After yesterday's long series of challenges, today was actually blissfully uneventful. I woke up reasonably early, while Sara and Ben were still asleep in the next hotel room over, and went out to get some breakfast and evaluate the road conditions. Things looked substantially better than the night before. Even though it was still below freezing, the combination of direct sunlight and moving traffic had already melted most of the ice from the lanes of travel on the main highway. By 11am when everyone was up and ready for travel, you could hardly tell the roads had been treacherous the night before. There were still a few small ice patches, particularly on the bridges, but for the most part the roads were clear and traffic was flowing normally.
It was about 130 miles to Birmingham, which took about 2 1/2 hours with a couple of quick stops along the way (McDonald's for Ben, Subway for us). The last ten miles or so into Birmingham were downright spooky. We hadn't seen many abandoned vehicles before then, but all of a sudden there were empty cars on both sides of the roads. First one or two, then longer groups all scattered around at odd angles. Most were undamaged, but occasionally there would be a car with a broken out window or a truck with a smashed in front end. Some were sitting on the shoulders of the road, while others were spun around and stranded in the median or down embankments. Nearing our hotel we encountered several random spots where there was an abandoned car just sitting in the single lane of travel. We even passed the burnt-out husk of one sedan that had been completely destroyed by fire the night before. Even now, six hours later, I was just out filling my gas tank and the cars were still scattered everywhere. No doubt towing companies are working overtime today and into the weekend.
For Ben's part, he spent most of the drive sitting in the back seat with a blanket pulled cover his head and listening to his iPod. He was visibly happy that today's drive was much shorter than yesterday's, and he continually asked for reassurance that he was going to the hospital to see his new doctor.
Upon checking in, Sara revealed a huge surprise to Ben: the hotel has an indoor heated swimming pool. He was overjoyed. After quickly settling into the hotel room and then changing into his swimsuit, we went down to the pool and let him splash around for as long as he wanted. For most of the time he had the pool completely to himself. He would gleefully splash and swim the length of the pool for about a minute, and then he would retreat to the steps on the shallow end and rest for three or four minutes before starting again. At one point he was sucking pool water into his mouth, and then placing his index finger against his lips and then squirting the water out like a fountain. He was just so happy. I found myself sitting there drinking in his joy, knowing full well that by that time tomorrow he would be laid up in a hospital bed with a giant scar across his abdomen and a good chunk of his insides scooped out. I wanted to soak in that happiness, so that I would have something to hang onto for the next several days.
I won't lie, I am terrified about tomorrow. I don't doubt the skill of the surgeons involved or the necessity of the surgery. He is in the very best of hands, and there is no question he needs this procedure. But every surgery has risks, and this kind of extensive abdominal surgery is even riskier. Things can go wrong very quickly. I am trying not to be unduly worried, but it isn't easy.
After he had his fill of swimming, we took a drive over to the hospital so that we would know where we are going in the morning. One nice thing is, it turns out the hospital is located in an urban area where there are restaurants all around within a single block of the building. We won't be trapped with nothing but hospital cafeteria food. Anyway, once we had sussed out the hospital location and parking situation, we went for an early dinner. Ben was thrilled to go to Red Robin, and he even at some chicken strips there with his fries.
At this point we are back at the hotel getting ready for bed. Ben has nested himself in his bed, surrounded by all of his favorite books and videos. He is just on the cusp of falling asleep - I expect he will be out cold within the next few minutes. We need to be up at 3:30am to get ready, and then wake Ben up at 4. Because today's consult with the doctor was cancelled due to the weather, we are supposed to be at the hospital by 5am. We will meet with Dr. Christein then, where we have what seems like a million questions. After that Ben will be sent directly into surgery. At this moment I have no idea what time the surgery will actually happen, or how long it will take. I will post updates on Twitter and Facebook as I have them, but I can't promise exactly when or how often. Theoretically by tomorrow afternoon Ben will have had most or all of his pancreas removed, and his islet cells transplanted into his liver. He will have a significant abdominal scar with staples in it, and he will be thoroughly sedated. It will likely be days before he is conscious for any length of time, and he will almost certainly be in a great deal of pain. It is going to be a very long couple of days.