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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Today Is Mrs. Apron's Day

No, it's not her birthday, or the commemoration of her elementary school graduation.

It's her Brainaversery.

Her sixth one, actually.

It's hard for me to believe that we were only dating for a very short time when she was admitted to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for neurosurgery. I was petrified, but how can my fear compare to what must have been going on in her brain (externally and internally) as she faced, well, the biggest uncertainty of all.

To mark the occasion, I get her some kind of gift. Some years, it's antiquarian-- like the book of 19th century neurosurgery and neurology lithographs. Some years, it's childish, like the "Operation: Brain Surgery" game (n.b. it's totally lame-- got nothing on the original), and some years it's funny, like last year's custom-made, bright yellow t-shirt that reads "I Had Brain Surgery: What's Your Excuse?"

This year it's, um, different. And it's coming from Russia. That should tell you something.

When I think about my wife's brain surgery, when I allow myself to go back to June 22nd, 2004, well-- sometimes I don't know why I allow myself to go back at all. I suppose it's good for me. People might say that. Maybe others might say it's unhealthy-- and I understand that. But, don't worry, I don't allow myself to go back very often. Sometimes I wonder how often my wife goes back-- but we don't talk about it very much.

Maybe when she's combing her hair in the morning and the teeth of the comb descend briefly into the divot in her skull-- not observable to the public, but very much there-- maybe she goes back then. Maybe she goes back every time I have to tell her there's cereal and milk on the left side of her mouth, because she can no longer feel. Maybe she goes back at the breakfast table. Or maybe it's when we see a musical or an opera and she hears the orchestras in which she will not play again, because of the loss of her embouchure, and the loss of dexterity in her fingers. Maybe she goes back at the theatre.


The times when I go back are usually unrelated to these instances-- it comes over me unexpectedly and, annoyingly, usually when we're in the midst of a blissful cuddle on the couch or reading together or in the car. Sometimes, I say nothing. Others, I'm dumb enough to turn to her and say, "I can't believe I let them do that to you-- I can't believe I let them take you away from me."

I walked down the hallway next to her gurney, holding her hand as the astronaut/alien people in blue hats and gowns and booties walked alongside us, pushing her towards her destiny. I went to the elevators, as far as they would let me. And then I heard the ding, saw the doors whoosh open, and they wheeled her in, the doors shut, and that was that. I don't remember how long I stood there, looking at those closed elevator doors. But I remember feeling an overwhleming desire to throw up, to cry, to scream, to break something, to force the elevator doors open and throw myself down the shaft, to suck my thumb, to pull out all of my hair, to sleep. I don't think I slept, or had slept-- really slept-- for at least four days.

"You have to forgive yourself. You saved my life," my wife says to me when I get like that-- remembering.

I forced her to go to the doctor back in 2004, and I forced her by saying "please." She was having tongue seizures, and she hid them from the world-- but not from me. I knew enough to know that it was very, very serious-- and not in the way that my various rashes and moles are "serious." I directed her to my ancient general practitioner, the man who used to make house calls to see my freshly made-up great-grandmother.

"This sounds serious. I'm referring you to a neurologist," he said to her. The MRI confirmed an arteriovenous malformation-- an abnormal connection of arteries and veins that resembles spaghetti, only not as delicious. The AVM was causing her seizures and was threatening to rupture, which would have been, quite simply, a disaster. My wife had this AVM since birth but, as it grew, her symptoms grew more sinister, making it critical to have it removed.

"You can wait till the summer," the vascular neurosurgeon said to us at our preliminary meeting, "but no longer than that."

I would be lying to you if I said that I remembered every detail of her stay at HUP. I don't. And maybe that's because I don't want to. But I remember a lot. I remember the little x's and o's they drew on her forehead on June 21st, after her first embolization, and how I joked that her head looked like a child's board game. I didn't feel like joking, but it was better than throwing up.

I remember going to the hospital cafeteria with my parents and staring at my salad for half-an-hour before giving up on it.

I remember going in to see her post-surgery. She was swollen up and looked like a Cabbage Patch doll.

I remember sitting on her hospital bed, by her knees, and I remember her pushing herself up with her right hand—her left one was basically useless at that point—and she shoved herself up against me in a pathetic, beautiful, terrible, amazing hug, her right arm flung around my neck like a mink stole.

I remember the next day, going in to see her. I was wearing a bowtie. I sat on her bed in the same place, by her knees, and she lay there in a taciturn haze. She opened her eyes slightly, and she motioned lazily with her right hand, like she wanted to tell me a secret. I bent down slightly, and she motioned again for me to come closer. I leaned in close, and I smelled her matted blood and disinfectant and gore and skin and hair and breath. She motioned again, and I got even closer, and, instead of a secret, she tugged on a corner my tie, untying it with a twisted grin.

I remember her mother playing harp by her bedside.

I remember sleeping in her hospital bed, and I remember Hunan, the young medical resident who came in at 3:00am or whenever it was to do a neuro status check on her and his smile when he saw us cuddled up together.

“That’s the best way to recover,” he said, “with your husband.”

We didn’t tell him that we weren’t married yet—just in case it was against the rules.


  1. I'm glad Mrs. Apron had you by her side. :)

  2. Aw, I'm glad you guys had each other to get through this. <3

  3. Seriously? I love you two.

    I think seeing you in person would probably make me vomit from the sweetness. Or I'd joke a lot to stop myself from vomiting. Right? Because that's what you do?

  4. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

  5. ......

    I have no words. I would hate to go through this - in your shoes or in hers. She was lucky to have you there.


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