Six am and the alarm clock rings. It’s been some time since I’m awake. Today my son Afonso is being operated on and we have to be at the hospital for check in at 7.30.
I get up and do my ten-minute morning meditation. Need it more than ever. When it is over, I am calmer, I have a feeling all will go well. I get dressed and when I’m having breakfast, I hear someone coming out of his room. I think it’s Afonso, but I’m surprised to find my younger son Pedro, who at the last minute has decided he will come with us to the hospital, not join us later as we had agreed.
It is still dark outside, a cold winter morning as we get out of the car in the parking. The hospital reception lights shine, and we cross the few metres slowly, as Afonso is walking with his crutches. We leave the small suitcase with some pyjamas I have so lovingly prepared in the car – he says he doesn’t want to look like he’s travelling, and we agree to fetch it later.
His Dad and his wife are already waiting at the reception and we greet each other warmly. We are blessed to have a friendly relationship, and this is not the first time we are all together in a situation like this, or a social one, and it’s all very pleasant and natural.
Check in at this hour is immediate and we are taken to the fourth floor to a spacious room with a large window overlooking the river and Vasco da Gama’s bridge. A wonderful view. Unfortunately, he won’t be staying there as the heater is out of order, so they move him to another, smaller room with a view over the railway, but at least it’s warm. Still, this is a private hospital, with a hotel-like service – the rugby club insurance is paying for the operation.
He’s not nervous, but slightly tense as would be normal. We are, too, but make jokes and keep a jolly mood as much as possible. Pedro is awfully sleepy – after all he has slept very little in the last few days (New Year’s festivities) and his brother jokes with him. Then a nurse comes to take him and as he pushes his bed we follow, until the door to the operation theatre. I kiss him slightly on his head cap and his Dad strokes his shoulder and we see him disappear behind the closing doors. A tough moment, when you see your son disappearing and I cannot hold back some silent tears. Suddenly I feel a strong arm about my shoulder, and a dear voice saying “Now, come on Mom, it’s all right” and my son Pedro is there for me, and I feel so grateful for his gesture and I think how well he understands me. I know his father is also struggling with emotion, but as a man he needs to appear tougher; as for me, I’m only a mother and getting more emotional with age.
Now we go out into the cold morning sun and look for a café to have some breakfast. Not myself – I had it at home, but all the others haven’t, so I drink a much-needed cup of coffee while they eat.
Pedro and I come back to his room and wait. Pedro lies down on his brother’s bed and takes a much-needed nap. His Dad and stepmother go to a shopping mall nearby to get some Nespresso coffee. I make the most of the time to do some work, mostly write an article I should have sent weeks ago! This is a moment of quietness; I am calm, my faith is strong, and I pray, and believe, that all will go well with my son.
Afterwards we all talk, and watch TV and a few minutes before noon we receive a text message from the hospital saying the operation is about to begin, delayed almost one hour. This is a great system; this way we won’t worry that it’s taking too long. We know it should take around two hours, so we wait. And we talk, and we look at the bright sunny day outside.
More than two hours go by and we are getting restless when another message comes in telling us the operation is over and he’s in the recovery room. It means all went well, thank God! Relieved, but slightly anxious at the same time, we go down and make a try at the recovery room. His Dad knocks at the door and a nurse opens it and as we ask for our son, she points at him and I can see his beloved face, his eyes closed, sleeping and looking so peaceful that I am reassured all is well with my son. Again emotion invades me, but this time it’s a joyful one; the first step of his recovery – the operation – is over. We go out to have some lunch, as Pedro is complaining he’s hungry. This time we go to the hospital cafeteria and eat something there. Another cup of coffee and we are ready to come back, although it will still take some time for him to come back to his room. We wait.
His girlfriend arrives. She is a dear girl and part of the family, as they have been together for almost seven years now. At long last they bring him in; reclining on his bed, his leg immobilised in a splint (it has to be kept at a 90 degree angle these first weeks) he’s in a great mood, smiling, laughing even, saying he slept all the time as he was given general anesthesia; on his knee operation he had epidural and he was conscious for most of the operation, which was a bore. We are so happy to see him in such a jolly mood, telling us about how he has been joking with the nurses in the recovery room, and I remember someone telling me that female nurses, who are used to a majority of patients well advanced in age, welcome the rare young men, handsome and fit, that show up at the hospital…certainly his case.
And now he’s telling us he is ravenous hungry, as was to be expected. He is brought his tea, some apple juice and a cheese and ham croissant, and I can’t help remembering the best croissant I had in my life, soon after I gave birth to him, almost twenty-five years ago…
Then everyone leaves but me. His girlfriend to a class at University, but she will be back later and spend the night here – he won’t have Mom or Dad staying; he says he’s grown up now and we have to respect that. His Dad goes home as he lives some 40 kms away and Pedro is off to his girlfriend’s.
Unexpectedly the surgeon appears and tells us a few more details about the operation and recovery. The next few weeks are essential for a good recovery, he says. He will have to do everything by the book, be quiet, have patience…I reassure him, I know Afonso will do whatever it takes to achieve his ultimate goal – to go back to playing rugby. After all, he has been in a similar situation before, and always worked hard, very hard for his recovery.
Outside dusk falls. It is a unique moment of quietness. The TV is on, but I don’t pay any notice. Afonso is watching it, smiling, a happy look about his face. He has been on the phone with friends, with his physical therapist who is now a great friend and huge support in these moments, the person who has always helped him recover and get back to the rugby field. He tells everyone how easy it was: “Hey man, one moment they put a mask on my face and I’m sleeping for four hours and when I wake up the operation is over and I feel great and I’m hungry…” – his cheerful tone is a balm to a mother’s heart.
Outside dusk falls and I can see the streetlights outside. Afonso is leaning on his pillows, smiling, alternatively looking at his laptop, on a small hospital table in front of him, or at the TV set. He is calm, relaxed; the first obstacle has been overcome. Now a long recovery lies before him, but I look at his eyes and see the same determination I have seen so many times before. But that will not be today. Today’s battle has been won. Tomorrow is another day, with new battles to be fought. He will fight them, and win, this brave, beautiful boy I am so proud of.
In a few minutes his girlfriend arrives, and I take my leave. As I come out of the hospital, I feel the cold in my face and look up at the dark, starry sky with a heartfelt thanks that this long day at the hospital is over, and all has gone well.