I drove through the inky blackness of the early December morning, full of apprehension and worry. Would he be there? Would he be ready? Had he caused any trouble at the hotel that night? How was he coping? Did I give him good council when I told him I thought this surgery was his best option? Was he right to listen to my advice? So many questions, so much anxiety mixed with a touch hope, rolling around in my heart.
I drove up to the hotel and I could see him sitting in the lobby waiting for me. He greeted me with a huge smile and a hearty “Good morning Layners”. I asked him how he had slept and he said it was the best sleep he had ever had. He was more accustomed to hotel beds with springs popping through and raved about how wonderful the bed was. He told me the very best part of the night had been getting to speak to one of his sons on the phone. It was amazing to see just how much a shower, a proper meal, a good night’s sleep and a conversation with a loved one could change a man. I could still sense an underlying fear about the surgery, but it was as if he had come to grips with situation and was just ready to get on with it.
Immediately I felt better. My worry washed away, my hope grew, and we settled in for a long drive to the hospital.
I have always loved driving in the dark; the darkness wraps around me like a blanket of peace and comfort. This particular morning it brought me an even greater peace. Bert seems contented and the silence hung in the air like a friend. There was no tension in it and silence was not something I was used to in his presence. There we were – driving along in the dark, not a car in sight, with nothing but the sound of the wind whistling though the open sunroof vent and the lull of Christmas carols in the back ground. He loves Christmas carols.
I could tell the nerves were starting to take over when he was one of the last ones left in the pre-op area. His voice, already not the quietest, was booming and echoing in the area made of thin curtain walls. Now his chatter was endless and the stories becoming grander in nature; once again living within a life of dreams and possibilities of driving an 18 wheeler to Alaska as soon as the surgery was complete.
They came in to take him to the OR, and he squeezed me tight and told me loved me. Reading the worry in my eyes, Bert made sure the last thing he did before they took him to the surgery that came with the risk of death, was to assure me he would be ok. His large frame looked diminished under the sterile white blanket and his head clad in a light blue surgical net, as they rolled him down the hall.
The nurse passed me a piece of paper with a phone number to call in four hours and they would tell me where my ‘father’ was. This was becoming common for me, and I had long sense stopped explaining that he wasn’t my father, in fact he was no relation to me at all – that instead he was a homeless man that God gave me a love for. At first I tried to explain it when someone would reference him as my father or me as his daughter. I felt compelled to offer an explanation; a need, so to speak. I started to dig deeper and ask myself why? It wasn’t that I felt embarrassed by him – at least not most of the time. I came to the conclusion that it was shame. Shame that if he was my father, shouldn’t I be doing more to try and right the wrongs that were so clearly evident in his life? And I felt that people should have the right to judge me and look at me through that lens if indeed he were my father. It made me feel better to explain that I was just a good Samaritan – but was it making him feel worse? When you wear the opinions of others, justified or not, for the sake of someone else, that to me is a true measurement of love. Was I starting to actually love this homeless man? Either way, I stopped feeling the need to explain, and became more comfortable wearing the cloak of others judgement. And it was if he picked up where I left off and he made it his goal to let those with questions know that I was the ‘daughter he never had’ his ‘best buddy’. So I thanked the nurse and walked quickly back to my vehicle. If I hurried home I could kiss my children goodbye and drop them off at school.
The sunrise that morning was brilliant. The kind that tells you it is bound to be a glorious day no matter what happens. Like a sign from above letting you know that all is as it should be.
I got home and took my sweeties to school and crawled back into bed for a mid morning nap. I hadn’t slept a wink the night before worried that Bert might cause a disturbance at the hotel – or that he wasn’t sleeping because he was worried – or that one might lead to the other. I drifted back to peaceful sleep and woke in time to call the hospital and find out that Bert had just come out of surgery.
His procedure had taken longer than they expected, but he was out of recovery and sleeping in his room. As I pulled back the curtain around his bed, I wasn’t fully prepared for what my eyes beheld. It was something I had never seen in him before – frailty. Still unaccustomed to his clean shaven look, the man who lay before me looked like a total stranger. He was not brawny, he was not resilient. He was broken and weak; utterly helpless. He had a large tube coming out of his neck and he was hooked up to numerous machines. Even in his anesthetic induced slumber I could see great pain on his face. Each breath looked as if he was inhaling razor blades. He was shuttering and wincing in pain. I just stood there frozen; barely breathing myself. Unable to fully process. A passing by nurse saw me and came to my aid. She lovingly put her arm around me and reassured me, as I’m sure she had done hundreds of times to other before me. “It’s ok dear, I know it’s hard to see, but he is getting better now. He will be much better in a couple of days. Albert. Albert. Your daughter is here to see you. Wake up and say hello”. His eyes fluttered open and a pained smile spread across his dry, parched lips. “Hello dear. How are you?” Better.
I learned the surgery had gone well, but there had been a complication. Any time you are dealing with the brain, a slight move or nick in the wrong spot can cause significant responses in the body. And this had happened during Bert’s surgery. The result was incredible pain in his arm. The arm that had once been numb now had searing pain coursing though it. The next day they took him for an MRI to investigate. The good news was that the compression on the spinal cord appeared to be corrected. The other good news was they had operated quick enough that the nerves had not died, because the Dr. explained that once a nerve is dead, there is no way to bring it back to life. The bad news was the pain could last for months or years or forever. It was hard to convince Bert that the surgery had been a success. I felt like a fraud for even suggesting it as he grimaced in obviously horrendous pain. It didn’t feel like success; it felt like an excruciating failure. Perhaps the skies had lied.
His Name is Bert.
To be continued…