Thursday, February 08, 2007


So very cold, as I slip out into the night to maneuver my way to the airport; 4:35 am and I am behind schedule. Traveling alone usually makes me uneasy, but I am focused on this journey. Arriving in Florida and finally to the hospital, I am not sure what I will make conversation about for the afternoon. Bursting in full of a lifetime of things left unsaid is surely not the way to go. He looks tired, pale and gray from hair to lips. We chit chat about weather and mindless things and finally move into a comfortable pattern.

My children made a poster that I unveil with pride. Slogans like “BE STRONG, HANG TOUGH and KICK BUTT GRANDPA” roll between the art work. He asks to have it hung where he can see it. We talk about people we haven’t seen in a while, about the kids and what is keeping them busy; each conversation opens the cover of a memory. A discussion of teenagers driving has us laughing about my brother’s driving escapades and has me retelling the oil changing story. In between he asks his wife to call the golf course where he works to let them know how long his recovery will be so they can find temporary replacement. He speaks about “after the surgery,” not with false bravado but with certainty that there will be more to come.

Doctors slip in and out to discuss the procedure that will take place in the morning. They will carve away all of the ‘dead’ portions of the heart, reshape it, create a new door and install four new bypasses. It will be at least four hours. The last four hours have passed quickly and I know that the four to come will move at an intolerable slow crawl. I tease him about the reshaping of his heart and tell him he might come out this super romantic! The time comes to leave and we collect his belongings to take home. My dad stands up to give me a hug good-by. I look into his surprisingly brave eyes, “I love you Dad.”

“I love you, too,” he answers with an ease that makes it seem like this is our usual thing. Funny, with his cracked shell, he looks exactly the same, even with soft emotion trickling out. I head back to his home with my step mother, both of us feeling positive.

The waiting room is a contrast of comfy chairs and cold air. It has the look of a lounge in a fancy hotel lobby as families set up camp, moving discussions between light-hearted and serious. An older man sits behind a brown wooden desk, marking charts, answering phones and pointing to groups of people in chairs. Volunteers scurry between the operating rooms, the brown wooden desk, and the families anxiously awaiting progress reports. I sit with my brother, his wife and my step mother, huddled into a circle of support.

Occasionally a doctor in green scrubs with a blue hat and surgical mask will move through the doors, sometimes softly, sometimes with exuberance reminiscent of a cowboy through saloon doors in an old western. Each time, the scrubs stop at the brown wooden desk and then follow a hand gesture in the direction of an awaiting family. Each time my heart quickens, too soon for a doctor to come to us; each time I am washed with relief; not our turn.

A man in black jeans walks slowly by. He wears a navy blue warm up jacket and baseball cap, but I cannot see his face as his head is bent low. He sits just beyond our cluster of chairs, elbows on his knees, hands clasped between head hanging down over his hands. I cannot break the lock of my gaze as he appears to shrug his shoulders once, twice and then in the unmistakable repetition that accompanies sobbing. One hand goes over his eyes and wipes at the pain, the sobs now audible. My heart breaks for him. My heart fears for me. Not all of the reports are good. After a long time of attempting self composure, the man walks through the doors where the doctor had emerged.

I watch cautiously now, guarded for surgeons as our four hours is coming to a close. Each doctor has the potential to be the Angel of Mercy or the Grim Reaper and I stare at the one newly emerging. After checking in at the brown wooden desk, he pans the room for the appropriate family and I know right away that we are it. I cannot read any expression and stop breathing as he moves in our direction; Angel or Reaper? His walk is brisk; a good sign I believe and something like a smile creeps to the edge of his mouth as he comes close. “He did well and will be up in recovery in about an hour; shortly thereafter you can see him.”

I felt tension slipping off from the top of me like the skin peeling down a banana and we shared smiles, giggles and sighs of relief. I tell the others that God isn’t finished with him yet; still has rough edges to polish. We are surprised, and then not so surprised at the sheer will of this man.

Our jubilation begins to wane as one, two and then three hours creep past in the ICU waiting room. We find out then that he had been brought up, but quickly returned to the OR as his blood pressure dropped dangerously low. He had to be reopened to install a pump to assist his heart. His situation still critical and he is not yet out of the woods. The pump will be in three or four days as he heals and then they will gradually return him to his own. His wife was finally allowed back to see him briefly; a reassurance that he pulled through, but a picture that left her cold and sobbing.

Finally we retreat home, unsure of what to feel and grasping for the half full side of the cup. My hopes now sit with the thought that as he comes out of anesthesia, his mind will begin to work and everything to him is ‘mind over matter.’ Later that evening, the nurse says he is breathing beyond the ventilator and that they will be able to remove it by morning. Inside, I know what this means. He’s fighting and my dad is not a quitter.

By mid day the next day, his wife is allowed in to see him. We wait cautiously in the waiting room until the door reopens and she enters beaming. One at a time we are allowed to go back; five minutes each. It has been 20 hours since his surgery and he smiles as I enter the room. We laugh that he is worried about what his hair looks like. I tell him that his hair looks 'hot' and he says he feels good but they haven’t let him get up yet. He bubbles on talking more that I have ever seen, asking about the score of the UCONN game and wondering if we had lunch yet.

“Which one of the kids wrote ‘kick butt Grandpa’?” He asks. It was Cadence, I tell him. “Would you tell her I did?” He wants to know what time my flight home is and tells us to go have lunch. His wife struggles to kiss him, giving in to blowing a kiss, as she’s not tall enough to lean over. He calls her back to the room as she leaves, letting her know next time to come around the other sideof the bed where it is lower and she’ll be able to reach him for a real kiss. I giggle inside at the romantic new shape of his heart.

I flew home at the end of the day, reassured in so many ways. By the time my flight had landed, they had removed the heart pump and this morning, he is sitting in a chair. I ponder all of these things, making sure not to take anything for granted.

I have much to be grateful for.

The power of prayer.

The power of the human spirit.

The power of love.


Jerri said...

So very happy to read this good news. Beautifully written. Beautifully.

Prayers continue for all of you.

Michelle O'Neil said...

Wow Nancy. This is really beautiful. Thank you for sharing and blessings to you and your Dad.

Terry Whitaker said...

I'm so happy--I couldn't wait to hear. Thanks so much for sharing and big hugs to your dad.

Susan McDuffie, LMFT said...

Nancy I am so happy for you and your family. And as usual the story is so beautifully told. I will continue to pray for greater and greater strength for you and your dad.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Ditto Jerri, Michelle, Terry and Susan!