The first few hours coming out of a major surgery rank up there as the some of the worst hours of life. I don't think this is common to just open-heart surgery patients. It seems the longer and more intense the surgery, the harder the journey is back to your brain.
You who have had this experience are already nodding. It's like those old anti-drug commercials depicting a smashed up egg as your brain on drugs. When I first started coming back - after a 9-hour surgery, thirteen hours and 34 units of blood later, I was barely alive. I would open heavy eyes enough to see myself bend my arm and wiggle my fingers. It was fascinating to me to watch my pale arm weave through the air for a brief second. Duuuuuuude.
I couldn't speak. I was on a ventilator. The pain sat right outside of my mind's reach. My body burned from behind the drug mask and pain seeped out through my closed eyes in silent fat tears. The cocktail dripping into my veins hid the pain then, but not from my memories now.
Throughout those early hours were the constants in my journey. My sister rubbing my feet. My husband kissing my forehead. My dad sitting quietly in the dark. And, of course, my mother's voice. I recall nothing of what was said, only those brief images and sounds coming from the room and the recesses of my numbed mind.
As the edges of the world began to form, I turned my head to the side. Where I later learned there was a counter, sink and a wall, at that time I saw a curtain over a sliding glass door. The door was partially open and the curtain pulled back. The British nurse was barking, her accent coarse, something about me. The cult. She was reaching over the other nurses at the workstation - she was telling them that I hadn't been initiated yet.
I panicked, my eyes widening. I was trapped in this bed. In this cursed body, by the central line out my neck, by the hot blankets. My waving hand lost its magic. There was a yellowish light from above me - was that the lamp by my bed at my parents home that I used only as an adult? My cheeks were wet. I could still hear that harsh British voice urging the nurses to hurry.
At that moment, my mother came into the room. I called out to her. "Help me!" I was crying harder now. "They're going to hurt me! Put me into a cult!"
My mom brushed my cheek with her hand. She told me that everything was going to be okay. That she would pray with me. I looked at her and she held my hot hands in her cool ones. "God is in this room, Sarah," she said. I could see her face and her hair silloutted against the yellow light. "Just remember that God is in this room."
I closed my eyes. Reassured by her voice and her prayer.
A long time later, when I was out of the hospital, when I heard about a family friend having a hard time post-surgery, I asked my mom if she remembered when she came in and helped me through my hallucinations. She said no. She never did anything like that. I pressed her. Was she sure?
That's when I knew. God had been in the room with me. God had been there all the time. A shrewd move - when a voice and visage were too powerful to come to a girl fresh from the shock of survival, instead came as one of his humble servants. In the voice and visage of the one I trusted more than any other, He came to remind me that I wasn't alone.
I'm so fortunate to have the mother that I do. She's been there through marriages, moves, surgeries, graduations and Super Bowls. Nearly every momentous occasion in my life, has a corresponding memory of my mother. I look up to her as I look up to few people. Maybe anyone, actually.
On this, her birthday (three days late notwithstanding), I wish her an amazing year full of growth, love and life anew.
I love you, Mom!