At 4 o’clock this morning, I called out, “Honey!” Almost instantaneously, came a “Coming Momma!” from a 14 year old who has been elevated to heroine status for reasons that will become much clearer as I try to make a point about what coming home means. At the same time, from our den, a “Coming honey!” – my wise and worn-out husband who has experienced waiting more than anyone I know, more than anyone should. Waiting and watching for years until an aortic abdominal aneurysm grew to just the right size for the surgery that would repair it and allow him to retire. Of course, during that terrifying wait, it never occurred to me to think about how many minutes he must have spent fraught with fear, how many seconds he spent confronting his own mortality. I did, however, calculate that from the day we felt an approximation to a lump on my right breast until the day the surgeon told us the lymph nodes were clear, the cancer was “gone,” it had been 2 months and 20 days. Cancer had come to our door 1, 944 hours ago or 116,640 minutes or 6,998,400 seconds etcetera.
In the wee hours of this morning, the trio that is my family has been thrust into a scene resembling an out-take from M.A.S.H. except without the laugh track. Bleary-eyed, two thirds of my family burst into the bedroom to find me needing to lean on them so I could get out of bed, stand up, and walk to the toilet. A pathetic sight. Bedraggled, bent over, too-long tubes draining bloody stuff from three incision sites on my pale body. Otherwise a healthy 48 year old, I cannot quite fathom the extent of my dependence on my husband and my child. My desire to get out of the hospital so quickly – just three days after eight hours of surgery that included the amputation of my right breast and its reconstruction using arteries and muscle and fat from my abdomen – did not take into account that the granting of this wish would have ramifications for other people. That my gentle 14 year-old daughter (whose only preoccupation should be acne and periods and teenage boys) would choose to don rubber gloves to clean and record the color and quantity of the contents of surgical drains 1, 2, and 3, each attached by a long tube to my underarm and at either end of a large hip-to-hip incision. That my husband would have to sleep on the couch because our bed would have to be transformed to accommodate every cushion in the house – save two – to ensure I would be reclined at least 45 degrees with my feet elevated.
That I have this little family is the greatest gift. Still in a postoperative fog that I can only attribute to the vast quantities of the wonder-drug Dilaudid that coursed through my veins this past four days, I find myself spending a few weird moments thinking about E.T. wanting to phone home. Never have the letters that spell out H-O-M-E meant so much to me. As the cliche goes, home indeed is where the heart is.
Later this morning, the sound of weekly yard work wafted in, and my husband was afraid it would disturb the rest they said I so badly needed. It prompted him to share a story, the details of which have stayed with him for over 40 years. He had been working with a construction crew in Tempe, assigned to repair a water pipe. The week prior, signs had been posted in the neighborhood advising all concerned that the water pipe repair would necessitate early morning use of machinery, the noisy kind: dump-trucks and backhoes that would be operated by laborers yelling to each other as they dug up and replaced the pipe. On the day their work began, an elderly man had rushed out to confront them, arms flailing. Visibly upset, he complained that their noise was disturbing his wife who that very morning, lay in their home, dying of cancer. He begged them to stop making so much noise so she could rest. Life and its work goes on as it must, and they couldn’t stop the job. It moves me to hear this recalled as though it happened just yesterday, to know that these men paused before continuing their work on down the road. While they could not silence the machinery, they used hand signals not words to complete the job as quietly as they could.