Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Learning to be Selfless

Alright, alright. You might think writing this blog entry is like beating a dead horse. After all, this story has made its way to friends of friends of friends of, you get the picture. But, in order to truly understand the events of our wedding (and a few weeks after)you have to hear it from the horse's mouth (although I don't like being called a horse). So, here's my life as of late- in a not-so-nutshell:

July 9th had finally come! After 18 months of engagement, it was time to tie the knot with my best friend. My phone rang at 7:41am that Friday morning. I saw that it was Dan and I immediately thought "awe, he's calling me to wish me a happy wedding day!" If only that were the case. I answered and immediately heard panic from Dan's voice. "Sarah, you're not going to like this," he said. "I'm in the emergency room and will be going in for an appendectomy soon. They say that I have to stay the night. " WHAT?!?! I was so confused. I was still waking up and wasn't completely coherent to begin with. But now my groom was telling me that basically we wouldn't be getting married that day. I had Dan repeat himself (just to make sure I heard correctly) and then threw the phone down on the bed, ran out to find my mom and started hyperventilating. One of the bridesmaids staying in my room picked up the phone to figure out what was going on when I came back in. "I'll be there in a minute," I told him.

The girls and I got dressed and my sister drove us all to the hospital (which just happened to be about 2 miles away and about .25 miles down the street from the reception site). I ran in to find Dan's best man, another groomsmen and my dad (I still don't know how he got there before me) waiting for us. I was escorted into Dan's room and started crying all over again. There he was, IV inserted, lying in a hospital gown just 8.5 hours before he was supposed to be marrying me. We both sat in silence for a bit, crying while holding hands. "It'll be ok," I said. But I was lying. I had no idea if it would be ok. I'll admit, I had selfish thoughts that entire morning. I was fighting the inclination to feel sorry for myself while wanting Dan to be ok. I didn't know how to balance all the emotions that were swimming around inside of me.

They wheeled Dan into surgery and we were all moved into the family waiting room. By this time, my mom had arrived along with Dan's parents and a few more groomsmen. We began calling all the other family members and wedding party, keeping them updated and asking for their prayers. I don't remember everything that happened, but I remember being force fed by my friends and trying desperately not to bite my manicured nails.

During Dan's surgery, the supervising nurse came in and began to talk about "options". She said that if the doctor doesn't let him go, we could potentially have the wedding at the hospital. She asked how big the guest list was and started brainstorming various locations on the property. The spiritual adviser caught me in the hall outside of the waiting room and talked to me about the same options. The hospital staff was simply amazing! While getting married in a hospital was the LAST thing I wanted to do that day, not getting married was even more terrifying. So, I made an executive decision. If Dan wasn't allowed to leave, we'd get married outside on the hospital grounds. All that intricate planning and decorating of the church would go to waste, but suddenly that didn't seem to matter. All the little details faded away to nothing. I finally started to give up control and the incessant need to have the "perfect wedding". I just wanted my husband.

Dan made it out of surgery and I was allowed to see him after another hour. He was weak and drugged up but was coherent. "Do you still wanna marry me today?" I asked. "You betcha," he replied. With that, I left him to sleep- not knowing whether or not I'd be getting married at a hospital or the church. It wasn't until 11:30 that we left the hospital to take showers at home. We made it to the church around 12:15 and the rest of my bridesmaids and friends were already there, ready to go. They were all so great, supportive and worked really hard to lighten the mood. It was my wedding day, after all, I should have been smiling!!

We did half my hair and then I headed back to the hospital at 1:30 to see how Dan was doing. I got there to find him dressed and sitting up. They were actually going to discharge him! Inside, I was leaping for joy but was a little worried at the fact that they were letting him leave so early. But, the doctor knows best, right?

I wheeled out my groom at 2:30, just 2 hours before the wedding was set to start. On the way out, the hospital receptionist said, "wow, you seem so calm! how are you doing it?" I thought about it for a second and replied, "you know, everything else doesn't matter in the long run. The little details I was stressing about last night don't matter at all now. I have my guy!" We got to the church and his groomsmen took over. They even washed Dan's hair in the kitchen sink since he didn't get a chance to shower that day. His pants wouldn't fit because of the swelling in his abdomen so a handy safety pin did the trick. I finished getting my hair done, got in my dress and hurried through some preliminary pictures with my girls. All the while, I still had apprehension inside. How does someone shake off the events of that morning? How was I going to calm down and enjoy ever second of the day?

It was finally go time. We were missing a ring bearer and usher but my amazing cousin Kara and coordinator friends Sally and Virginia kept that information carefully hidden from me- I had dealt with enough already. They showed up and we started the wedding a 4:45. Everything went perfectly. Dan was able to stand for the first part of the ceremony and then we sat on a beautiful bench that was found in the women's bathroom- thanks, God! He made it through the ceremony, even though my dad had to cut a bit of his talk after seeing Dan's eyes glaze over a bit- percocet was cutting the pain, but making him a bit sleepy.

We made it through more pictures, including ones on location at very hospital Dan had surgery at (he couldn't travel to the original location because it was too far but this was on the same street as the reception!). Then came the reception- Dan was able to sway back and forth for our first dance and even though he couldn't eat any of the great food or drink anything besides water, he was THERE! It may not have gone as I expected or planned, but that didn't matter. The point was, we were married!

The next day, we traveled to Minnesota where I unloaded our car full of gifts in the rain while Dan helplessly watched. I packed his suitcase for the honeymoon and the next day, we headed to the airport. He sat in uncomfortable pain on the airplane all the way to Boston. Good thing we splurged for the nonstop flight! We got to Boston, took a shuttle to the rental car place and I drove us up to Kennebunkport, Maine. What an amazing place! We were so thankful that we had planned on staying in the States because if we had planned to go to Mexico, there was no way Dan would have made it! We spent 4 relaxing days at a little cottage there, eating tons of crab cakes and enjoying some well deserved down time. Then came Boston...

We arrived in Boston on Thursday afternoon and walked around the city for a little bit. But that night, Dan developed a fever and was in a lot more pain than before. Friday, he was feeling a little better but was unable to walk. So, I borrowed a wheelchair from the hotel and pushed him around the city a bit (which, by the way, wasn't as fun as I thought I would be).

That night, I was woken up at 1am by Dan yelling my name from the bathroom. I ran there to find his incision site seeping fluid. I looked at him and saw his eyes roll back as he slumped to the floor and began to shake. I started panicking (I had never seen anyone pass out like that before!) and I called the front desk for help. They set up security and also called an ambulance. The EMTs came and were able to calm Dan down a bit. They said that the drainage was normal and he had nothing to worry about.

So, we spent our last day in Boston changing Dan's gauze periodically as it filled up with fluid (that's a nicer word than puss...). We got back to Minnesota on Sunday and that Monday, we went to the doctor. Sure enough, he had an infection below the surface of his skin (thanks, Boston EMTs). The surgeon opened Dan's incision back up with a q-tip (apparently that's a sure sign of infection) and drained it a bit. She sent him home with instructions for me on how to change his gauze twice a day (as in, I had to stuff gauze strips into his open wound so that it closed up from the inside out). I spent the rest of the week organizing our house, cooking, cleaning and feeling generally exhausted. Dan was too weak to help and really needed to rest anyway.

After a week of gauze packing, we went back for another check-up. More bad news. The infection was deeper than the doctor initially thought. She said the only way to get rid of it would be to admit him to the hospital and basically redo the entire appendectomy surgery. This time, however, they would be removing bacteria instead of an appendix. He went in for surgery and again, I waited patiently for news. There was a difference this time. This time, I was his wife.

The surgery went well but he was kept in the hospital overnight for observation. So, we spent the 18th night of our marriage in a hospital room- romantic indeed. They discharged him on Tuesday and I had to continue to pack his wound with gauze. This time, the wound was about 2 inches deep and I had to pack about 3 feet of a continuous gauze strip in it twice a day (this was so the skin didn't close up over any bacteria, leading to another infection). I had never even heard of this kind of treatment before! But I soon became an expert. The hole slowly closed from the inside out and on August 10th, two weeks after his final surgery, his hole closed up completely. Now, he's running at about 80%, still taking it easy as his incision site is still tender and developing scar tissue.

These past 7 weeks have brought so many tears, moments of frustration and times of uncertainty. Dan suffered painful physical trials while dealing with the emotional ramifications of not being able to lead his wife or help out with pretty much anything. I spent 7 weeks as an acting nurse to my husband while running a house and trying to combine two separate lives. At one point, I called my mom in tears asking if marriage would ever get better. All I had known of marriage was that it was incredibly hard with barely any perks. My mom replied "you guys have been through more than some couples face in several years worth of marriage," and she reassured me that things would get better.

Well, things have gotten better. These trials have pointed out how selfish I am and how thankful I should be just to be able to spend so much time with Dan, whether or not he's sick or healthy. We've learned to find joy in the little things and not dwell so much on our misfortune. I've had to fight bitterness and anger towards God for allowing all of this to happen to us. But then he reminds me again and again that he will never give me more than I can handle. Apparently, the Lord thought we could handle a lot!

One of the RAs here at Crown illustrated our situation in this great story. She said:

"I hate roller coasters with a passion. But this summer, I went to an amusement park with some friends and the very first thing I did was go on the highest, fastest, most scary roller coaster. After that, all the other rides didn't seem so scary because of what I had already achieved."

I'm not so naive to think that this will be the only trial we face in our marriage- we've been husband and wife for 7 weeks now. But perhaps when those trials come, they won't seem so bad after enduring this one. We've already endured quiet a bit and have only really seen a few days of what marriage can be like when we're both in health. We're learning to embrace the joys of each day, to not stress out about small details (that's more for me) and to consider each others' needs before our own.

It's quite a story, to say the least. But maybe, just maybe, we'll look back and laugh at it all. But one thing's for sure- we've learned more about marriage, the Lord and each other these past 7 months than we ever imagined. For that, we're thankful.