One year later and it still feels like yesterday. I’ve often heard people say that. I’ve even said it myself about inconsequential events and even some consequential ones. But I have never felt it to be more true than today.
February 26, 2019
We started our trek to the hospital before the sun had a chance to shine light on the snow-filled streets in Utah. I remember sitting in the car, bundled up, trying to come up with conversation that would somehow divert Jer from the unnerving fact that he was about to have his head sliced open and a large benign tumor removed from his brain stem. I was so preoccupied with protecting him from his own fear I hadn’t even considered my own. That would come crashing into me much later.
We parked the car ourselves, choosing to forego the hospital valet option. In hindsight I think it was a desperate attempt at buying some time. We grabbed bags and phone chargers and water bottles and shut the car door on what would be the last “normal” day we would experience for months. Jer grabbed my hand and we walked into the hospital with feigned confidence and a forced smile on our faces. We checked in, he changed clothes, we met with a team of doctors who again explained the complicated process of brain surgery and he was wheeled away. It would be around 14 hours until I would see him again.
I walked back to the waiting room where I was simultaneously relieved and full of dread to see my family. The conflict of emotions came from a very honest place. To put it plainly, I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to have to be in a situation that required me to be sitting in a hospital in a different state with my family who chose to travel miles and miles to sit with me. That alone just put a large exclamation mark on how serious the situation was. But the relief at having them there came flooding through, drowning out the dread. They knew that’s where they belonged. That’s family.
And so we sat. Occasionally I would receive a phone call from the operating room straining to hear a whispering nurse offering me updates. The first few calls sent cold anxiety rushing through my body. I didn’t want to confront the possibility of hearing anything other than “he’s doing great.” So putting phone to ear took some Herculean strength. But after several updates it became routine and I was appreciative of that. Little did I know I would soon develop all sorts of routines that would be out of place anywhere besides a hospital room.
My parents and sister tried various methods to make the waiting as bearable as possible. We laughed, we cried, we read magazines and newspapers. We watched people come and go, glancing at each other as we realized the number of of folks waiting was lessening by the minute and still we sat. Phone updates would come in, reminding me that patience was key. The surgeon we had traveled miles to see was taking his time, getting it right and never have I understood the word “faith” more than during those updates. I remember one phone call with a kind OR Nurse that will forever be imprinted on my heart. She said, “Mrs. Henricks, your husband is in the very right place at the very right time with the very right person. Please believe this.” And I did.
After 14 hours, Jer was out of surgery. He was wheeled by the waiting room in a rush on his way to the Critical Care Unit. His bed was surrounded by dozens of gowned people carrying tubes and bags and machines. We had spent over a half of a day waiting in a hospital for this moment and he was whisked by in a flash. We made our way up to the unit where Jer would spend the first few days in Critical Care and waited for the green light to see him. The emotions of the day came crashing down on me and I suddenly felt very helpless, incapable, small. But they called my name and said he was “awake” and I walked through the hospital door to what would await us for the next few months.
The rest is just details. Details of moments that will forever be etched into the building blocks of my character. Moments that changed me and changed Jer. Moments where I saw him persevere amidst the truest of adversity. Moments where I saw him pushing past limits he could never have envisioned experiencing. Moments where I saw him struggling to remember dates and numbers and words, fear and frustration shadowing his attempt at a smile. Moments of weakness for us both, only to be bolstered up again through words of support from those we love. Moments of utter raw vulnerability and faith in complete strangers who proved to be true Angels on earth.
Most importantly, I saw miracles. I witnessed immeasurable answers to prayers and heroic strength in someone who saw no other choice but to fight with all he had.
This day, one year ago, has forever changed me. And although neither one of us would have ever chosen to be put through something of this magnitude, the lessons that came from the trial are invaluable. One very wise hospital Chaplain shared with us words that we will never forget. She said, “it isn’t until your assurance in life is shaken to its very core that you can truly begin to actually live it. The blessing in the tragedy is being able to learn so early how truly precious your life is.” Truth.