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Through Spine Surgery, Wife Learns Husband Has Her Back
Facing a back surgery to correct scoliosis that could ultimately leave her paralyzed or dead, the author discusses the adversity she faced and how it ultimately made her marriage stronger.

Going through a major surgery helped bring this couple closer together.

Honestly, I didn’t know if I could rely on my husband as I approached back surgery to correct my scoliosis. Before my date with hospital destiny, which would involve a long and difficult recovery, John and I weren’t doing well. We’d been married more than a decade, but were busy in our separate careers: mine as a screenwriter and university professor and his as a space architect designing for Life Beyond Earth. In fact, I sometimes felt he might as well have been on another planet. We were on two separate paths and that year, prior to my surgery, we had even considered separating.

There was a lot on my plate to say the least. The smallest details became giant distractions, and with everything going on in and around me, there was one question that would throw me into a tailspin every time I thought about it: Could I trust John to go through this with me? Would he be there both physically and emotionally when I woke up? I really wasn’t sure.

I spent weeks, before going to the hospital, thinking of ways he could take care of our home in my absence. I felt I had to finish everything while I still could because that was the role I had settled into in our marriage. So I called and checked on my pension, life insurance and the benefits I had acquired at work and every other sanctuary I could think of. I planned for all the unknown days that might follow because, the truth was, I didn’t know if I’d make it.

The household seemed to be holding its breath. I’d put everything in place—a manual detailing everything from how to work the dishwasher to which bills might be urgent—but my instructions were limited to three weeks, as if that was some kind of assurance that I’d return.

That night, John and I had dinner. After, we decided to take a nice walk on the promenade promising that in a few months I’d be well enough to walk it again. He was thinking of it as a victory stroll, but I slipped and called it a memorial walk. That stopped him cold. Really, I didn’t think I was going to die, but the possibility hung in the air as we came home and tried to assert some kind of calm.

New Beginnings and a Marriage Transformation

I came out of the surgery bruised and beat. Through the two weeks I was hospitalized John visited every day, to my surprise. We had [hospital] dinner and a movie—on the hospital TV—as I lay immobile in bed. Funny, it had been a while since we’d had a dinner-and-movie date and to be honest, those evenings together became more precious than ever.

Finally, home from the hospital, we came to a routine: Every morning John wound the brace around me stiffly, pulling its Velcro straps as tight as possible. In the hospital, I was warned I wouldn’t be able to put the heavy plastic object on by myself at home, so the brace became early evidence of depending on him, which was new to me.

In a way that I hadn’t expected during my busy workdays, I appreciated him now; not just for the help, but because he cared. This man that I basically wrote off as self-centered, even immature and too absorbed in his own projects to want to listen to mine had grown up within weeks.

He eased me out of bed each morning, put on my brace, walked me into the bathroom, carried my breakfast to the table, put a pillow at my back and pushed in my chair. Later, he lifted the "three-in-one chair" that raised the toilet seat a few valuable inches and relocated it in the shower. He took my brace off again and helped me into the shower. After he steadied me as I stepped out—so carefully—he dried my back and legs.

"This is the first time I’ve ever dried a woman coming out of the shower when I had all my clothes on," he commented sweetly.

It was a mellow time, a gift that made us a family when, in the past, we’d been individuals sharing a house.

As the days rolled on, John continued with his appointments and work, and hearing about his projects took my attention. I think if I were alone, I’d dwell on each ache and spasm more—a whimpering mass writhing in self-pity that would never get well.

Patience, I learned, was the test here. Recovering from spine surgery wasn’t just a few weeks, and the increments of improvement were sometimes small. Fervently, I believed I’d be well again and so did John.

I learned to let go. I took my hands off the steering wheels of my business, my household, my project deadlines and all the things that once seemed necessary. I just let go. And you know what? Nothing crashed. John did some of them, and some were undone. Most of it doesn’t really matter.

I learned to trust other people. I truly wasn’t sure whether my husband could go beyond his own interests to help me. But he grew, and he did it.

I kept a journal throughout the experience, and when I was well again, the entries became my book. In writing those journal entries, I realized I wasn’t the only one that transformed; so changed was my husband and the future we would have together.

Husband Recounts Wife’s Surgery

When my wife, Pamela Douglas, had spine surgery to correct scoliosis, I knew the risks were serious and recovery would be long and difficult. But she was determined to be well, and I had to find the strength to go through this with her. As I look back on that experience, I was amazed.

I’ll never forget the day of the operation. We had to get Pam up at 4:30 a.m. We’d been prepared with everything packed. We got cleaned up and drove her over to the hospital. There was no traffic. We were waiting for a while and then the people came out and took her. I remember seeing her walk into the hallway with a few other people and I thought to myself, "I sure hope this works out because this could be the last time we ever see her." That was real.

Then, a number of hours later, as you usually see in movies and TV shows, the doctor comes out. That happened a few times to other people while we were sitting there; the doctors told them everything was fine—but not us. Instead, we got a phone call. I felt like there was this loud music in the background, "dum de dum dum."

I remember counting the paces. I’m an architectural designer so I tend to measure things. It was 30 paces from where I was sitting to the telephone, and half the room was looking at me. I had developed some strategies. If the worst of the worst happened and the doctor came out and said Pam didn’t make it, I actually planned what I was going to do. I was going to find a chair and just sit there. The next thing would be to call her brother. I didn’t have a plan after that, but that’s what I figured I was going to do. Pam had given me an envelope, which I put in my fire safe, "If I croak here’s what you guys should do." That was the right thing. We really approached this in the most calm, organized, almost professional way.

When I picked up the phone, it was her surgeon saying they were all happy.

I felt we’d been given a gift, so let’s make the best use of that gift. Let’s really make the household work even better, let’s stay cool, and let’s create stuff. She has a second life, we have a second life, and she got fixed. It’s absolutely amazing.

Pamela Douglas is an award-winning screenwriter with numerous credits in television drama, and also a fine artist. In May 2005, facing a degenerative spinal disease that threatened to leave her paralyzed, Pamela underwent major surgery. Her decision and the long recovery that followed inspired her to write "BACK TO LIFE: A Journey of Transformation through Back Surgery." Written in journal form as she was going through surgery and recovery, the book takes the reader into the immediacy of the moment and through the transformational power of an experience far beyond surgery. Learn more at www.divineartsmedia.com.

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