Yesterday morning, I helped my husband slide his wedding band off his finger and I slipped it onto my left thumb for safekeeping. I gave him one last kiss before he was wheeled down the hall and out my reach. It was a simple surgery. Brief. Yet my hand trembled as it placed his belongings in a locker and secured them with the twist of a key. A tear made its way down my cheek when I slapped my fist against the plate to open the door to the waiting room.
The waiting room.
The stone-trimmed walls and bistro complete with a Starbucks put a cheery spin on what it really was – a powerless limbo. A place where the minutes ticking by water the fears. The uncertainties growing taller while the rational mind hold hands with the worries and mutters platitudes interspersed with statistics and chances.
I kept glancing at his ring on my thumb, the sight both comforting and alarming. For some reason, it felt wrong to send him off without it, as though it was some talisman against trouble. I hoped it proved effective when worn on my hand as well.
I tried to occupy myself with people watching, filling in the stories of their lives. I listened to a college age girl talking to her grandmother. The younger one had faced years of surgeries and was losing her sight. Her words spoke of wisdom and acceptance beyond her years. I saw another woman sign in for surgery, unsure who was going to pick her up or who to call with reports on her progress. I felt sad for her and wished I could provide comfort. I saw two women in their 60s who take turns nursing each other through the ailments of advancing age. The one facing surgery that day seemed matter of fact about the ordeal.
But mostly, I saw people like me. People who were waiting for the call that their loved one fell on the right side of the statistics and awoke from anesthesia without complications. People who felt powerless and impotent while their loved one was kept away. People who tried to hide their unease with small talk and pinched smiles, while distracting themselves from the wait.
It took me a moment to realize that the receptionist was talking to me. She had called out my husband’s last name. The name I never assumed.
She ushered me into a private room, “The doctor would like to come speak with you.”
I fervently swatted away the fear that swarmed my brain at being taken into a private room. I assured myself that the timing was perfect for the surgery to have concluded without error. And the news was good. I even laughed with the doctor as we talked about martial arts and the traits of those who practice.
And the wait continued as he was sewn up and prompted to breath again on his own. I had just settled into a book when my phone trilled an incoming call.
“Is this Lisa? I’m the nurse who’s taking care of your husband. I just had to give you a call. Just as he was waking up, his first words were, ‘I love my wife so much. We’re two peas in a pod.'”
The smile that swept my face that time wasn’t pinched by fear. It was carried wide by relief.
It’s funny, those words, “I love you,” have meant less to me after my first husband could say them and yet not mean them. Those words yesterday, the first uttered after unconsciousness, meant something. No, not something. Everything.
Half an hour later, my alarm buzzed, messaging me that I could go back and see him.
I kissed his lips, stained with blood from the intubation, and slid his ring back where it belonged.
The wait was over.