was the doctor who performed the surgery, asking how Amy was. Fine, I said, considering that someone had recently gone after her with a sharp blade. [crickets]. Ignoring my nervous one-liner, he spoke of complications, that the cyst tissue had been intertwined with that of the surface of the jugular vein. And that as he proceeded with excising the cyst, the jugular gave way. Massive loss of blood, a huge challenge, lots of excitement in the OR. Almost lost her on the table.
I’m not always so quick to process information. I was in shock, and could hear the strain in the doctor’s voice. An Ears, Nose & Throat physician and surgeon, he knew that vascular catastrophe was not his specialty. He also happened to know that, as luck would have it, there was a vascular specialist in locus at Lakewood Hospital.
Not seeing how much damage occurred – was it a split, a tear, a hole? – he opened the incision a couple more inches, suctioned all the blood away, clamped the vein and rushed the specialist into the OR, who sutured what turned out to be a hole a few millimeters wide – rather enough, in this highly pressurized vein, to create a bloodbath for those standing nearby.
Surely a tale of heroic measures taken to save my beloved wife, the mother of our two children. But the potential for an accidental and grievous loss in our family is still sinking into both of us. The ”event,” as the doctor called it, eschewing the term “complications,” has left me filled with love, with a refreshed sense of priorities, a growing mystical appreciation for prayer – both spoken by me and offered up by others on Amy’s behalf – and as an even bigger fan than I already was of the study and practice of medical science that granted these two men the skill sets that saved Amy’s exceedingly precious life.