While working one Friday evening in December, Shane Gerdes collapsed and suffered a seizure. When he came to, he was in the neuro intensive care unit at Rush University Medical Center, where doctors discovered a brain tumor that would need to be removed, perhaps as soon as Monday morning.
It was not at all what Gerdes expected to hear.
“When they said I needed an MRI, I was like ‘No big deal.’ Maybe I didn't have enough water, or I didn't eat enough, or maybe I was epileptic,’ ” Gerdes says. “But I wasn't. The MRI came back, and there was a big circle on it. It was terrifying.”
Putting love first
His first concern was his fiancée, Darien Monk.
Last summer, after 13 years together, the Chicago couple became engaged, but because of the pandemic, they hadn’t set a date. There was no rush.
But facing surgery to remove the sizeable tumor on his temporal lobe, Gerdes didn’t want to wait to marry the love of his life — even if it meant delaying surgery by a week.
“I wanted to know she’d be protected, just in case,” Gerdes says. “I had faith in the surgeon, and he did a masterful job, but there's always the chance.”
Caring for the whole person
Getting married was all Gerdes could think about — or talk about. The nurses in Rush’s neuro intensive care unit took his concerns seriously, as did his attending physician, neurologist Lauren Koffman, DO.
“I heard from the team that he was engaged, and they’d been postponing their wedding,” says Koffman.
On Sunday, Koffman and Gerdes discussed both the surgery he needed and his engagement.
Meanwhile, his nurse, Andrea Chepkevich, RN, and the nurse in charge of the unit, Dani Slover, RN, went to work figuring out how they could pull together an impromptu wedding that day.
Masters in quick thinking and swift action, the neuro critical care team hatched a plan: Amy Blackwood, RN, would ask her husband, who is ordained to perform weddings, to do the ceremony; Koffman would pick up a cake, sparkling juice, flowers and a card on behalf of the staff, and Slover, Chepkevich and other nurses and advance practice providers on the unit would work out the details.
“We didn’t have wedding decorations, but we had a lot of natural light from the windows, and with the Christmas tree, it was pretty,” Slover says.
“They were angels,” says Gerdes.
“Sunday morning, he woke me up and said, ‘Do you want to get married – now?’ ” Monk says. “And I was like, 'OK, yeah, let's do it!’ ”
As they prepared to walk past the physicians, nurses and other clinical staff who would be their witnesses, they felt like they were in an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” or a made-for-TV movie.
“Who gets married in a hospital? I guess us!” Monk says.
They exchanged vows, cut the cake and headed home for a few days before Gerdes came back in for his surgery, which was performed by neurosurgeon Richard Byrne, MD.
Preparing for the future
Gerdes was able to return home in time for Christmas. “You were my present,” Monk tells him.
“When I saw the tumor, I wanted to be married. I wanted to make sure she had my 401k, and I wanted the world to know I love her,” Gerdes says. “I’m thankful every day. I'm still scared, but optimistic.”
The story of their wedding and the special care from his Rush nurses and doctor caught the attention of local TV and radio stations and was featured in The New York Times.
“The ceremony was beautiful,” Koffman says. “You could clearly see their love and devotion for one another.”
For the neuro critical care team, it was a moment they will always treasure.
“We don’t often get to bring joy to the neuro ICU,” Slover says. “He was such a grateful patient and they were so appreciative. It’s one of the highlights of my career.”