Sunday, November 16, 2008


Tomorrow is the second anniversary of M's lung surgery. Two years ago tomorrow, a surgeon cut him open from an inch east of his spine to an inch southwest of his nipple, cracked his ribs apart, and removed the top lobe of his right lung.

Two years ago today I was tortured by a phrase stuck on repeat in my brain: LIFE ON A HANDBRAKE. LIFE ON A HANDBRAKE. LIFE ON A HANDBRAKE. Two years ago today we didn't know if the surgery would end with a partial lung intact or an entire lung gone. The tumor was at the intersection of the bronchiole leading to the top lobe and the path to the rest of the lung. The surgeon didn't know if he'd have enough healthy tissue on that tube to reattach the lower part of the organ. How bad? I'd asked in one of our consults. Oh, a person can live with only one lung, he'd told us. But it's life on a handbrake. With one lung, there'd be a lifetime feeling constricted, unable to run, perhaps, unable to lift our child, perhaps. A life of crushed plans and of very careful realities. Unable to live life to the fullest, that simple dream every person holds, even those who have never really confronted it.

Two years ago tomorrow the surgeon told me he expected to complete the surgery by 3 and be out to me by about 4 to let me know how it went. Two years ago tomorrow nobody called my name until about 4:45 and then it was only the "hospitality liaison" to let me know that he still had no news, but the desk was closing at 5.

Two years ago tomorrow, the surgeon finally (finally) appeared to tell me that one and two-thirds lungs was plenty of organ for an otherwise healthy young man like M, and that that's what he'd now have.

Two years ago sometime next week, we got confirmation from the biopsies the surgeon had conducted while inside: that they had gotten it all, that it was over. And that if M would be diligent about his exercises so his tartared muscles could learn how to work again, he should ultimately feel like nothing ever happened.

In three years, he said, the remaining lung would grow enough to replace what was lost, and the nerves would regenerate, and the muscles would relearn what they first learned in infancy, when the tumor itself probably first started growing.

We're not there yet, but we're making progress. Good, healthy progress -- and a really cool scar that's aging nicely into a distinguished shiny pinksh-gray.

M, I like you like this. Two children now, not just one, don't know how lucky they are when you swing them over your head. Happy, healthy lungoversary, babe. I love you. Don't ever scare me like that again.

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