Sometimes, life throws you a curve ball, when you least expect it. As a couple, you know that you’ve to go through it together. That’s exactly what Judith and her husband did. Because a heart less troubled is also a matter of love, hope and caring.
It seemed so normal. My husband of thirty years was raking leaves, and taking out the trash–the usual household chores. We drove to New York to visit his disabled brother and dined at a lovely waterfront restaurant in Stonington Connecticut. Then everything changed. He began to struggle walking uphill and had to stop on the stairs to catch his breath. He was coughing and gagging as well, so we contacted his doctor, who sent him to the ER, while I waited and waited.
Was it asthma as he suspected? A chest X-ray later he was in the hospital having his lungs drained. Good news: It wasn’t COVID, or pneumonia, or lung cancer. Though his previous EKG showed no signs of anything, they finally diagnosed him with congestive heart failure, which they would try to control with diuretics. He began urinating many times a day. I told myself that I shouldn’t complain about the ER or taking meds, or ageing. We must accept that our days are numbered.
A cold spring—no COVID but his coughing causes me to worry. He decides he must adjust to his limits: no biking, no tennis, not much walking, no heavy lifting. Since I’m nearly five years older, shouldn’t he be taking care of me rather than the reverse? I belong to the tribe of childless women—at least a dozen friends like me come to mind. Though we may have been born in the forties, we believed in choice. I wonder, if my husband hadn’t already had a vasectomy when we met, would we have considered having offspring? He thinks not–since we both have mental illness in our families, it’s better not to procreate. Though I haven’t produced life from my body, my plants and trees will outlive me: weeping cherry, miniature red Maple, cedars, and pines—multiple roses; that is unless we’re flooded by warming seas.
After weeks of medication and constant urinating, an MRI shows that his condition has not improved. His heart failure is caused by an uncommon problem—a constricted pericardium, which means the lining around his heart has stiffened, forcing fluid into his lungs. The surgeon says he can cure his trouble with surgery. They will remove the pericardium—we don’t need it. In fact, it’s often used to construct new heart valves.
He’s thrilled: “I wish they’d told me sooner. I would have jumped under the knife.”
“We always try medication first,” the doctor says, “But, you should have the surgery in the next few months. There’s a short window of opportunity before it gets worse.”
I advocate waiting until summer’s over, but he schedules the surgery for early August.
“I want to get it over with“, he says. He starts singing “Perry, Perry Car-dee-um…won’t you come out tonight?” Though I smile, I need reassurance; I’m afraid of being left a widow.
24 hours. post-surgery. I’m waiting at home, not allowed at the hospital due to COVID. Finally, the surgeon calls and utters two sentences: “It went well. He looks good.”
“Anything else I should know?”
“No,” he says and hangs up.
In the ICU, which I am permitted to visit, he’s hooked up to many machines. The breathing tube was just removed, but he’s able to smile and tell me he loves me. For moments, I’m nearly giddy with joy, but the voyage ahead is rough and full of swells. My stomach stays knotted for days with only brief surges of relief when news is good.
He tells me not to bother coming as he’s mostly sleeping. It’s so hard to surrender any sense of control. The house is over 90 degrees, hotter outside–at least he’s in an air-conditioned setting. I fear that he won’t get better—I must accept that recovery is slow. My time is spent making calls and writing emails to let people know about his condition. I cover his domestic chores: the grounds, the trash, the cat, the laundry, the dishes. I hadn’t appreciated how much he did! How complacent we can be!
Fourth day post-surgery and he’s still in ICU. Low blood pressure seems to be the biggest issue, but no doctors talk to me. He’s coughing a lot but the nurse says it’s normal. He’s in no pain. They’ve taken more lines out and he has walked with support. Progress!
He says: “A year from now we won’t remember this.”
Did it take serious surgery to make me feel such intense love for this man with whom I’ve shared my life for more than 30 years? His strong spirit and intact sense of humour shine through it all. How lucky I’ve been, yet how stressful these days.
When I hear that the FBI raided Trump’s Mira Lago estate to find classified documents he had kept, the national drama distracts me from personal worries.
Almost two weeks post-surgery. He’s home, walking, eating reading, and even lifting weights (nothing over 10 lbs.). It’s the hottest August on record. Glaciers melting, cities flooding, –Biden calls Trump’s people semi-Fascist, while war rages in Ukraine.
He says: “I had no idea I’d be in the ICU so long or be hooked up to so many machines. The Doc told me 5 to 7 days in the hospital. It’s probably deliberate–if they admitted what it might be, maybe people wouldn’t agree to the surgery.”
“Would you still have done it, if you’d known?”
“Yes, of course.”
He’s breathing freely, can walk uphill without stopping, and is 30 pounds lighter. No tennis or biking yet, but we’ve made plans for a winter trip to Guatemala and he’s taken over his household chores, even when I offer to help.
Both our hearts are much less troubled.