Yesterday was the longest day of our lives, and we would not be honest if we said it was a piece of cake. At 6:45 AM, Elizabeth walked away from us, and it would be nearly twelve hours later until we would get to see her again. Brian and I were both stressed by the waiting, and even though we knew everything would be okay, it was hard not to worry. We appreciated the emails, texts, and posts of support; they helped us pass the twelve hours.
In the post-op meeting, the surgeon indicated how pleased he was with the results. Because of the
brain mapping and intra-operative MRI, he was confident he had removed 99% of the tumor. The MRI indicated .3 ml of tumor remained, but because of its location, he did not want to risk damaging
her memory. In the end, the surgery went exactly as he had described and anticipated.
When we were able to see her last night, we were amazed at how beautiful she looked just having endured an entire day of brain surgery. With her red pony tail sticking out the top of her turban, she smiled when she saw us, and asked, “How are you?” She then proceeded to recall quite a bit of her surgery. Brian and I had been convinced she would remember nothing (or very little), but she clearly recalls conversations and procedures conducted during the surgery. Of course, as a typical college kid, she asked for her cell phone and began to read the many texts, posts, Instagram, and SnapChats. Once we knew she was okay, we slipped out for dinner at a restaurant across the street. We returned for a little bit, but we knew the best way to get her healthy is to have her sleep. The nurse gave her something strong to knock her out, and Brian and I were able to get a good night’s sleep as well back in the hotel.
This morning, we were able to get to the hospital by 6:15, and we had a great conversation with the neurological surgeon who has major rock star status in our family. In fact, we are pretty sure he is one of the most amazing people on this planet. Not only does he have skillful hands and intelligence beyond belief, but he is amazingly personable and spoke with her like one of our family friends. As our appointment with him on Thursday came to an end, Elizabeth handed her surgeon a box of DeBrands truffles and said, “Because you are going to be so busy with me tomorrow, I thought you would need a gift for your Valentine.” He doubled over laughing and exclaimed, “Oh, my gosh, I forgot tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. This is great!” His genuine gratitude and carefree conversation with Elizabeth made her that much more confident in his ability to care for her. He did admit that he might not share them with his wife who also works in the Mayo system.
During his visit this morning, the surgeon was excited with how her surgery went and how well she is responding, and he called her a star. She did exactly as she had been instructed. Elizabeth’s teachers from preschool and beyond will not be surprised by her willingness to please. He said that she can move out of the ICU this afternoon to a different floor, and if she keeps doing so well, she can be discharged tomorrow.
Interestingly, Elizabeth does remember with some clarity the conversations they had and the discomfort she felt during the surgery. A few times she told him it hurt, and he was able to knock her out. At other times, while they were removing the tumor, they needed her alert to monitor her brain activity. As an avid sports fan, they talked about his boys’ hockey seasons and her brother’s
basketball season. They also talked football, and she analyzed this year’s Super Bowl game.
Today is one of rest. Brian and I are working quietly in her room, and she is sleeping thanks
to pain killers. She has said she does not have a lot of pain, and the greatest pain is in the jaw muscle, as they had to cut through it. They have removed all of her wires and tubes with the exception of the ports for intravenous drugs, and she is resting comfortably with her stuffed brain (a gift from a colleague) and her hot pink and orange fleece blanket (handmade by a high
Elizabeth is on the road to recovery. This week we will meet with an oncologist to discuss the pathology report and to determine how she wants to treat the remaining part of the tumor. For now, we are thankful for the gifts of family and friends who held us so closely in prayer, thoughts, mediation, and fasting yesterday and for the past three weeks. We are also extremely thankful for the skilled surgeon and healthcare providers who have held her so carefully in their hands. The synchronized flow of care here at the Mayo Clinic is remarkable.
Valentine’s Day came and went, but it was one the Schillings will always celebrate as the day we were shown the deep love so many people have for our family. I hesitated last night to post on FaceBook a picture of Elizabeth shortly after surgery, but so many people had thought about her all day that it seemed only right after she gave me permission.
We still have more waiting to do as the pathologists do their work and Elizabeth’s body heals, but for now, we are content and quiet. In this quiet, we have time to think about the whirlwind of the past three weeks, and we are reminded of how little control we have over our lives and how much our lives have changed. Ultimately, Deepak Chopra was right when he said, “Even when you think
you have your life all mapped out, things happen that shape your destiny in ways you might never have imagined.” This we know to be true.