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December 16, 2003
happy anniversary
The scent was frantically contained sterility. Care workers from various departments bustled purposefully between rooms ? measuring, dispensing, treating, helping, and healing. Sporadic messages flew down from intercoms nestled in hallway ceilings as various beeping monitors provided rhythm for an unseen band. My brain quickly adapted, relegating all these sensory nuisances to background noise, but the underlying and unceasing current of productivity provided a subconscious boost to the recovery process of my wife.

Her valve replacement surgery had taken just shy of an eternity to perform due to her, in the surgeon’s words, ”very difficult anatomy.“ Pacing, coffee, and visitors. Attempts at reading that lacked focus and were soon abandoned. The sounds of a Gameboy through tinny headphones as my hands mindlessly went through the motions. These are the things I remember of the day of surgery. But I most remember anticipation. And the cascading rush of relief when I picked up the phone to hear that the surgeon had finished and given us the all clear.

The wait in ICU was made slightly more bearable by the ability to see and touch her. Though, with a multitude of tubes enveloping and invading her head, arms and chest, she more closely resembled an experiment in a bad science-fiction film than the woman I had married a year ago. Once the tubes were removed, she was back, albeit weaker and with a fresh incision from neck to navel. After passing a few tests, we packed up our things and hit the elevators heading to the recovery floor reserved for cardiac patients.

The elevators opened, and it was truly the best designed hospital I had ever seen. In a stroke of brilliance antithetical to current practice, the geniuses who designed Texas Children’s had somehow managed to maintain the professional appearance and function of a hospital while imbuing the building with life. Gone were the somber tones and hard angles that evoked the presence and rigidity of death. Instead, every vantage point held a glimpse, if not a full-on assault, of bright color and flowing curves. Any short walk would present a series of masterworks from budding artists aged 5 to 14. The colors, curves and artwork of the walls and ceiling overflowed into the patient rooms, where the sterility of tile gave way to the warmth of hardwood. Valves, spouts, and plugs that perched on the back wall waiting for the worst were welcomely tucked away behind false cabinets. Spacious windows stretched from wall-to-wall and from the back of the visitor couch to the ceiling providing a real-time picture of the outside world. Texas Children’s Hospital was not a place people go to die. It was a place people go to live.

This was good, in that it was exactly what I wanted my wife to do. Recovery went by quickly. In between regular visits from nurses to check vitals and dispense medications, and irregular visits from doctors to inflate their bills, it was like being on vacation. We passed the day lounging in bed, playing games, reading books and watching TV. The food was even presentable, consisting of a vast menu of kid friendly choices like corny dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches. However, with kid friendly choices come kid friendly portions. We had both forgotten that food can be made that tiny. The kitchen staff must have thought my wife a pig as they looked for room to squeeze one more plate onto the tray. A problem exacerbated when we both ordered from the menu.

After a week of daily needle sticks, fluid measurements, and ever increasing laps around the nurse’s station my wife was deemed fit to leave. Despite the wonderful nature of the establishment, the sun shone just a little bit brighter with that news. How could anyone not notice the spring in my step? I surely would have been bouncing my way to the car like I was Neil Armstrong if I hadn’t been carrying a week’s worth of luggage.

As my automobile, unused for the duration, coughed back to life my mind tried to wrap around the $96 I had just paid for parking. These thoughts ceased as I pulled into the queue for patient pick up and spotted my wife. Wrapped in a bath robe and clutching a pillow to her chest while trying to sit up straight in a wheel chair she didn’t look as recovered as I had thought. But the hospital had done its job. It had installed the mechanical valve, adjusted her new medication, and strengthened her to the point where she no longer needed its help. The nurse helped her up to the back seat where she promptly laid down, tired from the exertion. It was going to take time to get her back to normal, but thanks to the surgery we now had plenty of it. I turned off the radio to help her sleep, and listened to the sound of her heart ticking. Muffled by flesh and bone, the new valve sounded like the second-hand on a watch. I grinned, turned right onto the busy street, and headed for home.