There are many wonderful health care professionals touching Katherine’s life during this healing process. She is strangely touching theirs as well.
Dr. Gonzales was the chief neurosurgeon during her operation. I met him for the first time in the wee hours following the nightmare night of endless waiting. I had arrived at the hospital around midnight. The lobby was packed with 100 or so watching, praying friends. By around 5:00, it had dwindled down to Jay, Amie, me, Mia, and 3 or 4 of Jay’s best friends. After hours of restlessly awaiting news, we’d each slumped into an uncomfortable chair for a few moments of troubled half-sleep. I heard a faint, accented voice come out of the humming silence. Jumping up with a hammering heart, I saw Jay talking to The Man in a White Coat. He was pale, somber, and looked absolutely exhausted. I strained to hear and comprehend the sort of words every doctor hates to deliver: although he believed they had successfully removed all or most of the AVM, there had been massive bleeding into the brain tissue and spinal cord. There would be “deficits.” I stared at him blankly. No one said anything for a few seconds. “What kind of DEFICITS???” I finally managed. In a low, controlled voice, Dr. Gonzales dropped the bomb of hideous possibilities: partial paralysis, inability to swallow, coma, or “machine.” Somehow, I thanked him before dissolving into Jay’s arms.
I didn’t see Dr. Gonzales again until 8 days later.
During that interim, we had interactions with many other staff members at the hospital. I made a great first impression in the ICU, sob-praying all over Katherine before lying down on the dirty floor. A nice lady came in to coax me up, speaking to me very s-l-o-w-l-y. I think she must specialize in assessing whether or not relatives need a little psych consult. Over the next few days, we got to know several of the wonderful nurses pretty well. They are unbelievably hard-working, focused on the multitudinous complexities of the electronic jungle of life-sustaining equipment, caring for Katherine physically, and trying to keep up with volumes of paper work. We’ve managed to make friends in spite of this intricate multi-tasking. At first, I’d catch some of them glancing our way as we did ‘atypical’ things around Katherine’s bed. Gradually, conversations began. They looked at the pictures we’ve stuck on the walls from happier times in Katherine’s life. (Of course, the baby always provokes comments.... he IS the cutest one in the world, don’t even try to argue about it.) Prayers were observed. Questions were asked. They looked at the websites. They entered into our story.
One told us about Dr. Gonzales’ first visit to see Katherine after the surgery. She said he had tears in his eyes when he saw her move. Another told us that she’d never witnessed such interest in a patient. Someone had printed out a couple of pages about Katherine from the website of Jay’s dad’s church with a tract stapled on. The nurse told us that three different doctors had stopped to read the print-out...and read the whole tract as well. “That kind of thing NEVER happens around here,” she said. A third told us, “They’re very scientifically-oriented at this place. I’ve never heard this kind of talk about a case.”
One day I looked up and saw a young Asian guy with spiked hair, a wild-colored t-shirt, and a backpack, looking into Katherine’s room. I thought he might be a UCLA student, there to see his nurse girlfriend. When I gave him a “May-I-help-you” look, he introduced himself as Katherine’s anesthesiologist. He told me it was his day off, but he’d wanted to check up on her. He had been with her for 16 hours. He said that there were never fewer than 5-8 of them working on her at a time. “Doctors?” I asked. “No. That was just the anesthesiologists.” He told me that he’d never, ever, seen a surgery like it before. He said that he’d been transfusing blood as fast as he could. When I thanked him for saving my child’s life, he said modestly, “Oh that wasn’t me...that was Dr. Gonzales and Dr. Frasee.” Brooks had come up by this point. “I’ll be keeping her in my thoughts,” he told us as he left.
I’ve witnessed 3 or 4 nurses tear up when speaking of Katherine. They’ve told us about several doctors, respiratory technicians, and others involved in her case who’ve been emotional about it. But the most moving experience for me was when I finally got to see Dr. Gonzales again. He looked very different from the previous time I’d seen him. His eyes were bright and kind, and he looked somehow younger. Smiling warmly, he shook my hand. I thanked him again, and he told me that he’d been honored to have been a part of Katherine's surgery. He let me know that hers was the most complicated case he’d ever seen. Many hospitals wouldn’t even have attempted it...there had already been so much bleeding into the brain and spinal cord before she got there. When I said that she’d been in the right place at the right time, he replied, “We were ALL in the right place at the right time.” (It evidently took a village.) As I thanked him for saving her life, he pointed up. “I had a helper,” he smiled. “Most would not have survived.” He told me that although there were still dangers from stroke and infection, he felt very optimistic. “We have done our part. Now it is up to you. The love and support of her friends and family are what will bring her through.” I had heard that he had asked his mother and grandmother in Colombia to pray for Katherine. He told me that his mother prays daily for Katherine and checks the websites for news. (If she should somehow stumble upon this, I want to thank her for raising such a wonderful son.)
Later, a nurse told me that Dr. Gonzales had sought her out to tell her how much he has come to care about our family. She said, “You don’t hear words like “miracle” used around here. But that is what he’s calling it.”
They still happen.
(p.s. I was told that Katherine was not expected to live at the time of the surgery. The prognostication was that if she did, she would be in a “persistent vegetative state.”
She squeezed my hand the first day.)