The moment was almost surreal as I listened to the doctor’s words: “There are risks with this surgery…your husband can die, and we have to inform you of the possibility of brain damage.” I remained calm on the outside while the words swirled around my brain and distressed me deeply. “Please, please, please God, don’t let Paul die,” was a prayer I prayed many times over the long ten-month period as we awaited surgery in Sheffield Northern General Hospital.
There are times in our lives when we are confronted with harsh realities. We wish we could run or hide from them, but we know we can’t. The doctor’s had discovered that Paul had a 5.6cm wide aneurism on his rising aorta - the challenge regarding his health and well-being, was that the aneurism went passed the junction to the carotid artery to his brain, which was why there was a high risk of brain damage.
I remember driving Paul to the hospital on the day before his surgery. Our children, Anna and Jay, had flown in from the States to support us during the ordeal. For a fleeting moment, the thought crossed my mind, “Is this the last time the three of us will drive with Paul?” But I put that thought aside very quickly and tried to concentrate on getting through the day.
The day of surgery arrived. Fifteen hours was designated for Paul’s surgery. The surgeon said to us, “This is a big one…in fact, after a heart transplant this is the most invasive surgery we do.” I have to say his words did not comfort me. But, what distressed me most was when he told us that they placed Paul in ice and then, ‘Turned him off,’ while they replaced his aortic valve and cut out the aneurism replacing it with a whole new aortic piece. I remember Paul saying, “What do you mean by 'turn me off’?” The doctor looked at him and said, “Well, let me see…we…um.” Paul, realizing the surgeon was struggling to find the right words said, “You mean, you kill me!” The doctor smiled back at Paul and answered, “That is one way of putting it!” They were both being slightly flippant and jovial at that point, but personally I did not see the humor in the moment.
I was up most of the night before surgery and went across to Paul’s room very early the next morning. He was sleepy from the tablets he had been given the night before, but he smiled when he saw me and we held hands and prayed. He asked God to give the kids and me strength, and I asked Jesus to guide the surgeon’s hands. As they wheeled Paul to theater, I walked alongside him and then kissed him goodbye at the door. Never have I felt so alone, scared, vulnerable and broken!
My brother Geoff and his wife Karen were also there to support us through this time. We all sat and waited hour after excruciating hour. After eight-hours of agony, we got a call informing us that surgery was over and I could go and see Paul. I raced up to ICU with my brother by my side. But, when I got to the door I could not enter ICU. I was frozen…I felt sick and nauseous. Suddenly waves of memory rolled over me as I recalled the trauma of my son’s accident some five years before. You can read a portion of that story in my bloghttp://www.carolaalexander.com/new-blog/2014/6/25/echoes-of-joy-emanate-from-our-lament-1st-july-2014 Echoes of Joy in our Lament. I gathered myself together and walked in to see Paul. I knew I had to be strong!
He was whiter than I had ever seen him before. In a moment of stupidity, I asked the nurse if she had put baby powder on Paul’s face. She smiled and said, “Do you honestly think we have nothing better to do than rub powder on our patient’s faces?” I felt really silly!
I sat beside Paul’s bed and tears rolled down my cheeks…I couldn’t stop crying. He looked so weak and sick, lying there with a breathing tube down his throat. The nurse looked at me and said, “You have never been in an ICU ward before have you?” I replied that I had sat in Trauma ICU for 28 days with my son, but I was not alone because Paul and I went through that crisis together. I was going through this crisis in a different way! My children were an incredible support and comfort to me, but there is nothing as lonely as journeying through a crisis without your spouse.
Eight days later, and after some complications, Paul was released from the hospital. He was weak, frail, scarred and vulnerable. But, he was alive! I saw beauty in a way I had not seen it before. Beneath the ugly, painful scar was beauty. Paul was alive. His body would bear scars forever, but beneath the wrapping of pain and brokenness was beauty. The beauty of another day to live with him, the chance to see another sunrise together and enjoy the world God had created. We could dream of grandchildren and many more years to live together and serve Jesus. What an incredible gift, rare beauty!
That was seven years ago today! I don’t take life for granted. Every single day is a gift for me - an amazing gift to live with the man I have loved since I was sixteen years old. I never get tired of saying, "Thank you!" to Jesus for sparing his life.
We can look for beauty in all the wrong places. But sometimes beauty can surprise us because it is wrapped in a way that we could never anticipate. We love beautiful wrappings, but many times what lies beneath the wrapping is not beautiful at all. However, beneath the sometimes-ugly layers of pain and brokenness you discover pure, unadulterated beauty!
As human beings we can sometimes be fickle. I always think how sad it is when a person gets tired of their spouse because their body is no longer youthful and their face is lined with age. They discard their spouse in search of youth, beauty and excitement. If only they would peel back the layers, the wrapping, and discover the depth of beauty in that aged body - the person that stood with them through the agonizing, challenging and joyful years of life. But they look for beauty elsewhere, and often find that beneath the beautiful new wrapping is something significantly inferior in worth to what they had before!
Every day is a surprise for the two of us. I live with constant gratitude that God gave me my son and my husband back. Paul lives with a deep sense of joy that he is alive and can see his children and grandchildren grow into incredible human beings. Paul and Jay both bear scars, but they are beautiful to me.
I now see beauty in places I never did before. I find beauty in some of the oldest and most weathered faces! I see the immense beauty in my family, with all their scars and imperfections they are simply beautiful. And every day, snow, rain or sunshine, I rise and say, “Another beautiful day! Thank you Jesus!"