It came upon us suddenly. One day, we were living quiet, happy, ordinary lives. The next, my husband and I were facing 1)triple 2)bypass surgery.
He had not told me about the shortness of breath he’d experienced a few months earlier. Nor did he mention a visit to a hospital 3)ER while he was out of town on business. When he was sufficiently alarmed by the state of his health, he finally confessed and asked me to set up an appointment with the doctor—as soon as possible. I knew it was serious when that happened because men, delightful creatures though they may be, are not known for their eagerness to “have the 4)doc take a look.”
Tests revealed a 90% 5)blockage in one 6)artery, and severe blockages in two others. The term “7)widow maker” was mentioned. Before we’d really 8)come to grips with what was happening, we found ourselves in Savannah very early one morning. He was being 9)prepped for surgery, and I was praying every prayer I’d ever learned, and making up my own as time passed. My best friend and one of my sons were by my side.
We were given a private room in which to wait through the 10)interminable hours. I suggested to the staff that, when a person is 11)anesthetized, his family should be, too, so they wouldn’t have to endure watching a clock that has surely stopped running, listening for a phone that does not ring, and imagining worst-case 12)scenarios.
In my darkest moment, I felt deep inside that he would not survive the surgery. How could a person survive a chest being cracked open, the heart exposed and 13)fiddled with, other organs shoved aside? I knew, rationally, that thousands of open heart surgeries are performed daily, with outstanding results. But that happens to other people, not MY husband.
I sank into the 14)pit of despair, believing I’d soon be receiving terrible news. I didn’t mention my fear to my companions. Just when I’d surrendered all hope of a good outcome, I was overwhelmed by a sense of warmth and peace. It was 15)astounding! I felt hugged and 16)consoled and surrounded by love as I remembered that many people were praying for us. And I instantly knew hope, just as surely and strongly as I’d earlier known hopelessness.
Soon the surgeon was at the door, bringing good news—the surgery had been successful. He expected my husband to make a full and speedy recovery. He reached out to shake my hand and, as I felt his warm, firm grip, I became aware of what I was doing. I was holding his hand—a hand which, just a short while ago, had held my husband’s HEART!
I looked into his eyes and, with tears streaming down my face, I 17)enfolded his hands in both of mine. In all the years my husband and I have known one another, through all of the physical closeness we’ve shared, I’ve never experienced with him the 18)intimacy that the man before me had when he held my husband’s beating heart.
After my husband was brought to 19)CCU, we began the long wait for him to awaken. Everything went according to plan and, when he eventually opened his eyes and asked what time it was. He said,“No way!” What had been the longest day of my life had sped by in a 20)nanosecond of deepest darkness for him.
As part of their recovery, open heart surgery patients are given pillows to grasp tightly to their chests when moving, coughing, or sneezing. This is to prevent any damage to the 21)incisions, and to lessen the pain of any of those activities. When my husband was presented with his bright red pillow and instructed to hug it tightly to his chest, he pointed to me as he asked the nurse, “Can I hug her instead?” From that moment on, I knew he was going to be just fine, and he was the 22)talk of the unit because news of his sweet question spread quickly as the nurses shared the story.
The bright red pillow made numerous trips up and down the hallway. At first, the walks were brief and slow. Soon the walks were longer and at a quicker pace. Five days after the surgery, we returned home. The bright red pillow accompanied us on walks around our neighborhood as my husband gained strength, 23)stamina and confidence. His recovery was 24)uneventful and complete.
That was four years ago. Occasionally, I’ll spot the bright red pillow in the corner of our closet. I always pick it up and hold it close to my chest. I close my eyes and remember the day I became aware of the power of 25)grace and goodness, and what it felt like to hold the hand of the man who had held, and healed, my husband’s heart.