All the daily life activity around me pales in comparison to one event that started 11 days ago. Even though I have a list of topics to write about, I can’t seem to get there, because this takes precedence in my life, consuming most of my thoughts.
A week ago last Saturday, I was a carefree guest dancing the night away at the 50th anniversary of the Dallas Theatre Center at the new, state-of-the-art sophisticated, ultra modern Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. The crowd there was glittering and excited to be a part of Dallas history, the unveiling of this spectacular new theatre. Former first ladyLaura Bush was radiant, smaller in person than she seems on television in a lavender cocktail dress. It was a perfect, romantic night.
At 9 am the next morning, I answered one of those calls you never want to take.
My mother needed me to take her to the emergency room at Baylor Hospital in Dallas. She swore she was having an allergy attack, or maybe asthma. I knew in my heart of hearts it was far more serious. My mother has never in her 79 years of life asked to go to a doctor, much less an ER.
By Friday, after all the days of testing, my family and I waited with her until that wrenching moment she waved goodbye as they wheeled her into the operating room. I put the ballerina teddy bear I bought to keep her company back in my belongings-until I could give it to her again.
In the waiting room, when our eyes met, our family didn’t discuss such gruesome details aloud, but we knew just beyond the walls where we waited, Dr. Robert Hebeler , the thoracic surgeon we’d carefully researched and chosen, cracked her chest, stopped her “old” heart, and worked for eight hours to save her life. It is hard to imagine trusting your heart or your mother’s heart to a perfect stranger. Yet, that is what we all did. And he did an extraordinary job.
For six days since, my mother has been in another world where she is not yet ready for us to reach her. She is mostly unconscious, still. She lives with a new tribe of people in the heart-surgery post-op Intensive Care Unit at Baylor. It is not like any other ICU’s. A large open room, it holds four patients, is filled with monitors, and staffed 24 x 7. No patient is left alone for even 5 minutes.
But what makes the room magical are its guardian angels. They have the title of “nurse,” but they are angels. Their names are (Angels) Betsy, Eric, Susan, and Justin. My mother doesn’t quite know us, her family; yet, but when Justin says, “Fran!” she turns her head toward him. Her eyes are closed and she can barely whisper a word, but she knows Justin. She knows he is her lifeline….They have never left her side…. Let’s see, it’s been almost six days…. They work 12-hour shifts. These beyond-human beings keep her alive, as slowly her very sick body heals with its reconstructed heart. Computers and monitors cover every nook and cranny of space around her bed. Tubes dangle from every part of her body.
They watch for the slightest changes and speak in medical tongues, rapid fire, to Hebeler and the other docs, conferring and multi-tasking, taking notes, all the while waving us in. They smile at us, saying, “She’s doing a little tiny bit better,” as they remember to use mortal versus medical language, except when she’s not doing so great, or needs intense attention. We respect them with reverential awe, and get out of the way.
They know as family, we play a role, too. Every few hours, one of my family stands by her bed for a few minutes. We tell her how much we love her, stroke her hand, sing little songs in her ear, encourage her the best we can. Even so, our efforts blanche in relationship to the skill of Betsy, Eric, Susan, and Justin and the technology they use so deftly.
We live in a bizarre world, where as Judge Sotomayor said so eloquently when nominated for Supreme Court, we “stand on the shoulders of so many.”
Thank you Betsy, Eric, Susan, and Justin. Thank you, Dr. Hebeler and your surgical team. We understand how difficult this was and are so grateful to you all. What you are do is truly a miracle.