Today is June 24, 2021. It is two weeks ago today that I had the second of my two surgeries within one week. The first was Sunday, June 6, an emergency appendectomy that began with a slight fever about 3:00 a.m. I took Tylenol and set the alarm for 5:30 a.m. to make asparagus strata that needed to be refrigerated for several hours. We planned on having a friend over for brunch and Marian would pick her up after playing organ at the Presbyterian church. After Marian left for church I began to have chills and was shaking so much I could hardly take my temp – it was somewhere between 101 – 103, so I took Tylenol, put on a jacket and blanket, and finally fell asleep. I left a message on Marian’s cell phone that she should come home right after church and not go to pick up our friend for brunch as planned. By noon we were on our way to the ER for my first visit ever as a patient. They confirmed what I suspected (I’d left my jewelry at home and had not eaten). By 4:00 p.m. I was having an appendectomy and the next morning was ready to go home.
All went well until Tuesday afternoon. I had taken two Tylenol at 4:00 p.m. (that was my scheduled pain med), and at 4:45 p.m. I felt like I was getting a fever. Took my temp. It was 101.2. I called the surgery clinic per instructions that had been sent home with me from the hospital, and was advised to come to the ER. I resisted going, called a nurse friend to discuss whether or not I should go to the ER, took a tepid shower – and my temp went up to 102. I took two Ibuprofen, and finally listened to Marian who said she’d rather drive me to the ER during daylight than at midnight. So off we went to the ER again.
The long and short of this second ER visit was that I had cholecystitis and needed to have my gall bladder taken out. I could not believe it, and said to the doctor, “I know I’m fat, female, fair, and more than forty, but I’m not having any abdominal pain.” I agreed to spend the night in the hospital, but wanted to wait to have surgery until I had recovered more from my 2-day-old appendectomy . The surgeon on call this time was excellent – she was willing to collaborate with me and postpone surgery. I was scheduled to be discharged Wednesday, and we had worked out a follow-up plan. Before leaving I ordered lunch (I was hungry and hadn’t eaten for 24 hours). I had salmon, steamed broccoli, and mashed potatoes. It all tasted good, and I got dressed and was ready to leave as soon as the resident came to see me. But by then I felt like I was getting a fever again, and just didn’t feel good. So I said, “Fine, you can take out my gall bladder.” Surgery was scheduled for 8:30 the next morning, Thursday, June 10.
All went well, and fortunately I had asked Marian to bring me the book I’d been reading, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, by Richard Rohr. I say fortunately, because I was wide awake that evening and spent from about 10:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. reading and thinking about how this surgery business is good preparation for death. Not that I had any feeling or premonition about dying, but the loss of control, putting my life in the hopefully competent hands of other people, and waking up with the worst cotton mouth I had ever experienced, made me realize physically what I know intellectually, that one day I will leave this body. But for now, I am just grateful for laparoscopic surgery as well as the competent and kind care I received.
However, I hope that these are the end of my trips to the ER and surgery. I am also taking the advice I give other people – just because you are sent home within 24 hours after surgery doesn’t mean your body is completely healed in 24 hours. As of today, I feel so good I can hardly believe I had two surgeries two weeks ago.
The person who probably had a worse week than I did was Marian. She made nine trips to the hospital or clinic between Sunday noon and Friday noon for either me or our friend who was two weeks post-op for a hip replacement. Marian also was taking care of Floey (our dog), herself, and anything else that needed to be done at home, plus being a bit worried about me. Today is her birthday, and she has been rewarded with her favorite dessert – schaum torte topped with vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries picked by another friend.
My experience over the past couple weeks, along with reading Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward, reminded me of a short essay I wrote several years ago for our church’s Lenten devotional booklet. Here’s part of what I wrote referencing Luke 23:46,
“Jesus crying with a loud voice said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this he breathed his last.”
Having been a nurse for 40-plus years, I have been with many people as they have breathed their last. I have also been present for a few as they have come into the world, taking their first breath. In between our first breath and our last breath is what we know as life – our human experience. There is, for me, a sacred mystery regarding both our first breath and our last breath, and I am always humbled to be a part of the end of someone’s life journey.
A quote that comes to mind for me as I think about this is by Pierre Teilhard de Chardon:
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
Jesus’ cry in today’s verse, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” reminds me that we are indeed spiritual beings that will once again be united with our Creator and Redeemer.
Dear Jesus, I am grateful that you have gone to prepare a place for us, and that you will be with us as we breathe our last breath, as well as every moment that we breathe during our life on earth. May we also commend our spirits and lives into your hands, today and when we breathe our last. Amen.