With surgery on the horizon, Annie’s hospital room was frequently visited by a whole new group of unfamiliar faces. The day after we received the news of Annie’s diagnosis, I was sitting in Annie’s room while she worked with an occupational therapist down the hall. A tall gentleman, accompanied by a group of eager-looking residents, entered the room. “I’m Big Al,” he said. I looked at him, completely speechless. Who was this? Sensing my uncertainty, he continued, “Yeah, I’m Dr. Cohen, but you can call me Big Al. Everyone does.”
“Um, okay…” I mustered. I didn’t know what to make of this man!
He told me that he and his team would be performing Annie’s surgery. He then plunged enthusiastically into a description of the plan. Annie would be undergoing a delicate procedure that would last approximately 10 hours. The surgeons would dissect arteries from Annie’s scalp, then open her brain and gently stitch the arteries onto the surface. They would also drill “burr holes” in the back of her head as another means to increase circulation. Dr. Cohen excitedly described the surgery, pausing several times to make more technical comments to his residents. He concluded this explanation by asking me, “Do you have any questions?”
I was completely overwhelmed. I couldn’t even pronounce the name of the procedure, much less get my brain to formulate intelligent questions about brain surgery! Instead, I asked the only question that seemed to matter at the time: “Do you have any children?”
His kind eyes gazed at me, and he responded with gentle seriousness, “Yes. I do. And I want you to know that I approach this as a parent, in addition to being a surgeon. We’re going to take very good care of your daughter.”
I silently thanked God as Dr. Cohen and his group left the room, knowing that once again, He had sent the right person to our family. I learned later that Dr. Cohen was one of only a small group of neurosurgeons in the country who had performed the surgery that Annie needed.
Dr. Cohen returned later so that he could meet Annie, and answer more of my questions. While he was talking, he gently put his hands on Annie’s head, examining her. She was instantly smitten and just gazed at him, giving him her sweet, crooked grin. I told Dr. Cohen that I was worried about Tom; an engineer by training, he would have many questions and concerns. It didn’t surprise me when Dr. Cohen appeared again that evening so that he and Tom could become acquainted.
When he arrived on the floor, he held a model of a brain in one hand, and a bag of chocolates in the other. He spied Annie, and called out, “Annie, baby!” He handed the candy to her, saying, “This is VERY important medicine. You need to take as much as you want, because it will definitely make you feel better.” He then turned to Tom, showing the model of the brain, explaining the name of the surgery and answering his questions. The two of them then got into a discussion about music (one of Tom’s passions), and we learned about the music Dr. Cohen chose for surgery. “We play lots of Elvis…” he told us, laughing.
When I called my sister later to tell her about our experience, she was floored. “Katie, you don’t understand…I don’t know of any neurosurgeons who are that in-tune with a family’s needs. This is amazing!”
And it was…but perhaps not surprising, given God’s constant provision.
The next day, a large group of residents and medical students rounded on Annie. The neurosurgery fellow was in charge, and he was explaining Annie’s condition, prognosis and upcoming surgery to the group. He stumbled as he struggled to recall the name of the surgery. “She’s going to have a procedure called…”
I proudly piped up, “Encephaloduroarteriosynangiosis.”
Dr. Cohen entered the room behind me, saying, “Listen to Mrs. Wetherbee! She knows what she’s talking about.”
His words bolstered me, and reaffirmed my position as the expert on Annie (and Bill!) My confidence had been smashed to bits when Annie got sick. I needed that confidence now, as we faced Annie’s surgery and continued recovery. “Big Al,” with his brain model and chocolate medicine and penchant for Elvis music, had found my “mother’s intuition” and handed it back to me on a silver platter.
It was exactly the “brain surgery” that I needed.