Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Memories

This time of year, newspapers carry stories about Christmas memories. I got to thinking, “What is my strongest Christmas memory?” Although I can search the archives of my memories and remember bits and pieces of many other Christmases in my life, my strongest Christmas memory has to be that of the Christmas Eve when my husband’s eye patch came off.

My husband didn’t undergo eye surgery. Nothing as simple as that! Rather, on December 7, 1993, he underwent surgery for a large and rapidly growing acoustic neuroma. The surgery lasted nearly ten hours, with expertise required from both an otolaryngologist and a neurosurgeon.

A week later, both my husband and I thought that the worst was over. He had had no complications such as facial paralysis, blindness, or leakage of spinal fluid; and he had learned how to walk again. When he was released from the hospital on December 14, we were primed to celebrate a special Christmas. So what if he had to wear that funny-looking helmet to protect his head? He was alive and recovering well! The worst was over, life was good.

Our relief didn't last long, however. Within a few days my husband developed severe double vision and had to wear an eye patch in order to avoid dizziness and disorientation. Of course, the eye patch was merely symptomatic relief, and the surgeons were concerned about possible damage to the optic nerve, permanent damage which could have resulted from brain swelling following the operation. After all, the neurosurgeon had dug around in my husband’s brain stem for over two hours.

On December 23, my husband was back in another specialist’s office, this time for a consult with an ophthalmologist. We had to wait for hours because my husband’s appointment was one of those we’ll-work-you-in-as-an-emergency-before-the-holidays-start appointments. As we waited, we had plenty of time to think about all the horrible possibilities. The two of us wore glum looks as we contemplated how life for us might be forever changing. And awful thoughts ran through our minds: “What if the problem is another tumor, another kind of tumor which the doctors missed diagnosing?” “What if the neurosurgeon missed a tiny piece of that acoustic neuroma and it’s growing?” “What if another operation is required?” “What if this problem is inoperable?” In that festively-decorated waiting room, my husband and I sat in silence and stared at the floor.

Even now, thirteen years later, I don’t have sufficient words to describe the relief we felt when, after hours of tests including another MRI done that very day, the ophthalmologist said, “It’s brain swelling and very slight. Another round of steroids will resolve your diplopia. You can stop worrying.” We wanted to believe her, but had our doubts. After all, the human brain is a mysterious and complicated organ about which much is not known. Silence filled the car as we made our way home through the crunch of holiday traffic. We returned home exhausted—and, yes, worried.

The next evening, our family gathered to exchange gifts as is our custom on Christmas Eve. Despite the medication, my husband still had to wear the eye patch to cope with his double vision. Every few minutes, he kept taking the patch off to check his vision, and every time he put the patch back on when he found no change. Our gathering wasn’t very cheerful, and nobody ate much. I put most of the feast away, largely untouched. After opening our presents, all of us forced ourselves to raise our voices in the sing-along of carols. I drove my father home earlier than usual and returned home to fall into bed—alone, because my husband had to sleep in a recliner with his head elevated for months following the surgery.

But that ophthalmologist was right. At 11:30 P.M. on December 24, my husband woke me up. “It’s a miracle! I can see! I can see! I’m fine!”

A few minutes later, my husband and I listened as the chimes of the nearby country church rang out and sounded the notes of “Silent Night.” Despite the cold weather, my husband and I went out onto our front porch so as to hear more clearly and to sing along. Before or since, those chimes have never sounded so sweet. God had given us our own personal Christmas miracle.

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posted by Always On Watch @ 12/21/2006 08:08:00 AM