|Patti and I celebrating our two-month anniversary hours after my surgery.|
Three days after returning home from our seven-week globetrotting honeymoon the right side of my neck is swollen like a softball, and I find myself, for the first time, lying in a hospital bed. An elusive infection in my lymph nodes has caused severe inflammation extending from my right ear down to my windpipe and from my cheek over to my shoulder. I'm barraged by daily blood tests, CT scans and ultrasounds, antibiotics that irritate my veins, IVs swapped every other day, and pain medication that makes me loopy and fatigued. Uncertain of the specific diagnosis, the conscious me sits on the sidelines of my own battlefield, watching patiently for the size of my neck to shrink or grow, tipping the scales in favor of my body or an unseen enemy. But one thing is certain: when reciting our vows, Patti and I never thought the "sickness" part of "in sickness and in health" would be played out so early in our marriage.
Sure, the circumstances seem pretty gloomy for a newlywed couple, but in some ways the hospital has been more restful than our honeymoon, gallivanting throughout Southeast Asia in search of beaches, diving, and cultural excursions. Compared to some of the AirBnBs we stayed at, the hospital is definitely cleaner, my sheets are changed daily, and there is hot water and a working thermostat, not to mention breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included! To our surprise, the service is actually on par with the resort we stayed at in the Maldives; the staff addresses me by name and knows I would prefer the honey-glazed chicken over the Asian cod. Dare I say, with my window view, I might even be getting a hospital tan.
Yet our "extended honeymoon" has a much more profound meaning to me in the sense that it has defined and shaped the beginnings of our marriage in a way that no resort or beach ever could. Despite the sleepless nights and my growing inability to perform daily tasks, like changing my gown or eating solid food, Patti has patiently been at my side, never complaining and never worrying. She's grown a sense for what I need, a glass of water or a blanket for my feet, before I even know I need it, and she cheerfully takes the initiative to help. Sometimes, she even sneaks into my hospital bed so we can play games and watch Netflix together, never mind the nurse saying something about a hospital policy and the bed's weight limit. Other times we just sit in silence, tapping away on our cell phones, contently side by side. She walks with me the same 4th floor figure-eight loop hallway to which I am restricted, over and over, until I reach my daily step goal. Suffice to say, I have grown to deeply appreciate and cherish my wife, just as she has grown to love and care for me, as a result of our unintentional honeymoon extension.
It is Friday afternoon, the day of our two-month anniversary, and my fifth day in the hospital. There are still no signs that the swelling is subsiding. The ENT surgeon walks into my room after viewing my CT scan from a half hour ago. The scan reveals a large abscess filled with liquefied tissue forming in my neck, which is preventing the antibiotics from reaching the bacteria. He wants to perform surgery immediately to drain the abscess. Waiting could risk the infection spreading to my heart or brain. Surgery poses its own risks of course. The carotid artery, windpipe, vocal chords, and a bundle of nerves are all near the abscess. This is our hardest moment, when uncertainties and realities begin to merge. And while the choice is clear, the repercussions are not. Tissues in hand, we go ahead with the surgery that evening. Before I'm put under, Patti and I read Psalm 138 together, finding comfort in the last verses:
"Your love, Lord, endures forever - do not abandon the works of your hands."
- Psalm 138:8
A praise, a reassurance, and an imperative, all rolled up in one.
I woke up, slowly. Groggily, I recall Patti leaning over the gurney with a big grin. The surgery went well, the doctors were able to drain more than anticipated, and within hours my pain had nearly vanished. Now, as I finish writing this a week later, I am told I could be discharged within a day or two. The swelling has diminished but it will still take another couple of weeks of rest and antibiotics until the infection is completely cleared up. But alas, an end to our honeymoon is in sight.
This may sound strange to some, but I recall during my first week in the hospital, while resting with my eyes closed, a vision of a large wooden door, made from strong thick timbers, and built into a stone archway. I step back and look above the door to discover our names, "Kyle and Patti Gaiser" engraved in the mossy stone. The archway is built into an even thicker layer of rock, which is built into the side of a mountain. The image confers an overwhelming sense of encouragement and peace, affirming that through these events God is laying the groundwork for our marriage - a solid foundation, built on a rock that cannot be easily toppled.