What Really Matters

When your soulmate is wheeled into an operating room, the outside world becomes utterly meaningless

We are often told by the outside world—television, radio, newspapers, even well-meaning friends and relatives via social media—that to be happy, we need the latest gadget or must subscribe to the flavor of the month in everything from politics to pop culture. I was recently taught, however, that what really matters happens in our private lives. The outside world becomes utterly meaningless when the people we love are in imminent danger.

My wife Donna had been suffering severe discomfort whenever she ate, but it wasn't until a few months ago that we found out the cause. She was diagnosed with a paraesophageal hernia. Part of her stomach was working its way up through her diaphragm. Therefore, eating was painful and her ability to breathe was also affected.

She needed surgery. Her doctor hoped to accomplish it laparoscopically; that is, without a full opening up of her body, but rather with small tools and cameras inserted via five minimal incisions in her abdomen. Her surgeon would rearrange her innards, gently pulling her stomach back down into a comfortable position below the diaphragm, then closing the opening in the diaphragm a bit so the problem wouldn't recur.

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Surgery was scheduled for January of this year. Through the holidays, we carried on with our normal lives. When something is months away, it isn't as real as it becomes on the day itself.

We knew she was in good hands. We had spoken to the surgeon, weeks before the date, and we were both tremendously impressed. Dr. Critchlow was knowledgeable, as expected, but also comforting and had a sense of humor. On the day of the operation, we were similarly reassured by every other person involved. As she was prepped, Donna was visited by nurses, assisting surgeons and anesthesiologists. Very caring people, all of them. Still, it is only when your soulmate is wheeled into an operating room, leaving you alone to ponder worst-case scenarios, that it becomes vividly clear that nothing else in the world truly matters.

We met in 1990 and immediately hit it off. Conversation came easy and we laughed at each other's jokes. Even though we saw each other almost every day, we wrote love letters back and forth. We explored our separate worlds and reveled in finding where our passions met. We were married in 1992. During the entirety of our time together since, true arguments—those causing hard feelings for more than an hour or two—could be counted on one hand with fingers left over. Anything we do together, no matter how outwardly boring it might appear to others, is fun for us because we so enjoy each other's company. In other words, we love each other and try to show that love. Having such a person in your life is a blessing, of course, but it also makes relaxation, during an operation on that person, impossible.

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I went for a tasteless breakfast in the hospital cafeteria and thought of her. I visited the chapel and said a prayer for her. I went outside, walked around and thought of our life together. I went back to the waiting room reserved for family and tried to read a book, but found myself re-reading lines I hadn't absorbed.

In the waiting room, an electronic bulletin board displayed information concerning the progress of patients in surgery. I looked up at it, every five minutes or so, waiting for good news. Finally, after about four hours, a checkmark appeared in the column "Out of Operating Room." Dr. Critchlow came by shortly thereafter. He greeted me with a smile that put my fears at ease. He told me the operation was a success and I would be able to see my wife in a couple of hours, after the anesthetic had more or less worn off. I finally relaxed.

Donna was entirely loopy from pain meds when I saw her some seven hours after the operation had begun. She doesn't remember me being there, but that's OK. Seeing her again was the best thing that's happened to me thus far this century.

It takes a lot out of you to have your guts moved around via five different holes in your belly. The immediate effects were pain and more pain, alleviated by morphine for the first couple of days in her hospital room, but now she is home and much more her normal self.

The outside world still clamors for attention. Politicians pander, advertisements implore, internet memes chide and the snarky humor flows freely. There's nothing wrong with engaging in such things if we enjoy them. I have done so and I will do so again. But none of that is important right now. Right now, I'm going to fluff my beautiful wife's pillows and see if she needs anything else.