WEST FORK KICKAPOO - Thirteen years ago, I went backpacking with Dane, my new love at the time, to test whether the relationship was long-term-worthy.
As it turned out, the only good thing about that trip was that after being tattooed by mosquitoes, losing my camera, getting drenched in a storm, taking a wrong turn, dealing with a broken water pump, and enduring a first-ever panic attack, we came home laughing.
Recently, our relationship was tested in a bigger way. My ‘gremlin’—the tumor in my hip—was scheduled to come out on a Wednesday. It wasn’t until Tuesday evening, as I lay on the couch with a bright light shining in my face, that things got real. Dane was leaning over me with his needle-nose pliers jammed inside my left nostril.
All piercings needed to come out before surgery. A tiny thin silver hoop and even tinier fake diamond stud had resided in my nose for so long they’d grown roots.
But trying to lie still with your loved one’s hand pressed firmly against your nostril, making breathing impossible, while a pointed instrument is embedded in your other nose hole isn't easy. I was squirming, grabbing his hand and making his job harder.
At times like this, I remember a quote from Robert Schuller (not my favorite preacher, but I read his book and the quote stuck): Tough times never last, but tough people do.
So I wondered: Are Dane and I tough enough, relationship-wise, to last through him being my helper, my coach, my Florence Nightingale after major surgery?
The next morning I was squeaky clean, piercing-free, my stomach empty, and my KN95 mask securely in place, when Dane dropped me off at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison. I had my doubts, but he did come back to pick me up the next day.
Getting in the car was easy because the CNA had experience with hip surgeries and so did I. Getting outof the car once home was way more challenging! I had to scooch over with one leg straight, both legs together, and not break the 90-degree rule: my leg mustn’t bend at the hip past 90 degrees for six to twelve weeks after the surgery.
A hoist or crane would have helped, but none were available. Dane squeezed close to the car and leaned forward, hooking his arms under my armpits.
One, two, three, and…nada, there I sat. After a few tries, I was eventually able to lift myself up, but I was pressed so tightly against Dane that my scarf stuck between us and started choking me.
Once safely inside the house, Dane let my three dogs rush in and greet me. We had to use the walker as a shark cage to hold them at bay until they’d each had a chance to welcome me home.
By then, it was bedtime. First we had to do my exercises, get my clothes off and PJs on, put an ice pack on my hip, and make sure my headlamp, reading glasses, and book were on the table next to my bed. Then it was a water glass, Tylenol, “Help, my feet are stuck,” Kleenex, and the dreaded “Honey, I need to go to the bathroom.”
By the time, Dane said good night, we were both ready to say good-bye. And so ended day one. As I lay under a mound of covers with my leg supported by a pillow, and with a cast-iron gate keeping all the dogs and cats out of the downstairs room, I thought, Lord, help us be tough enough to make it through this together.
Seven days later, Dane insisted I shower. He put the shower bench in place, then helped me get naked and sit on the outer edge of the bench, and once again scoot myself forward while keeping the surgery leg straight, both legs together, and not bending past 90 degrees from my hips. By then I was freezing!
Dane reached in and turned on the water. I started howling and the dogs started barking. The bench was too far back so only cold dribbles were hitting me. Dane tried moving the bench forward but the nifty suction cups were doing their job. He kept saying, “Boy, these suction cups are strong,” while water poured over him because he was in front of the bench, exactly where I needed to be. Meanwhile, I was afraid of frostbite and the possibility that when he finally managed to pry the suction cups from the tub bottom I’d go down like the Titanic.
At last, Dane had a brainstorm and turned off the faucet. As water rushed out of the bathroom and into the kitchen, his new priority was to try to dam the flow. Sitting stiffly on the shower-bench-of-hell, I wondered if we’d survive, if I’d ever be warm again, and if the bench legs would have to be sawed off.
Three weeks have passed and now I’m able to go for short walks. The shower bench proved useless so I make do without it.
Going on a challenging backpacking trip with your new love is a hiccup compared to surgery aftercare. Tough times never do last, but so far, Dane and I have. And he makes a great Florence Nightingale.Happy 68thBirthday, Dane! (12/18)