By Sheree Evans
Christmas has always been an exciting time of the year for me. I have always loved the beautiful lights, the smell of a cedar tree, parties and the hustle and bustle of the season. Terry and I married in 1993, and we have had many happy and memorable Christmases together.
In the beginning of 2007, Terry noticed that he was getting tired really easy and just walking a mile was zapping his energy. He had always been active in sports and had kept himself in good shape but something was not right. He is one that does not hesitate to get to a doctor if he doesn’t feel right. So, after about two months of this drop of energy, he visited a family doctor. After a few tests, he was then sent to a cardiologist. More tests were done and it was discovered that he had a “leaky” aortic valve that had to be replaced and his mitral valve and tricuspid valves needed repair. When he told me about this, he made me promise that I would not tell anyone. This was heart surgery and he just was not going to give in to it at that time. A couple of months rocked on and finally his cardiologist told him that he really needed to consider sooner than later on having this surgery.
We met with the surgeon that was to perform his open heart surgery and were given dates. Terry, being the planner that he is, studied his calendar and it was decided that November 27 was the date to have this done. I had already decided that I was going to work part time and this would allow me to be able to be at home more with him during his recovery.
Surgery was scheduled for Thursday at 7 a.m. It was to be a five hour surgery, he would spend five days in the hospital, and because Terry was in good physical shape, he should recover in no time. Because of one document that allowed the surgeon to give Terry blood in case needed, the surgeon had not signed off on it and it threw the surgery off by about 30 minutes. I can still hear Terry to this day, asking me why in the world was that a big deal because he would not need blood.
Once they had taken him to the OR, I was sent to a huge ICU waiting room. There was a host of family members there and our preacher to sit with me during this waiting time. The OR nurse called me at 9 a.m. and told me that the surgery had started and that they would continue to keep me informed. I remember feeling peaceful and I knew that God was watching over Terry so I really was not scared.
At 11 a.m., the ICU receptionist said that the surgeon wanted to talk to me. I got up, and my daughter and our preacher followed me, to this smaller room with a few chairs in it for a couple minutes when the surgeon walked in with a clipboard. He sat down next to me with this sorrowful look in his eyes. He told me that he had performed 5000 of these surgeries and that this had never happened before. He went on to explain that while he was getting Terry ready for the heart-lung machine, he nicked his vena cava. He could not get the bleeding stopped and had to go in through his groin to give him blood. He had to give Terry seven units of blood and that he did not have oxygen for a little over three minutes. The surgery was stopped and Terry was in ICU. As he talked on and explained what he had done to save him, I was hearing him but I felt like I was in a dark hole. Because of the loss of oxygen, he said that he could possibly have damage to his brain and/or to his kidneys. The entire time he was explaining all of this to me, he kept saying, “I am so sorry.” Because of the anesthesia and that trauma to his body, it would probably be five to six hours before they would know if he would be okay.
I do not think that I have ever cried so much in my life. Our 14 years of marriage was flashing before me and all that I knew to do was pray and pray a lot. Both of Terry’s boys were not there. He had informed his boys about this surgery, he insisted that it would not be a big deal and there was no need for them to be at the hospital. His oldest son, Kerry, was stationed at the DEA filed office in Cartagena, Colombia, and his youngest son, Greg, was in Minneapolis, Minn., making a presentation for General Mills. I called Greg and told him he needed to get back right away. I knew it would take longer for Kerry, and we agreed that I would stay in touch as much as I could. General Mills flew Greg back to Atlanta and he walked into the hospital at 5 p.m. that afternoon. I was overwhelmed and comforted by a lot of friends and family. Prayer chains were started for Terry all over Morgan and Newton counties. I felt the comfort in their prayers.
Later the nurse told me Terry was awake and the surgeon wanted to see me in ICU. I went in because they wanted me to evaluate Terry to make sure it was okay. He stressed that he did not want Terry to know that the surgery had not been completed. He told me that he was on a ventilator and that he could still communicate with me but he would not look like himself. I went in and was not prepared for what I saw. He looked awful and we communicated by eye contact. I talked to him and I could tell that he understood me. I asked him questions and he would nod his head. Once I knew that he did not show any signs of brain damage, I broke down.
I went back into the waiting area to tell everyone that he was ok. It was a little over an hour when I received a call from the ICU nurse. Terry was bleeding internally and he had 15 minutes to get him back into surgery to open his chest cavity to repair whatever was causing the bleed. He had to have Terry’s permission and then had to tell him that he had not completed the surgery as planned. I can remember standing at the foot of the bed as Terry was getting the news, and saw him roll his eyes.
This was overwhelming and the changes of losing my husband were even greater now. They literally were running with his bed out of ICU to the OR.
We were all numb. We cried, hugged and prayed. At 10 p.m., we met with the surgeon. He had repaired the bleeding and had to give Terry five more units of blood. On December 3, I was told that Terry was showing signs of depression, and that they wanted to send him home for 10 days. I can remember my daughter saying, “you will never get him back up here for another surgery,” but we did on December 13. He did not give us any trouble about the surgery because he was ready to feel well and good again. In one of our many conversations during that 10 day period leading up to the surgery, I told Terry that he was still here for some reason. There was something God had for him to do.
On Thursday morning, December 13, he went back into the OR with Christmas carols being played by a harpist as his head nurse, Emmanuel, wheeled him back. Later I received a call from the OR that he had been successfully hooked up to the heart-lung machine. And then later the surgery was complete. All was well, and I was consumed with relief.
On December 20, I brought Terry home and all of our children and grandchildren were here for Christmas. I loved the lights and all the excitement, but mostly I loved being able to spend it with my husband.