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Strength: Comes After Loss

When one is going to tell a story, you would assume they would start at the beginning. However, as I have mentioned before I have a much different recall of my beginning than most. I can’t quite remember back to when my Divine Spark obtained consciousness, but I am aware of the lifetimes I had after that. For this story though I would like to look at part of my journey in this lifetime. I would like to recount what it was like to go to bed one night thinking I would be picking my husband up from the hospital, after surgical recovery, the next day to having to plan a funeral.

On October 4th, 2011 in the wee hours of the morning I drove my 36-year-old husband to the hospital for knee replacement surgery. A common, simple, surgery that we had no fear of complications from given my husband’s incredible health and age at the time of the surgery. My husband had undergone several surgeries in the past and always came out of them like a champ and we expected this time to be no different. We were looking forward to him recovering and reducing his chronic pain from the bone-on-bone impact he had in his knee. In fact, in two weeks his father was going to have a double knee replacement back East where my husband called home.

As we sat in the pre-op room waiting to speak with the surgical team, we spoke about my son’s upcoming soccer tournament, parent teacher conferences, what to expect with the in-home physical therapy, and bringing the kids to visit him after he was out of recovery. First, we spoke with the nurses who prepped him with I.V. lines and saline, taking all his vitals, and making sure he understood why he was there. Then in came the anesthesiologist to discuss how he was going to be involved before, during and after the surgery. Finally, came in the surgeon to review the plan of action, course of care, and to mark the correct knee for surgery. If I hadn’t already been through multiple surgeries with him in the past I would have been overwhelmed, but I was at peace with his decision to do this to end his pain from working on his feet all these years.

Just before they wheeled him off the nurse reminded me to give him a kiss for luck, which shows how comfortable we were about the procedure. As we knew we would see each other again soon. I picked up his stuff and put it all in the hospital bag and locked it in the locker he was given and I went home to wait for our kids to get home from school. The surgery was going to take at least two hours and there was no sense in waiting around when the kids were going to want to see him once he was in recovery. I went home and a few hours later I got a call that he was in recovery and the surgery went well.

It was at least 2 more hours before my husband texted me to tell me he wasn’t feeling the greatest and it would be best if I waited until tomorrow to bring the kids to see him. I agreed once they got home from school we would be right over. As the night rolled on however my husband kept texting me something felt off, he felt sick, and the pain in his leg was really bad. He had spiked a fever and could not get up to make it to the bathroom. I continued to support him and assure him he needed to talk to his nurses and reach out to his doctors for other pain management options. Eventually, he told me to get some sleep and we would talk in the morning.

The next morning when we spoke, he told me they had him up trying to walk and he fell twice. He still had a fever and his pain was quite unbearable. They were supposed to be calling in his old neurosurgeon to look at the epidural placement to see if there had been an issue during surgery that could be causing the fever or pain. Later in the day he told me he really hadn’t been eating because of how sick the pain was making him. I asked what the neurosurgeon had said and he explained that according to him everything appeared to be okay from his point of view. There was no spinal infection that he could see.

I took three of our four kids by to see him that evening, the fourth one talked to him by phone because he had football. The kids talked to him, watched a movie with him, and when we saw he was drifting in and out of sleep we left. However, not long after he let me know the pain was an issue again and they were pulling the epidural and going to try oral medications for the pain management. Perhaps I should have been more on top of this, perhaps I should have been the advocate for him but he assured me that he was handling it and I had the four kids to worry about, he would handle his end.

The next morning, I was hoping for better news but again I heard about a fever with no cause, and his pain being unmanageable. He told me the doctor was supposed to be putting him on a pain pump for management but they were waiting for the orders and to find a machine that was available. He asked for me to bring the kids after I went to the parent teacher conferences that afternoon. I was only able to bring two of the four kids, our oldest had football again, our second oldest did not want to go because seeing his dad like that really upset him, so the two youngest and I headed over after grabbing some lunch.

Again, we sat and talked about this weekend’s soccer tournament, about all the good things the teachers had to say about the kids, we watched a movie and shared some graham crackers, and stayed passed the end of visited hours. My husband was still waiting for his pain pump, still in awful pain, still with a fever, and still trying to be brave for his kids, hopeful he was coming home the next day. As we said good night and walked to the elevator, I saw the nurse finally walking by with my husband’s pain pump and medicine. I texted him when we got home and asked if he was getting his pain meds and he said finally and he was feeling much better.

My heart lightened and I hoped he was on his way to better sleep and recovery. We were still trying to figure out the fever, but at least the pain meds were working. A few hours passed and my husband started texting me he felt weird. He was asking me what the side effects of Dilaudid were and if I could remember if he had ever used it before. I asked him to talk to the nurses and get a doctor and tell them what he was feeling and let me know if we needed to be concerned. “Keep me posted,” I told him. I didn’t hear anything from him after that so I assumed when I texted “Good night,” and got no answer he had fallen asleep and I would talk to him in the morning and I went to bed.

At 3:45AM I could hear my home phone ringing. I checked my cellphone on my bedside charger and saw I missed a call just a few moments earlier. Again, my cellphone rang and this time I answered it. The voice on the other end informed me it was a nurse from the hospital and stated that if I could get to the hospital it would be advised because my husband was having some trouble breathing. I threw on some clothes and rushed out the door leaving notes on the counter and back door for the kids incase they woke up. I made the 20-minute trip in what felt like 10 minutes praying the whole way, quite possibly in tears. I parked by the emergency room entrance and walked in to talk to the receptionist.

After explaining who I was she called upstairs and based on the way the call went I knew in that moment there was no need to rush… My husband was gone. I took my visitor’s pass and walked toward the elevators stopping first at the bathroom to pee and compose myself for what was coming next. Leaving the bathroom, I stepped on the elevator and head up to the floor he was on. The doors opened and there stood the chaplain only further confirming what I already knew. I walked to the unit where I had seen my husband just hours before, it was now 4:15am, and up walk’s a nurse who says, “I suppose you are here for Mike Bishop?” I thought to myself, “Yes, why? Did you call another wife at 3:30 in the morning and ask her to come down?” I responded softly, “Yes.” Quickly she retorted, “Oh, he died, I suppose you want to see him?”

It was like someone had gut punched me but, in that moment, the smart ass in me came back. “Yes, I’d like to see him to confirm he’s dead and not just trying to get out of child support. Why the hell would you ask me that?” After two nurses told me to be quieter, they walked me over to his room and I entered with the chaplain. There on the bed under the reading light he laid looking as if he were asleep. The rest of the room was empty, all the medical equipment, his roommate, the roommate’s medical equipment all gone. Just my husband, a night stand, and a chair remained. I was just about to sit with him when the nurse came in and fluffed the pillow under his head, like he was uncomfortable or something, and said “we did everything we could, but something happened with his heart,” and she left again abruptly.

The chaplain was rambling words of comfort that I dismissed, as I sat down trying to process what I was going through. I reached out and touched him wanting to feel him one last time. I recoiled quickly, but then put my full hand over his noticing he was cool to the touch. He was not warm enough to be someone who was pronounced dead just fifteen minutes earlier. Something was wrong and I went from grieving widow to CSI investigator in the blink of an eye. I took in everything in the room. I noticed the actions of the nurses on the floor as they asked me to leave the room when the coroner arrived. I took note of how his GP acted when he spoke to me. Then I watched them wheel him out of the room, head covered, after the coroner asked me what felt like two hundred questions.

I grabbed his possessions from the room. Thanked the chaplain for her kindness and went downstairs. It was then I realized I had to now deliver the news of his passing to his father and sister who had just lost my step-mother in law 11 days earlier to cancer, as well as his biological mother, and our children. I will tell you that you never know how truly strong you are until you have to be that strong.

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