Thursday, January 21, 2016

Moments to Reflect - Happy Birthday to her New Back!

Today is a look-back in time kind of day, and a day to be thankful, to be hopeful, and to reflect on the long road travelled and a long road ahead. Most of you know me here as a writer, as a speculative fiction fan, and as an audiovisual professional. Last year around this time I allowed myself the indulgence of discussing family in this space, specifically a very serious and major back surgery my lovely wife, Karine, needed to correct was was at the time an over 60 degree curve in her spine. Many of you helped us with donations to a crowdfunding page to help us defray the cost of her recovery and the months we knew she'd spend not working. Many more have - and continue - to offer well-wishes. We thank you and appreciate it. Today marks exactly one year since the big event. As I write this we are exactly twelve months removed from our arrival at the hospital for what would be over nine hours on the operating table.

Today she says "Happy Birthday to her back!" and looks back to a time when walking for five minutes was an accomplishement. The struggle isn't over, but we're on the path together. Today she's not back to what you or I would see as normal, but can already do so much more than she could a year ago.

The Story - Abridged
The day of had a surreal quality as it happens which it retains in my mind. It's a thing which is serious and frightening and important, but also something about which we as family members can't do all that much. As an AV person, of course, I noticed that the digital signage TVs were running video on a windows application which had frozen with a Windows update dialog box. Was this an ill-omen? A metaphor? A sign that my mind, in anxiety over the event, was fixated on the familiar? Some combination?
Signage Failure!

That day represented hours of work for the surgical team, hours of unconciousness for Karine, and hours of waiting for the rest of us. So we waited. We stepped out for lunch. I read an entire novel from cover to cover (John Scalzi's Lock-In for those who are for some reason curious. A terrific book but, as it deals with a mysterious and strange illness, is perhaps not the best choice to read in a hospital waiting room. But I digress).  We waited.

Reading and waiting.
And waiting. 
And we saw her briefly in the recovery room, then waited some more. And more. I'll hold private most of the details of the next days as this is more her story to tell than mine, save to say that it was nine days in the ICU before we moved to a recovery room. Then, quite suddenly, in-patient rehab was denied by the insurance company and, in an eyeblink, I was on my way to the city for the long trip home. (This was a joyous disaster. Joyous because the ordeal in the hospital was over. A disaster because it was frightening and painful. She was still getting used the the changes in her body, was barely recovered, and the long drive home was, quite simply, agonizing. Of the many painful memories, the feeling of helplessness as I drove and she suffered in the passenger seat remains in the forefront). And, in an almost too-neat closure of the above signs and portents, the day I picked her up was the very first day that damn digital sign in the lobby was actually working. Yes, it took over a week for someone to notice and click "OK" on the windows dialog box.

And then began the long year.

It Takes a Village - In which I give thanks
I've already thanked my friends - in the audiovisual community and elsewhere - for your contributions and support. The process also served as a reminder that we're not alone. January of 2015 was a tough time to do this; it was a bitterly cold winter featuring at least one dreadful blizzard. Travel to and from the hospital was a challenge, as was the rest of life. Until her trip home, Karine was likely the least affected by this: in the ICU room she didn't even have a window to the storm outside. Some heroes of the week:

Our new neighbors. For shovelling what looked like a solid foot of snow from our driveway and front walk. This was not asked for, not expected. It was appreciated and helped cement the feeling that, in moving out to Long Island, we'd stumbled into a community.

Thanks, Neighbors!
Marc and Alexa Suskin (and kids!).  Karine's brother and his family for housing our children through the snow days along with their three children in a Brooklyn apartment nowhere nearly large enough for quite so many people. The kids had a great time with distractions such as homemade "icecream" made with newly fallen snow from their balcony.

Malou Suskin - Karine's mother. For holding down the fort when the kids had to return home. She also earns a civilian "Purple Heart" for slipping on the ice and managing to break her shoulder in an attempt to set out the trash cans. Thankfully she is well-recovered from that injury as well.

This is, perhaps, what we expected and should expect, but the surgery was a starting point rather than an endpoint.

  • It wasn't over after the surgery
  • It wasn't over after leaving the ICU
  • It wasn't over after returning from the hospital.
  • It wasn't over after the end of physical therapy.
  • It isn't over today.

One thing that the surgery and its aftermath highlight to me is just how interconnected a human body is; The surgery didn't merely straighten her back. It tore and rearranged muscles, it effected her shoulders, legs, hips, etc. Those things too took time to heal, as much as the actual back. And today, in body, she is changed.
  • She has perfect posture, as if there's a straight metal bar in her back. Because there is (two metal bars, in fact).

  • She stands nearly two inches taller than she did before.
  • Her clothes hang differently on her.
  • The way she moves has changed.

Inside, beneath all of that, she's still the same woman with whom I fell in love. My heart sings to see her recovering, and weeps to see her suffering still.

It is, as I said a journey. Not a straight climb towards a better future, but two steps forward and one back. Still, we move forward and still, we get a little better, day by day, week by week.

I'll close with a cheerful story and a final thank you:

One thing that saddened us  deeply is the idea that she might never be able to hold our then three-year-old son again. He was getting bigger and she had literally months of not being able to lift anything heavy. Like a child. Last week I saw her standing with him in her arms, clinging to her with arms and legs. I didn't know that would ever again happen, and it brings a tear to my eye to see that it did. Something which could have been forever lost was not quite.

A final thank you
I am truly grateful to friends, colleagues, family, neighbors. Most of all, as I look back on the year and the decade before, there's one thought above all others. That I can walk this path and others with my lovely bride because she chose me as her partner with whom to share all of life's adventures.  The last - and deepest thanks - are to her. For having the courage to face these challenges. For pushing herself in her recovery to care for our children. And, most of all, for giving me the chance to share the journey with her.

Thank you, I love you, and I'll be there for you.