The Hero of 1,000 Days
The night I died it was rainy, and hot for winter.
Aaron had spent the prior week pacing: an attendant in critter PJs, newly purchased for the happiest day of our life. They were blue with green palm trees and yellow confetti, and they were a heavier weight-- hospital rooms being famously chilly, labor and delivery rooms more-so. But due to either temperature or anxiety, his hyper-vigilant flush deepened when I said I was dying. After swimming a few laps in my warm, enlarging, red pool: I sunk. Asleep.
I would likely have stayed that way if Aaron hadn't believed my warning, over-riding the hospital system by personally calling the OB. He ignored the eye rolling of the nurses, the inconvenience to the doctor, and the "it's fine" inertia that drowns the medical system.
Outstanding clinical acumen? Yes. But that is not what saved me.
Listening to your wife because you believe your life started with her: that is what saved me. That is why the above story displays heroism. Not because of an extraordinary act, but because of an extraordinary love. An extraordinary belief: in me.
In the ensuing weeks, I couldn't get out of bed without help. In response, Aaron arranged his pillows as uncomfortably as possible, ensuring that when I woke, and needed to eat, feed the baby, anything really, he too would stir.
I would subsequently lie awake, frightened by my sudden mortality, fixated on the shock of creating life. Being a natural charmer, he would joke with me about the afterlife. What kind of ghost would I be? How exactly would I haunt him? Would I let him remarry? What if I didn't like the shirt he was wearing-- how would I communicate that from the beyond? A thousand questioning nights. So ordinary. So extraordinary.
The days are ordinary, now, too. Although Dr. Perfect makes mistakes, those lay pale against all the days when he, relaxed after a GuysDayOut, reports: "we had a great day."
Those "regular, great" days my husband enjoys so smoothly. They remind me of the days in residency where an above-the-fray attending physician was thrust into the mayhem of solo daily tedium. Because of a statewide Intern Year course in "sensitivity," you (the intern) had an entire day of meetings, presentations, paperwork; a "day off." Over the course of the day, you would suspect: my attending can't handle it. They will be crushed under the details, the incessant questions, the need need need need. You would grinningly imagine the attending botching a simple order: now, they'll see what it's like.
Only, you would return to the hospital to find the nurses joking with the attending, sharing the elusive cupcakes hidden in the break room. The patients would have everything "tucked in," they were somehow better. No demands awaited you. The attending would lean back breezily: oh no, we're good here, thanks for checking in. See you tomorrow.
In retrospect, my husband probably hasn't just "breezed through" the first year of our son's life. After all, he has lost his companion: the person who makes life zany, who gives advice and admonitions. The person he depends on. He has lost her to another love, and he quietly awaits her return from those shores.
He waits for me while sending out buoys of hope. Observing waves of anxiety as I reflect on my maternal incompetence, he placates me with optimism. He says: "Don't focus on the errors of the day. He doesn't. Think back and replay the smiles instead-- that's what he sees in Mama."
While he waits for me, he sublimates our experience, and watches out for others. As an obstetric anesthesiologist, he fights back for new mothers whenever someone says "oh, it's just a ___." He searches deeper, follows up, and never assumes "it's fine." Because he knows that even after thousands of patients, thousands of cases, thousands of days: sometimes, all it takes is one person to catch the drowning.
My cousin Marco recently married the best girl, and asked for marriage advice. I told him plainly: I don't know. All I could say about my marriage was that, during our wedding mass, I looked over at Aaron in his Blue Brooks Blazer, and I saw my friend. I saw that we were in the early parts of a very long conversation-- one that we couldn't have with anyone else. How ordinary: a conversation, a friend.
Now I see this Ordinary is the most important part of life. I see it as Heroism. I see the advice that I should have shared: marry someone who, after thousands of days of marriage, gently washes up after dinner, so you can be utterly silent and still. (Someone who, after thousands of days of practice, thoughtfully sits with you, so you can speak your fears about surgery.) Someone who cares enough to listen to your needs and trust the words you speak.
This is Heroism: eternal dependability, unending faith. Showing up every day, and doing the extraordinary ordinary.
Another ordinary day is here: Happy Birthday to the man who has saved so many lives.
Happy birthday to the hero of a thousand days.