“The nurse should be here soon.”
She could not have been more than 19 or 20 years old, staring back at me with a pale look on her face. She was of dark complexion normally, but now white as a ghost.
“We don’t have time to wait. It’s going to leak all over the wound. We can’t wait for that to happen.”
I am hoping to snap the young nurse-in-training back into reality, as I stand there with a mass of gauze on top of my wife’s ileostomy, preventing it from leaking all over her open wound, a wound so large it took up most of her abdomen. When I first saw it after surgery, I had to look away. I had never seen such a large, open wound. I cried that night, and asked God to get my wife through this somehow. Now it was months later, and the wound had made little progress because of the ileostomy that was created as a result of vascular disease. It forced surgeons to cut away about half of her gangrenous colon. The ileostomy was added above a large wound created when flesh from her abdomen had to be cut away to save her life.
The nurse is standing in a corner, like she is trapped there. She still has that deer in headlights look, and the gauze I am holding will not last much longer. The nurses had already told me not to change the dressing myself. The problem is that finding a nurse willing and able to do the work necessary was not easy. Most nurses don’t expect to have to deal with this, and no nurse wants to. The end result is that nurses tend to disappear when the dressing needs to be changed, which led to my wife’s mom and I having to learn to change the dressings. In reality, we become better at it than the nurses.
“Where is she?”
“I don’t know.”
“Ok, forget it. We have to do this ourselves. Get that bag over there with all of the stuff. Hurry!”
I am no longer the patent’s husband. I am the nurse, and the nurse in training is my assistant. My assertive voice brings enough clarity to my assistant that she follows my command. She gets the materials and drops them on the floor next to me, awaiting my instructions. I put on some latex gloves.
“Put on some gloves. Now take out plenty of gauze, the saline bottle, the scissors, and the ileostomy bag. I will also need that tape, and the cream for her wound.”
The nurse follows my orders, laying out all of the materials on the bed. For the next 10 minutes, I clean the area around her ileostomy. I cut the paper gasket into the right shape, and affix it to her skin around the ileostomy using a special adhesive. Using that same adhesive, I affix the ileostomy bag to the gasket, and hold it in place until it adheres. Now the leaking into the wound has stopped, and I can start working on the wound. I use saline and gauze to clean the inside of the wound. It is quite painful for her and she is crying. It was so hard to do this the first time, and it still breaks my heart. But to save her life I block out my feelings, while still trying to console her.
“I know it hurts. I am almost done.”
She understands. She has more courage than anyone I have ever met. How she maintains her sanity through all of this is beyond me. She has been in and out of hospitals for 3 years. Yet every time she goes in, she can’t wait to get out and go on with her life. She takes the time to buy gifts for the nurses who take care of her. Everyone in the hospital knows us by first name now, and cannot believe her resiliency, her bravery.
Many of them tell me they don’t know how I do it. They tell me I am a hero, or a saint, or a great husband. It actually makes me angry. I don’t want to be thought of as something out of the ordinary. The day I married my wife I made a commitment to God. I am doing what I am supposed to do, no more and no less. It angers me to hear people talk about me like I am doing something so rare. I did not ask to be a hero, and I am certainly no saint. I am just a man standing by his family, doing what God expects of a husband. I don’t want the job of hero, not this way, not for this reason.
Once I am done cleaning and applying fresh dressings, the pain subsides, and my wife thanks me. The nurse in training puts the materials away and quickly departs. I never saw her again. She either learned something and today is a better nurse, or she chose another profession.
My wife passed on September 14, 2007. Diabetes, Kidney failure, Gastroparesis, and Vascular disease finally won the battle. I wish I could tell you that before she died, I prayed with her. I wish I could tell you that I made sure she sought God. I did not. Even though I prayed often, we did not pray together. I was so caught up in trying to keep myself together, fighting with nurses, doctors, insurance companies, that I did not take the time to pray with her. Funny thing is, she found God in spite of me. A few months before she died, she knew what was going to happen. She called a family member. I know that day, she surrendered her life to God, and she sits in heaven today. I thank God for intervening, for reaching her when I could not.
God has a way of showing up at pivotal moments in our lives. I know He was there that day I changed her dressings, working through me. I cried that night, asking God to give me the strength to continue. For three years, my life was a blur. How I maintained my sanity would be a mystery, if I didn’t know now that God was carrying me. He had plans for me. He took care of me, gave me just enough strength to wake up the next morning and do it all over again. And I did, over and over again.
Three years after her death, I met another wonderful woman, and I married her. She has some of the same wonderful qualities of my first wife, even though they are quite different. I am at peace these days, knowing we did everything we could for my first wife. My new wife is the beneficiary of the wisdom I gained during those years. I value life so much more today. I am closer to God, and she helps to keep me on that path. So my wife and I move forward every day, having entered into a new covenant with God, knowing He has a path for our lives.
There was a time I cried out to God, not knowing if He was listening. I hoped, but I did not know. It took three years after my wife passed, while I wandered through life in a daze, for me to realize something. God was there every step of the way. I was no hero, nothing extra ordinary. It was God who worked through me, even when I questioned whether He heard my prayers. So today I KNOW what He did. I thank Him every day for the many blessings He has granted me, and I ask Him to continue to give me strength, to reveal His plan for my life.
“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”