Nothing More Real Than the Life We Are Living

He was the one who had just had surgery, but I was the one who was crying.

Home from yet another day spent at the hospital, this time to biopsy a suspicious spot in the same area of his throat where he’d recently completed chemo and radiation, I found myself weeping on my husband’s shoulder.

For once, my sadness didn’t have anything to do with the results. In fact, the initial report was good. Perhaps it was because of the lack of bad news that these other feelings found the space to emerge. My concern that night?

“Everyone is out there living real life and all we ever do is go to the hospital!”

Minutes before, grateful to be home, I had collapsed on the couch and was scrolling through social media. Doing so on a day in the heart of the summer meant seeing photo after photo of how our friends had spent their days: on beaches, mountains, campgrounds, cabins, road trips. Smiling families, sun burnt couples, splashing babies, ice cream, roller coasters, kayaks, outdoor music festivals, and barbecues.

In contrast to this veritable catalog of summer bliss, I had spent my day and many before it, in the outpatient surgery waiting room. There I was assaulted by the sounds of three televisions playing different daytime shows. The windows are tinted such that the weather seems to be perpetually overcast. The frigid temperatures in the room require layers to be worn. Food isn’t allowed and leaving the room for more than a few minutes at a time is discouraged. The disparity between what my peers and I had experienced that day was stark, and, in this moment of exhaustion, felt unfair.

As I cried, my incredible husband, hospital ID bracelet still on his wrist, looked at me and said,

“There is nothing more real than the life we are living.”

With that sentence, my perspective on our entire day shifted.

I realized that at the beach or the water park or the zoo, it is easy to hang out in the shiny, smiles-on, surface-level parts of yourself and oh, what a blissful place that is.

But when you walk into the hospital for a procedure, the layers you wear in the outside world get peeled off, revealing the parts of you that you don’t typically display, talk about, shine light on. The parts that are very real.

Think about it: one of the first things to happen in the hospital is that you strip down, hand your clothes to someone you just met, and wrap yourself in a flimsy crispy gown.

Layer one: gone.

Physically more vulnerable, you then begin to discuss with this stranger your medical history, things your closest friends don’t know and certainly aren’t talking about on this summer day. When did you last poop? Do you still take those meds for depression? How much do you drink each week?

Layer two: revealed.

While our counterparts debate, “Canoe or kayak? Hamburger or hot dog?” our decisions are high stakes. We have to decide if we stop the arrogant resident who assures us he can get this IV in even as the sweat forms on his brow, and if we should give the surgeon permission to make decisions in the moment based on what he sees in the operating room.

Then we are faced with the topic most people spend their days and especially their vacations avoiding: death. Each doctor that enters the curtained room brings with them warnings of what might go wrong. Followed up, of course, by assurances that the chances are low. But it’s too late. The seeds have been planted. Unlike our friends who on this day raced by the warning signs at the amusement park, the dangers in our situation have been made frighteningly clear to us. In fact, we signed a form on which they are listed in detail.

With the potential of death front of mind, words of love and devotion are spoken, embraces are shared. This is not a day to assume your beloved knows how you feel. If there was ever a time and a place for declarations of love, it is in this hospital, in this moment, where things are very real.

Back in the waiting room, I watch the electronic board that tracks the status of surgical patients, hating that someone on the other side of it knows more about the current state of my husband than I. Knowing there’s a real possibility that he might not wake up, I stare, looking for clues about his well-being on the screen, as friends a few miles away watch the scoreboard at the baseball game.

The surgeon appears and walks me into a small consultation room, a stack of surgical photos in his hand. In this moment, while my husband is still asleep, I am told information about how the surgery went, what the pathology report showed, what the next steps will be. I learn before my husband the details of our new reality.

When I am finally allowed to go to Post Op to be reunited with my love, the reunion is not like that after a typical few hours apart, but instead feels epic and celebratory as if we, too, climbed a mountain and rode a roller coaster today. Our adventure won’t appear on anyone’s news feed. But in this moment, there is nothing more real than the beauty and miracle of being alive, of being in love, and of living to see another day.

This piece was originally published at


Click to share on:

2 Responses

  1. My cousin sent me a link to your blog earlier this week and on Wednesday morning I read your entire blog while I sat with my 38 year old husband during his dialysis session. I can relate to almost everything you have written so much. The date on this one I was with him at Mayo for 11 days where we found out he would need to begin dialysis with very little hope of ever getting off and no chance of a kidney transplant due to his rare gene mutation. I remember being on social media and seeing pictures of everyone enjoying their Labor day weekend while we were stuck in the hospital and not being able to spend it with our 4 and 2 year old daughters. I remember looking at the nurses and drs and being jealous that they got to go home each night to their families. It has been a rough few months with a long road ahead of us, but I am so thankful that my cousin sent me a link to your blog because you get it and understand how hard it is being a caregiver. So thank you. And I loved your current "I see you post". Continue writing, you are a beautiful writer.

    1. Hayley,
      I’m so glad you found me. I always have mixed emotions when I hear of others who are living lives similar to ours – grateful to not be alone, but also heartbroken that others are suffering. Continue to reach out. It sounds as if we have similar paths. Sending love <3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *