A few days ago, hubby and I took a little drive down the path to the woods. One of the outdoor cats was missing and we were sure we’d find him hiding out in the beautiful park-like setting of our little private slice of paradise…
We walked…winding our way past downed limbs, hubby searching and calling for Tibby; I, pausing to snap photos of bare-branched trees, sunset and mushrooms…reaching out to find his strong hand, leaning upon him for assistance and enjoying the peace and intimacy of a winter’s eve walk…
Contrast that lovely evening, with this: Me, holding his hand, pierced and laden with plastic tubes, listening to the beep and hum of hospital equipment and the ominous words and tests that made up the balance of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception that ended with a diagnosis: mild heart attack.
How can I begin to convey the heartrending moment when, as I was preparing a treat after Saturday morning’s Mass for a party we would attend that evening, my husband grabbed my arm and said, in deadly earnest: “Please stop what your doing and take me to the hospital. Now.”
There was no question, no quick “googling” of symptoms, no consultation. The look on his face was such that I dropped an entire bag of pecans and the rolling pin into the utensil drawer, grabbed my coat, and mumbled a hurried/worried “I’ll be back in a little bit…” to my confused children.
No thoughts, just action. Roger, mostly silent, sat in the passenger seat, a place he’s only sat but rarely in 31 years of marriage. I sped, and was admonished to slow down more than once, towards the hospital, anxious and needy…praying an endless string of “Hail Marys” and “dear God help hims” all the way. I could see his discomfort and tried to hide my own fears, asking all the while, “are you okay? What are you feeling now?”
We entered the hospital and in less than a minute I uttered those words that no wife ever wants nor should ever have to say: “I think my husband is having a heart attack…”
And so he was. But he had been so wise…listening to his body, gauging every nuance of the odd feelings he had felt at home following Mass and brunch. He had been prompted by the admonition of another dear friend whose own wife had begged us to never, ever wait should either of us experience any of the symptoms her sweet husband underwent only two short months ago, having suffered for days before finally experiencing a nearly fatal massive heart attack. Roger remembered Gary…and knew he had to seek help immediately. Upon entering the hospital, his arm, jaw and chest pain intensified. His original blood work and EKGs were relatively normal…it was only after arriving that the real crisis began. Five separate “events,” each lasting just a few minutes, and increasing in intensity, set in motion a flurry of activity from medical staff. Ultrasounds and chest xrays and admittance to the Cardiac Care Unit. Medicated, he settled down and awaited a visit from our priest. It seemed he’d dodged a full blown heart attack…
Father came…entertained and blessed, leaving a wake of peace as he exited the hospital with our oldest son. We both settled down for the night…I, on the hard bench beside his bed…he, medicated and hooked up to a portable EKG. Twenty minutes later, like breakers crashing upon the beach, the first “wave” arrived. One agonizing, painful, crushing attack after another, until the tidal wave struck…a full-blown heart attack. I watched him, our eyes locked…his, filled with agony and fear, mine frightened too…I couldn’t help him, only pray, pray, pray. A team of nurses worked feverishly to get the IV drip to administer a rapid dose of nitro to stop the attack…it seemed it would never end. As horrific as this experience was, the blessing of being in the hospital, surrounded by the best cardiac team imaginable, was and still is “as good as it gets…”
And then the bad news: following his heart catheterization, we learned that Roger has extensive blockage and will require a quadruple bypass surgery on Thursday, the Feast of St. Lucy. We beg your prayers and know that “God is in His Heaven and all is right with the world.” He has so beautifully ordered every aspect of this crisis…the support that we’ve received from friends, family…all of Roger’s KMI coworkers is astounding.
Roger’s hospital room remains a place of joyful visits and a few private, tearful moments as we contemplate the work ahead. To quote my precious husband: “They’re going to crack open my chest…and take out my heart…”
And fix it. Fix what is broken and make it whole, as God means for it to be.
There was a brief moment after hearing the news, that I begged God for mercy…for comfort…for some sense that this is right, that we’re where we need to be…that it will all be okay.
Tearfully looking out the window, I heard a small noise and saw a very tiny, lovely Vietnamese woman enter the room. She smiled and said: “I cleaned your room…you like?”
“Oh yes,” I said, wiping a tear, “you did a lovely job.”
“I clean the windows for you?” she smiled, approaching with a rag, and looked at my husband, sleeping off the sedation from his latest procedure.
“No…thank you…these fingerprints are from the children…I don’t mind seeing them…” the words trailed as I thought about telling the children what was about to transpire.
She looked at Roger again…”He be alright. You see. He be out of here soon!” She smiled the loveliest and truest smile…
Sadly and gravely I replied, “He’s having open heart surgery on Thursday…”
She left the room…and quickly returned, holding a long-stemmed wooden rose, that filled the room with perfume. “This for you…not him. He be alright…you look at this rose. You be alright. This for you…”
A rose. Had it dropped from the sky, I couldn’t have possibly been less shocked, surprised and delighted by the confirmation. She quickly twisted its stem into the shape of a heart…a heart that looks a lot like a human heart…and placed it on the table.
She came back yesterday, with a hug and another rose…this time, placing one in the hands of my daughters, as well. Yesterday evening I placed that second rose in the hands of my dear friend, Sandra…who has so lovingly and beautifully cared for my children (and her five!) for the past few days…she, too, is a gift straight from Heaven…
Hearts and roses two weeks before Christmas…another unexpected gift from the Lord, He who knows exactly what we need at every moment…
If you can spare a prayer tomorrow, we would be so very grateful…it’s going to be a long day…and a long road to recovery. May God bless and reward you for your kindness.
“A sound heart is life to the body…” Proverbs 14:30