Surgery

March 25, 1992.

I got up early that morning and took Zach to his daycare provider.  She watched him in her home, and when I told her I had no idea how long the day would last, she was amazingly understanding.  She’d watched Zach since he was three months old and went back to school; he was now two and a half and as comfortable in her home as he was in our own.  She told me that it was fine, just to let her know how things went today, and to not even think twice about leaving him there as long as necessary.

I came back home and packed my mother up into the car.  The doctors had estimated her stay at the hospital would be at least a week, so she needed a suitcase with toiletries, a robe, coming home clothes and the like.  My sister joined us before we left for the hospital, she having dropped off her daughter at her mother in law’s house.  We drove to William Beaumont Hospital in an uneasy silence, the worry hanging over us.

The doctors were fairly sure at this point that we were no longer dealing with a congenital abnormality such as a malformation of my mother’s veins in her lungs, although my mother insisted to us that they were still holding that out as a possible outcome.  More likely, however, was the possibility of a tumor.  It was the only explanation that made sense considering the area of concern had changed in size.  Even so, the scans were not clear, and the doctors stated that exploratory surgery was the only way to know for sure what they were dealing with.

If the area on her scans was indeed a tumor, my mother told us on the way to the hospital, the doctors would remove a portion of it while she was on the table.  The doctors would send the sample to have tested while she was still under anesthesia; then they’d know if the mass was indeed cancerous, and if so, what type it was.  Apparently, there were many different types of cancers, and depending on which type it was would dictate how to proceed.  That would also prompt the doctors to then check her lymph nodes; if cancer was present there too, that would mean that it had spread.

None of this was conversation that we’d had the last time out, so we all understood the gravity of the situation.  I couldn’t quite understand how we’d gone from “there’s nothing there” and “we’re in the clear” to being in a seemingly much worse situation just a few months later.  My mother reasoned that it had to be because the surgery today was much more invasive; the doctors had to essentially crack several ribs to gain access to her lungs and chest cavity, and the recovery would be weeks, not hours like with the bronchoscopy.  Protocol was that you always started with the least invasive option first, but if the least invasive option isn’t foolproof, then why bother?

My sister and I walked with my mother down the hallway to the surgical check in area and stood behind her chair as she gave answers to the woman behind the computer screen.  They led her to a small room where she changed into a hospital gown and cap.   They tucked her into a gurney and asked us to say goodbye; it was time for them to take her into the surgery.

As they wheeled her down the hall, her tiny five foot one frame struck me as impossibly small and young.  She looked younger than her 52 years sitting there in her hospital garb, waving at us like a little girl.  Once she disappeared behind the doors marked “Authorized Personnel Only”, my sister and I looked silently at each other and started the long walk towards the long wait ahead.

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