Friday, June 4, 2010

Fetal Surgery Day

Since we had checked in, everyone had pretty much left us alone - a welcome change of pace for us when visiting a hospital. My memories of hospital stays, all of which were when Sara delivered, were of nurses waking us up every hour or so to check her vitals or make her pop a pill. For the most part, the nurses here did whatever they could to let us sleep through the night. Even leading right up to the time of the surgery, we were given plenty of time to ourselves.

During that time we did a bit of reflection on what was about to happen. Very mixed emotions going into something like this. On one hand, you want to hurry up and get it over with. On the other,  you worry about everything that could possibly go wrong and whether or not you're doing the right thing. I was delivered very strict instructions from Sara not to freak out before they wheeled her into the OR. All things considered, I think I did a good a job. I think we both found comfort in the fact that there's no other place in the world we'd find a better qualified team to do this procedure. Our faith and the prayers and support of our family and friends carried us the rest of the way.

Not long after noon, our quiet visit to the hospital became extremely busy.

The anesthesiologists arrived to place the catheter for Sara's epidural. It was a tense moment for us both since the last time she had an epidural, when she gave birth to our third daughter, her spine was pierced giving her nasty spinal headaches for the 3 months that followed. Shortly after the resident inserted the catheter, the attending with whom we had discussed our concern a day earlier assured us that everything looked great and we would not have to worry about any headaches.

Dr. Farmer, the head surgeon and MOMS trial 'boss' at UCSF, came into our room to greet us one last time before the operation and have Sara sign a couple more consent forms. As she was signing about 3 or 4 other people were crammed in our room getting her IV pump and bed ready to roll down to the OR on the 4th floor . Leading the effort was a very sweet older woman with a harsh Irish accent. She really took the edge off what was an otherwise intense journey for Sara and I. After getting Sara situated in the OR prep room, she approached the bed, held Sara's hand in both of hers, and said, "Good luck!"

Sara and I hadn't been in the OR prep room more than 5 minutes when they started to relocate her to the OR which was only steps away.  I was not allowed in there, so when we got to the OR doors I asked them wait a few more a seconds to allow me to give her one more kiss and a sweet nothing.  She looked great and had a confident smile on her face.  Lots of people were already waiting for her in the OR. As they pushed her bed the rest of the way, I was reassured many times that they would take good care of her. I then showed myself out.

That morning Sara was told not to eat or drink since she was going under deep anesthesia. It was not easy for her. I had been careful not to eat in front of her and my breakfast that morning was very light. Per the advice of the study coordinator, my first stop after leaving Sara was to grab a big lunch and bring it back to the room. I can't say that I was all that hungry at that point, but I wanted to make sure I was the best I possibly could be when Sara came back to me.

When I got back to the room, I had realized that our oldest daughter had been trying to call me. I called her back right away. Obviously, she was concerned for her mother and her baby sister. She's the only one among her siblings that fully understood the weight of what was taking place. I did what I could to comfort her over the phone - in a way it helped me cope with the emotions I was dealing with it at the time, too. I asked her to pray for Ruth and her mother and promised that as I got news, I would call her first.

After I ate my lunch, my plan was to start praying. But before going into the OR, Sara made me promise to keep everyone up-to-date on the latest through updates on her Facebook account and my Twitter account. In every update I provided, I asked for prayers for Sara and Ruth. Sara and I firmly believe that the many prayers that were offered up by family and friends had a heavy hand in getting Ruth to this point. I was humbled by the amount of people that informed me that they were praying during the surgery. There were a LOT! My father told me that 11 of my extended family members who were gathered at his house to celebrate his ordination had set aside a few minutes to pray a rosary together. There were countless others who were praying AND asking others they knew to pray for Sara and Ruth! We are truly blessed!

Waiting for word back from the OR was one of the most stressful experiences I've ever had. I expected it to be a while before I heard anything, but first word did not come until almost 2 hours since I had left Sara. I was told that everything was going well. The neurosurgeon was working on Ruth's back repair and should be done shortly.

About 30 minutes later, the neurosurgeon met me in Sara's room. He had just finished and explained that everything had gone very well. The lesion was small, as expected, and there was enough excess skin available such that he didn't have to use a skin 'patch' to close it. He expected that the remaining closures should be complete in about 30-45 minutes.

About 45 minutes later, Sara was brought back to the room. She was obviously feeling a bit nauseous - an expected side effect of the anesthesia - but otherwise she looked well. Everyone that surrounded her reassured me that everything went fine.

I leaned down close to Sara's head. She was obviously on the edge regaining coherence. First words I heard out of her mouth to me were, "Is Ruth OK?"

Dr. Farmer was not too far behind. She explained that the procedure went as well as it could have gone and that both Ruth and Sara suffered minimal blood loss. The study coordinator who was also in the room called it  "textbook".

I was encouraged and relieved by the positive reports delivered by everyone - possibly the best way to start Sara's journey toward recovery...