We loved Tuesday Dad, he was very special. We sat around the bed laughing at the appropriateness that it was Groundhog Day. Each time my husband awoke he would turn to me and ask, “So. What happened?” Each time I would tell him. Each time the girls and I would stifle our snickers until he fell back asleep. When he woke, after the Q&A, he would often insist he had not been sleeping, and pretend to read the book he had propped on his chest, although sometimes he was holding it upside down, and the page never changed, regardless of which way he held it. Tuesday Dad was sweet, loving, a bit fragile. Tuesday Dad was alive.
Just before Christmas we had been at Sunday River. I was working and he was at a training on White Cap. Shock Wave had just been opened for the first time that season. At the end of training, he headed back towards South Ridge. His companions were ahead of him as he came down Cascades. Nearing Barker Lodge he was aware of a man and teenage girl coming towards him on Road Runner. He was going uphill on the trail, they were coming down. There was ample room, and they saw him as well.
Just before they passed, the girl lowered her head, and suddenly veered towards my husband, striking his chest with her helmet. He went down hard. The father joined the two, and asked the usual, “Are you alright?” The answer was an unexpected, “No. I need Ski Patrol.” (Miracle, Part 1)
The patroller who quickly arrived was brand-new. It was her first solo accident. She accomplished the most important function and called for a sled and got the patient to the Ski Patrol base. She did not get the pertinent information about the other person involved in the accident because the father grew impatient and told her they were staying at The Grand Summit hotel and would tell the concierge, but he was not going to “waste any more time.”
The working diagnosis was ‘broken sternum,’ a very painful situation that has no real treatment except to heal. The recommendation was to have it x-rayed to be sure it was not displaced. We stopped at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway on the way home. The x-ray technician said he saw “a little shadow” and we should have it checked. The Physicians Assistant in the Emergency Room told us it could be nothing, including an actual shadow, but we might want to followup with our doctor. (Miracle, Part 2)
The shadow was not nothing. It was lung cancer. It was in the upper right lobe, right next to the wall. There was lots of testing and a surgical date was set. The procedure would be to pry apart the ribs, and cut out the malignancy.
Our older daughter kept insisting we get a second opinion on the surgery. Eventually, she called from California with a phone number for Dana-Farber. “We have done so many Jimmy Fund walks, we should have a consultation,” she said. My husband called and got an appointment within a very few days. At the end of the call, the extremely helpful woman asked where he had gotten the number. It was for her personal phone. (Miracle, Part 3)
When we arrived for the consultation we were in a room with three doctors: an oncologist specializing in lung cancers, a surgeon specializing in lung cancer, and an oncology radiologist who told us it might be the only time we met, depending upon the surgery. We opted for surgery in Boston.
Dr. Scott Swanson is Co-Director of Minimally Invasive Surgery, and Chief Surgical Officer at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Hospital Cancer Center. The procedure would involve the insertion of cameras into the chest, and arthroscopic removal of the entire lobe. There are several tiny scars, each less than two inches long, indicating the surgery. There were no ribs pried apart; no open chest. They went in, put the lobe in a bag, did the equivalent of shrink wrapping it, and pulled it through one of the tiny incisions. (Miracle, Part 4)
A hospital waiting room is never an enjoyable place to be. The waiting room at the Cancer Center was worse than most. Many families would receive bad news. There were numerable private rooms to sit, and all doctor reports were made within those private rooms. There was an aura of dread in the entire area. The four of us, both daughters, son-in-law and I, waited. We had some games and personal time-occupiers we had brought, but mostly we simply sat and waited.
The news was great. Dr. Swanson explained what he had done, what he had found. We were assured we would be seeing Stan as soon as he was out of recovery. And, then we lost him. Literally.
We had waited patiently for as long as we could tolerate, because we hated to be annoying, but after what seemed an extremely long time, we asked. They are used to worried family members and treated us gently. After several reports of ‘no update, yet’ we were told that he had been taken to his room. We rushed upstairs, a little disbelieving that we had not been notified, but relieved that we knew where he was.
Except, he wasn’t. His bag of belongings was in the room he had been assigned, but no one on the ward had any idea of who or where he was.
Back in the Waiting Room there was no answer. Their information was that he had been taken to his room. So, we went to Recovery. I have no idea who the person was who opened a door, but we grabbed it before it closed and went to the desk. We were in the surgical theater, and quickly left with no information other than how to go into the Recovery Room.
There he was! Unconscious, pale. When someone discovered us, they suggested we wait upstairs. We declined, and they accommodated us.
Apparently, the ‘what happened’ was an allergic reaction to torodol after the successful removal of the lung lobe. When Stan started bleeding out, they rushed him back for a second surgery to make sure there was no mechanical problem causing the bleeding. We saw Dr. Swanson again in the Recovery ward.
Stan was stable when we found him, but had been through two surgeries and a massive blood loss. Only his clothes went to the ward. he went to the ICU for almost a week, instead of the 2-3 day stay we had anticipated. (Miracle, Part 5).
But, the next morning,Tuesday, Groundhog Day, he woke. Multiple times. And, today, Groundhog Day seven years later, I am giving thanks for the miracle that is medicine.
Also, we are giving thanks to the young woman who crashed into my husband, breaking his sternum and causing the chain of events that lead to saving his life. Because this particular type of lung cancer, which is not related to smoking, has no symptoms until it is far progressed. His was right at the edge of his lung where it would be easy to escape and metastasize elsewhere, and we would not have known until it was probably too late to do anything.
We never located her. We tried, Ski Patrol and security tried. The father had never informed the concierge at the hotel. There was no record of anyone involved in the incident. After weeks of trying unsuccessfully, the head of security turned as he left one more conversation with me, and asked, “Do you believe in guardian angels?” I believe in miracles.