I quit because it was stupid to keep smoking after what we had just been through. I quit because I didn't want Brennis smelling cigarette smoke on me when he got home. I quit because it was expensive and we were now facing tens of thousands of dollars in hospital bills. I quit because I really wanted to. It was, by far, the single best thing I have ever done for myself (smoking, of course being the single WORST thing....). Honestly, seeing Brennis in his bed after his surgery I don't know how on earth I could have continued. I never in my life wanted to have what happened to him happen to me or anyone that I loved ever again.
The morning after Brennis' surgery I woke up early at home, called the hospital (probably at 4am) and got a great report. Visitation hours didn't begin until 10am so I left my depressing house and my wonderful, patient dog and went down to the gallery to check on things and otherwise occupy my time until I could go see Brennis. I hadn't really spent more than a few minutes at the gallery since the Saturday that we left and the artists who had taken over for me had done an amazing job keeping things together. I honestly hadn't given the gallery a second thought since the day we left. It could have vanished and I wouldn't have cared. My focus was Brennis and all of the rest of the world would just have to get on without me.
I had been at the gallery a few hours when my phone rang. It wasn't a number I recognized so I panicked and answered quickly, fearing it was the hospital calling with bad news. It was Brennis. "Hi Baby. You can come see me now" he said.
I had never heard a more wonderful sound before in my entire life. It was very nearly time for me to leave and see him anyway but I had never expected him to be making a phone call after the way I had left him the night before. The nurses had told him that I had called very early and really wanted to see him (they had seen me almost as much as they had seen most of their patients and they knew me pretty well).
I was beside myself with joy. I don't think I stopped smiling the whole way to the hospital, through the corridors, up the stairs and down the hallway to his room. When I saw him he was sitting up in his bed and most of the machines on the back wall of the room were dark and silent. I know he was still in a lot of pain but he managed to smile when he saw me come through the door. It was the smile I had waited to see.
I think back at that time as the beginning of a new life. From that moment on things were going to get better. Brennis was in bad shape, in a lot of pain, unable to move much....but he was going to get better! From that day on he was going to improve. While it was a horrible thing to have to go through we knew that this was the worst. Many people never get to recover. Many people in this hospital have gotten worse news.....some are never going to walk again, some will be in chronic pain....some will not survive. We were the lucky ones. Brennis was going to get better.
We certainly didn't take this fact lightly. We knew how lucky we were. We never once bemoaned our fate. They fixed him. It simply doesn't get any better than that.
We both felt different. We felt like we had been asleep for a long time and now we were awake. We had made so many mistakes, wasted so much time. We knew we had been given a second chance and we weren't going to squander it. It didn't seem right.
The rest of Brennis' time in the hospital was filled with joy and pain. The nurses kept describing the pain after open heart surgery as similar to being hit by a truck. I'm not certain how anyone knows this for sure but I can tell you that being hit by a truck might be better because you probably don't have to LIVE through it. I knew it was bad for him but he said it got better every day and that was all we could hope for. Despite the pain, however, we were all filled with such joy that Brennis had made it through the surgery so well and was recovering ahead of schedule. We had numerous visits from people who wanted to celebrate this joy with us. We were so fortunate in so many ways. Being awake felt good....even though it hurt sometimes.
The day that Brennis was released from the hospital the nurse who was discharging him went over some after-care information. This is the one fact I will remember forever: "If you don't go back to smoking the grafts from your surgery will last twenty years. If you go back to smoking they will last only five."
I have never forgotten that. I never will. I wasn't going back. I was awake now.
Last year I missed this because I was either at the hospital or sitting inside with Brennis. You can be certain we aren't going to miss anything this year.