Several years ago, my husband had to testify at a court martial. The Marine who oversaw the court martial, upon reviewing my husband’s awards and medals, laughingly interrupted the defense and flippantly said, “So he’s superman. Got it. Carry on.”
My husband shrugged it off, but between us, I’ve never forgotten it. Over ten years of marriage, I could count on one hand the number of times he’s sought medical attention or taken any type of pain reliever stronger than Advil- combined. A few years prior to the superman incident, my husband went through Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor Course down on Camp Pendleton. A week shy of finishing the grueling course, he tore a muscle in his stomach. He drove himself back to our house- in Twentynine Palms, took a hot bath, went to the ER, turned down medicine, and drove back to Camp Pendleton to complete the course. With a torn stomach muscle. And no medicine. The last day of the course, all of the Marines were pepper sprayed and sent through a course to fight the instructors. When I picked him up, he was fighting tears, washing his face with Johnson’s baby soap, and insisting we never speak of it again.
Recently, my husband elected to have his tonsils taken out. He snores profusely and quite frankly, it’s a wonder I haven’t smothered him in his sleep yet. So I was immensely relieved when he set up the appointment. That he rescheduled. Twice. I thought he was rescheduling because of the pain factor. At the same time as having his tonsils out, he also had to have a sinuplasty, which is where an ENT fixes a deviated septum. They are painful. Any person about to have a sinuplasty would be nervous, and no one would blame him. But not my husband. My husband was worried that having the surgery might somehow cause him to lose his flight contract- that he’s been dreaming about since he was a little boy running around as Superman for Halloween. Okay- so that happened last Halloween. But he’s been dreaming about it for over twenty years! And it’s a dream about to come true, despite all of the odds (he had to have an age waiver, and a tattoo waiver, and all of that after having to submit his package just to be an officer twice because the first one was missing a signature on one sheet of paper). So his fear wasn’t the immense pain, but the risk of losing his ability to fly.
Sinuplasty was his Kryptonite.
After going to bed last night, I approached the same questions I always approached right before a deployment. If you die, what do you want me to do? Who do I call first? (His parents are divorced). Which member of your command do I notify first? At the surface, I was calm and collected as I asked the questions, but underneath, I was a basket case. My father died nearly four years ago going into a surgery that his surgeon had performed hundreds of times. We all thought he was superman, nothing could hurt him. In the end, Superman fell, and it hurt us.
Where my husband had finally accepted his kryptonite and the possibility that it might rain on his cape, I, on the other hand, was terrified. I spent the entire night last night laying wide awake in bed, doing what any normal girl does in the middle of the night when she can’t sleep: contemplating the possibility of world peace, translating verses from the Bible from Greek into English, and wondering if bacon wrapped donuts really are the answer to global hunger. I flitted about in the middle of the night trying to concentrate long enough just to unload the dishwasher (this morning I found my favorite tea glasses in the oven and a stack of silverware in my fridge. Weird). He slept like a baby. I bounced around at 6:30 waking up kids and prepping them for school, he lounged in his computer chair playing candy crush. After we dropped kids off at school, my pile of nervous energy wanted to go right over to the hospital and get checked in. He decided we should drive across town and run errands first. Finally, we got to the hospital, got checked in, and finally began the process of prepping for surgery. The process, as it turned out, was signing a bunch of paperwork.
The fun all started when the nurse gave him something I can’t pronounce, or even begin to guess what letter it started with, all the while smiling. She glanced at me and, I swear, she kind of winked. It could’ve been because, when the anesthesiologist came in and introduced himself to me, I introduced myself as my husband’s secret mistress. And asked him not to tell his wife. He laughed and told me he’d give us a “solid good 30 minutes to- you know- talk” before they came to get him. After they emptied the room, and I noticed my husband’s eyes start to get glossy, I sat down on the bed next to him and held his hand. I was truly terrified, and trying to cover it up with humor. But alone in the room, with a doped up husband, I was back to being scared. As I was sitting there contemplating how afraid I was, my husband’s hand slowly began to kind of float into the air. He stretched his fingers out wide and then, without cracking a smile, dropped his hand on my boob. Before I could say anything, he moaned, “This might be the last time…” and then the tiniest of smirks appeared on the corner of his mouth. I swatted his hand away. “Aw come on babe. I’m missing out on the gym today, and you know I need my cardio. What if I die without my cardio?” Again, his fingers went wandering, this time up my inner leg, and I jumped off the bed. He put on his best frowny face and pouted, “But we don’t know if.. if.. I’ll make it back home…” Then he burst out laughing- and just as promptly fell asleep snoring. They came to get him, and his surgery went a little longer than I expected. But it went well, and three and half hours after getting to the hospital, his nurse called me. “Ma’am your husband is awake and demanding to see you. Please hurry.” I was alarmed at the tone in her voice until she added, “He’s frantic with worry, thinking you might be sitting somewhere crying.” When I arrived at the nurse’s station, she stopped me before I went in.
“When we took him off the anesthetic, he woke right up. He wasn’t even out of the OR yet, and just popped open his eyes and demanded we find his wife. He hasn’t slept yet, which isn’t normal. Generally, we take them to recovery until they wake up, somewhere around 30 or so minutes after coming off the anesthetic. Not your husband. No ma’am. We took him off, he opened his eyes and said, ‘I need my wife. She’s going to be sitting somewhere crying, worrying about me.’ When we told him that he could see you after he slept in recovery, he refused to go to sleep and kept demanding we find you. So, just be forewarned, he might look rough.”
When I went into the room, I wanted to laugh. My sister had this same surgery done several years ago, and she wound up with two seriously black eyes and a swollen nose. Or so I hear. She’d never allow proof of that to exist. I was expecting to walk in and find my manly man all banged up and bruised.
No. He’s lying there in the bed, wrapped up in his purple hospital gown with purple hospital socks on and a bandage sitting against his nostrils. If it hadn’t been for the glossy, red rimmed eyes and the wires hanging from his hand, I wouldn’t have known he’d actually had the surgery.
The nurse leaned over and asked, “Can you eat some of your food? I need you to eat those crackers if you want pain medication.”
“Crackers? Didn’t he just have his tonsils ripped out of his throat? Don’t you have a popsicle or something?” I implored, feeling panicked.
“No,” my husband croaked. “I’ll eat the crackers.” He pulled a graham cracker out of the package and stubbornly dunked it into his water for a solid minute. When he took it out, it was goo in his fingers. He pushed it past his dried up lips and swallowed painfully. “What kind of medicine?”
“It will be morphine, sir. You’ll need it soon.”
“No. No morphine. No medicine” he insisted.
I dropped my jaw. Sinuplasty. I’ve been postponing my own sinuplasty for 6 years because of the pain factor. The nurse looked at me.
“Why not?” I asked him.
“I…” he swallowed with great difficulty. “I heard it can be addictive.”
“Sir, on a scale of 0 to 10, how much pain are you in? 0 being none and 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever felt in your life.”
“5” he answered without flinching.
“Have you ever felt worse than a 5?” she replied.
When he didn’t answer, she looked to me. “In ten years of marriage, I could count on one hand the number of times he’s ever told me he’s in pain.”
“Sir, we’re going to give you morphine if your wife allows it. Do you trust her?”
My husband looked at me, and I swear to God, asked me to rub him in a most inappropriate place.
“I’ll allow it,” I answered her, rolling my eyes and instead deciding to rub his feet.
She left, found the medicine, and returned just as he was forcing the last soggy cracker into his mouth. She gave him the morphine and left again.
Before the door had even closed, he motioned for me to come closer. I went to his side. He took my hand and began to pull it toward his cracker covered lips. At the last minute, he changed course and planted my hand square in between his legs. “This would make it all better,” he choked out past gooey graham.
“You nerd. You must be feeling better all ready.”
Less than thirty minutes later, the nurse began to discharge him and sent me to get the car, telling me she’d bring him out in the wheelchair. When I pulled up, there was my husband, sauntering down the steps, the nurse running behind him. I jumped out, opening his door for him and getting him situated in the passenger seat. I turned to thank the nurse and she laughed.
“It looks like Superman isn’t afraid of Kryptonite,” she joked. I dropped my jaw and just stared. I’m positive my husband didn’t tell her the story, he really is a private guy. “Guess all he needed was his cape,” she added, before walking away.
So, his kryptonite failed to rain on his cape after all.