Orlando R. Barone

is a freelance writer in Doylestown

I bent down, close to my wife's ear as she lay motionless in the hospital bed. It was her second day out from the surgery that removed a devastating BB-sized tumor from her pituitary gland. "Maida, Maida, I have a question to ask you," I whispered as her eyes fluttered ever so slightly.

"Yes?" Her mouth formed the word. I paused, then decided to ask the question.

"What is my Apple ID Password?"

The query was greeted with amazed disapproval from my four adult children. Their mom had been suffering from a life-threatening ailment.

Cushings is a rare and ravaging disease. Its tiny tumor misleads the body into producing excessive doses of the steroid cortisol. The resulting symptoms include diabetes, high-blood pressure, fragile bones and arteries, and unaccountable weight gain.

What obsessive athletes do to their bodies artificially, Cushings accomplishes with stealth and without permission. The operation to scoop out the tumor is curative when it works. With Maida it seems to have worked.

The exquisite team of surgeons and specialists who made this happen ply their trade at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

After almost a year determining that Maida indeed suffered from Cushing's Disease, we made our way to the clinic for the fateful neurosurgery, which was developed at NIH by Dr. Edward Oldfield. Afterward, Oldfield met with me and my three daughters to inform us that he was "certain she is cured."

The next hours and days were a severe trial. Maida endured violent headaches and nausea while being unable to move because of a lumbar drain that could not be disturbed. As her cortisol levels declined, this woman, who has never laid eyes on an illegal drug, went through withdrawal as extreme as any addict's.

My daughters remained heroic, on 24-hour watch, changing cold compresses, offering words of encouragement to their mom, and simply being there. The holiday trimming and colorful Christmas trees sprouting throughout the enormous clinic provided a measure of uplift.

On the third post-operative day, just as Maida's pain was beginning to abate, we were informed that her cortisol numbers were "higher than we would like." If they refused to decline, more surgery was possible; a microscopic bit of tumor may have been left behind. She might have to go through the whole raft of horrors again. A rank dizziness set in on me and would not ease.

Despite our ceaseless supplications, the numbers remained stubbornly high. A full week passed. Maida was doing better, fierce pain being replaced by utter exhaustion. Drains and catheters were gone; mistletoe and holly appeared everywhere. Our spirits faltered.

The young doctors and splendid nurses kept vigil with us, drawing blood, checking urine, watching levels, hoping against hope for signs of an elusive cure.

Finally, we were informed that one last test remained. Blood would be drawn and a hormone ingested. The following day, more blood was to be taken. If cortisol levels dropped sufficiently, Maida would be out of the woods.

"What level are we looking for?" I asked. "The magic number," one doctor said, "was 1.8."

The next day Maida's cortisol levels read exactly that. And one-point-eight became my three favorite syllables. We were discharged the following day, to celebrate Christmas at home.

I have turned my attention to this season when Christians say our God made the reckless decision to become one of us. Why the omniscient divinity would choose to pitch a tent among our kind has often eluded me. Our consistent history of making a colossal mess of things should be a powerful deterrent to voluntary incarnation.

Except this year, I get to contemplate the better angels of our nature. Angels with "MD" and "RN" after their names.

Deep thanks, too, to our compatriots throughout the land, who have decided that our mighty shoulders, American shoulders, even though burdened by economic hardship, are yet broad enough to bear the sublime weight of these institutes dedicated to finding the path to healing and health.

I'm here to thank you for showing our God that, perhaps, at long last, all our lives are worth saving, that Christmas really might make sense. In particular, though, I thank you for saving one life, Maida's. I have no way to tell you how much I needed to have my beloved wife returned home with me.

She's the only one who knows all my passwords.