Ancient History

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Most human

I came home from the hospital two afternoons ago and have regarded my body in the mirror several times.

At the hospital, I could only see my new slashes by looking down at my belly while reclined in bed. The wounds were covered by dressings and large bandages. The lightest touch at the sites made me recoil and hold my breath. But I didn’t really know what they looked like to others.

I had a large ventral hernia repaired. It was most likely associated with my c-sections, but it didn’t become painfully apparent until a bout with violent coughing ripped it open. The bulge in the front of my abdomen was the size of a grapefruit. The surgeon felt it could be repaired laparoscopically, but I’d stay one night in the hospital for pain control. The recovery entailed a week of “no work” and six weeks of no lifting.

On Friday, December 30th, I reported to the hospital unwatered and unfed since midnight. I also reported with a period that arrived 4 days early. I was deeply unhappy about this and even googled what it meant for surgery. I told the nurse who prepped me who assured me it happened all the time and was no big deal. Mesh undies and giant hospital pads ahoy! I joked about my happy memories and love of the mesh. They reminded me of having my babies.

I kissed my husband goodbye. Surgery would start on time. They wheeled me to the OR. The next thing I remember was hearing voices in the recovery room. I couldn’t open my eyes and I couldn’t speak or move. My husband reports he was allowed to see me briefly because I was slow to wake up and in a lot of pain. He said he told me the surgeon gave photos of my insides to me and I said, “That’s weird.”

Even unconscious, I am totally smart. I remember nothing about it, but I do remember hearing they could not finish the surgery laparoscopically because my small intestine was adhered to the hole in my muscle. The surgeon had to make a vertical incision, so recovery would be longer. Also, he had to place two pieces of mesh in my body instead of the standard one per hernia.

I have no idea how much time passed. I was moved to the room where I would spend the night. My husband and my nurse, Justin, were waiting for me. These moments are still very fuzzy, but I began to emerge from the fog of general anesthesia. I didn’t feel much pain because I had pain medication delivered via IV. The nurse showed me how to control the doses by pushing a button. I could do that.

And then I remembered my period. I looked at the clock and realized about 6 hours had passed since I was prepped and taken to surgery. I felt for my mesh undies and pad that had been placed during my surgery prep. There was nothing. I called my husband over and told him that I needed to go to the bathroom and investigate. He and Justin helped me rotate my legs and sit up. I could tell it would be a long, awful, remarkably painful walk to the bathroom with my IV pole in tow. The two of them steadied me and held me up. I apologized for whatever was on the bed. They assured me, no worries. No worries. They’d take care of everything.

I got to the bathroom and they lowered me until I could sit. My legs were covered in new and dry blood. My abdomen felt like flaming knives were being plunged in and out and in and out. I started weeping. I have never felt more helpless, humiliated, and at the mercy of others. It’s a blessing it was my husband and Justin the nurse, who fetched a pile of hot washcloths for my husband to clean me. He also brought more mesh undies and pads.

My husband cleaned me, tenderly, whispering it was okay. Justin busied himself in the room and with the bed, cleaning. He paged housekeeping as well. When I was put back together, they helped me rise and walk back to bed. They settled me inside clean white sheets and under a green blanket. I pushed the button on my medicine machine. A woman arrived with a mop and cleaned the bathroom. Yes, it was that bad, all because someone in the OR neglected to replace protection after using a catheter.

This thoughtless, stupid mistake nearly broke me at that moment. It seems silly now that I was that upset, but brutal pain and the complete loss of control over my body was pretty crushing. Over the course of my life, I’ve had lessons in humility. This was just the latest.

An hour or two passed. My husband had to return home to the kids, who were being watched by his parents. I didn’t relish the idea of being alone or return bathroom trips, but I had no choice. Friends had told me they would visit me in the evening, so I looked forward to seeing their faces and maybe having something to eat from the liquid diet menu. A popsicle? Orange!

My three friends arrived. They brought a card and a beautiful floral arrangement with a little Get Well balloon. I was exhausted and in pain, but up for a visit. We chatted. I don’t remember the order of what happened, but in the course of their visit, one friend held a vomit bin for me because I wasn’t ready for an orange popsicle. I threw up all the water I managed to sip, too. This is not a fun thing to do after abdominal surgery, even with serious painkillers aboard. She stroked my head as I made sure I was done. Then she took the bin away and rinsed it out. When I had to go to the bathroom and nurses weren’t immediately available (shifts were changing), they helped me out of bed, steadied me, wheeled my IV pole, and helped me with my girl’s chores.

Again, I was struck by their caring tenderness and their sacrifice. It was Friday night. They had families of their own at their homes, but they came to see me, and not only see me, but see me at my weakest, lowest, most immodest, most human. They tucked me in, again. A baby. Their 40-year-old baby friend who usually meets them for coffee and can take herself to the bathroom just fine and usually holds her dinner safely inside.

What was supposed to be one mere night in the hospital turned into three nights. The pain was unreal, worse than any of my post-c-section pain. It took three days to find the right meds and doses to control my pain enough to go home. I had many more moments when I had to utterly surrender to the aid and assistance of others. My friends returned the next day and the next. My husband came. I hadn’t scared anyone away.

This morning, I prepared to take a shower. I looked in the mirror at my body. After two days home, the swelling has subsided, but I still frowned at my 4 slashes. Dumb body. If it hadn’t let me down, I wouldn’t have gone through everything I experienced this past week.

I’d be better off, right?

I’m not so sure. What was demonstrated to me during those days was a love I can’t describe. Real, true, tender love. I have no doubt that they were on a mission from a tender, loving God himself. He asks us to be his hands, his feet. The only explanation I have for my sense of grateful blessedness is that I firmly believe they were doing good things in the name of Love.

The only way to experience this is to jump in and help others, without question, with sacrifice. Or?

You become humbled, dirtied, blood-crusted, bent over, spewing, trembling, weeping. And then, though the power of all the love you felt?

You get better.

29 comments to Most human

  • So sorry that all happened. You would have done the same for your friend or your husband and not thought twice about it.

    Glad you’re on the mend!

    And you made me laugh with being smart when you’re unconscious!

  • I can only imagine how you felt in those moments. You are so blessed to have he husband and friends that you do. I am very glad you are doing better now.

  • heth

    Perfectly beautiful, Gretchen. As mothers, our job description is caring for our helpless, messy, needy children. And we do it gladly because of love. How humbling to be on the receiving end, yet invaluable. Beautifully written and beautifully lived.

  • Ooooh…my 40 year old baby friend! I am literally crying reading this! I am so grateful that you had loving hands there to help you. Your words are so BEAUTIFULLY REAL, thank you for being humble enough to put it “out there” and bless me in the process.

  • I laughed, i cried. your writting always moves me. Thanks for sharing this post. i love you friend.

  • I am sitting here, tears just rolling down my cheeks. (And I put on make-up today, Gretchen! DANGIT.)

    You know I hold your words in the highest esteem. The way you capture the moment, the way you weave it together and make it real. This is one of your finest, and my heart is pouring out empathy.

    Blessed be the hands who tended to you with the mercy of Christ in those moments. Love made real, right there in the hospital. I am praying for a recovery that is quick and complete.


  • your honesty is so amazing, thank you for writing this and reminding of us of what it means to love. I’m glad you’re feeling better.

  • Amber

    This post brought up a lot of emotions for me. I just spent 2 weeks with my mom who used to be the life if the party and über talent at everything domestic. Today, she suffers from MS and can barely walk by herself and has to be bathed, can’t drive, etc. Living with this disease is her worst nightmare but I was so inspired by my dad who takes care of her with no complaint. Consider it a blessing you have a Godsend of your own.

  • You have an amazing grace about you, you know that, Gretchen?

    I am so sorry I wasn’t able to visit you and maybe catch your vomit. I trust that you are on your way to a much more upright 2012.

    You do have amazing family and friends (and Justin).

  • You are the gal who makes me cry buckets… Reading this I felt so sad for you and so wished we lived closer, much closer… but you couldn’t be nearer my heart and I am so praying for you to be feeling better, yes physically, but more inside of you… the place where hurts hurt… I pray that that heals really quick and just like with babies you forget the awful parts really quickly… Lots of love…

  • Why do we struggle so much with accepting help? I’ve had that discussion with my women friends often. We are quick to offer help, but it’s hard when we’re on the receiving end. I teared up reading this, Gretchen, because it was so open, which is, I’m sure, how you felt. God’s grace even in the hardest times…so tender.

  • There are lessons and blessings in both being the caregiver and the cared for. As someone who is always the caregiver I so fear the day that I will be the cared for. And it will come. Because it is a lesson I need to learn. Thank you for sharing your lesson.

  • This was a beautiful post Gretchen. The closest I’ve come to that total vulnerability was giving birth and it doesn’t sound 1/2 as difficult as your latest challenge. I am so sorry you had to go through this, but I am also so grateful that your husband and friends were able to take care of you.

    You take care of your family all day, every day. It’s nice they were able to take care of you when you needed it too.

    Love and hugs.

  • Vashti

    Hi Gretchen,

    You did such a beautiful job of writing this painful story. There are many lessons for me in this. Thank you for writing it. Sending you good thoughts for a quick recovery.



  • Mom

    When I read your post, most of which I had no idea. I congratulate you on having not only a wonderful, thoughtful and compassionate husband, but the most marvelous friends. It brings to mind Jesus washing the feet of His deciples and that is what we should do for one another. I am so thankful to them all blessing you with their care.

  • edj

    Sometimes, it’s harder to receive than to give. I think helping someone who is temporarily helpless is like this.

    Another great post. Thanks.

  • You made me laugh you made me cry, you made me smile- you are an amazing woman, mother, and friend and oh … wait… WOW! A writer – a true, heartfelt writer and this story really touched me. I love you lady. Stay strong as you always do! (tear)

  • I don’t think there’s anything at all I can add to what everyone else has already said here. I, too, cried when I read it as I grieved for you over what you had to experience, and also at the relief of people in your life you can trust, even if you were forced to do so. It’s so so so so hard to give ourselves over into the care of someone else, but I just want to say that I’m super proud of you for doing it. You may not have had a choice, but maybe you did and allowed them the grace of caring for you.

    I know I’ve only met you once and really only know the online version of you, but I love you, Gretchen. I really do.

    Peace to you tonight,

  • What a blessing to have friends around you who truly care for you. I am glad that everything worked out.

  • Beautifully written Gretchen! You made me teary. The thought of being a strong woman and having to humble herself to the care of others frightens me. But know that God was working on both ends (not literally – ha!) – showing you such love. It’s so pure and so sweet. Ahh, God is good!

  • I’m glad you are now on the road to recovery. I am also glad to know I should be mindful of future issues related to many c-sections (I’ve had five).

    I’m so sorry it turned into such an ordeal. You’ve written beautifully about the unexpected blessings of helplessness though. You gave others a chance to be the hands and feet of Jesus. All of you end up blessed by that.

  • I read this last night just before I had to make dinner. And then I couldn’t see to comment for all the tears, and I had to sniff throughout all the roasting of potatoes and asparagus. My goodness, friend, you turn a word.

    And yes. The humbling humanity in it and in this story is what unites us. Maybe not to the exact extent, but I’ve been through some pretty humbling moments with my husband and the nurses during and after childbirth. Their tender kindness in those moments undoes me.

  • Oh, I had to pause before commenting because of the choking tears. Oh, Gretchen. You are wondrous. I wish I could have been there for you- so thankful for the friends you have to be the hands and feet of all of us who love you.


  • Elizabeth

    I don’t have many friends like this, but I have some, and I thank God for them everyday. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they would be there for me if I literally could not take care of myself. Friendships like that are sacred. So thankful for you that you have some too.

  • Amy

    Oh, Gretchen. What an awful experience. I’m so glad you had dear friends to surround and take care of you when you needed them most. I know it was incredibly humbling to have to rely on them in such an intimate way. But it’s a good reminder that this is how it should be… friends being the hands and feet of Christ. There are few things that are more precious than a true friend.

    Praying for a speedy recovery!
    🙂 Amy

  • Hugs! May you heal quickly!


  • Being that helpless really DOES something to us, doesn’t it? Humbles us, and gives our loved ones a chance to show us such grace and selfless love. I’m sorry this turned into such a big deal. Both of my C-sections were vertical, so I can sympathize a bit w/ the pain. Take it easy, take the pain medication, and for goodness sake don’t overdo it, or you’ll be sorry. Gentle hugs from afar.

  • I read your post awhile back and didn’t make it to comment until now. Oh sweetie you went through so much and you are incredible to be so open and share something very personal with all of us. Giving birth was a true moment of feeling human for me. You are so vulnerable and reliant on the care of others. But this went way beyond anything I have experienced. My heart goes out to you and I am sending healing thoughts. Please let me know if you need anything, even just a coffee delivery and I will run it to you.

  • This story made me cry! it was so bittersweet to have my last babies (twins) and I had c-sections too. Eventhough they were painful, I always thought…this will be the last time I’ll be enduring pain and surgery for a joyous occassion! Reading about your surgery brought back feelings of frustration and helplessness as you said, but also made me grateful for my own husband as well, who would have done the same things. I hope you have recovered and are starting to feel like you again!

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