What now?

It has been two weeks or maybe two years, it’s hard to tell my body is so weary. When I check the calendar and dispose of the dead flower arrangements, it is confirmed that fourteen days ago my husband had a heart attack. A fortnight since I sat screaming at the UNC basketball team and hiding from a tornado inside a pantry with seven kids and two other moms. A lifetime ago when I stomped around and sulked about what a jerk he had been the night before, while his arteries were slowly choking off blood and oxygen to his brain and heart. A moment in time that marks our B.S. life (before surgery) and our A.D. (another day) one.

I was warned the waiting would be the hardest part. By Sunday morning the surgery was scheduled. I sat listening to the cardiologists say Greg will need triple bypass surgery, blahblahblahblahblah, heart of a 70 year old, blahblahblahblahblah, really great surgeon, blahblahblahblahblah, gonna need church on a treadmill/total change of lifestyle, blahblahblahblahblah. We made calls, parceled out children, asked a friend to walk the dog. I stood angry and scared as I watched my husband bloated with medicines lie helpless in a hospital bed, not needing the change of clothes I had naively brought that morning. Why couldn’t they let him shower? Start clean shaven. Because it would be a totally stupid waste of water and time. Instead they shaved his legs, chest, and wrists twice. Made spaces for ports, and lines, and cameras to be fed down his leg and extract the vein which would be used to replace the defunct arteries in his heart. I tried to get him to do laser hair removal this fall; my way would have been a lot easier.

Sunday night was the worst night of my life. As my middle girl, the one who looks most like her daddy, lay quietly next to me, I jolted every fifteen minutes. I walked through the valley of the shadow of death. It was black and cold, with whisp-like bats soaring directly at my head. I kept ducking and darting, spelunking all around this cave of hell, longing to find the devil with red horns and some fire to warm me up. I felt like an animal in the wild, running for safety, hoping I had enough energy and luck to survive until daylight. I remembered Mrs. Hanchey making us memorize the 23rd psalm in fourth grade. But I could find no rod or staff to comfort me. No green pastures or still waters. I knew perhaps if I could hang on til morning I would be able to find some of those things. I called the nurse at 4 am -thank God for overnight operators and night-shift nurses who serve and pray and comfort even the crazy spouses sobbing into the phone. She assured me Greg was fine, resting better than most and he would be ready in the morning.

And then game day. I showered and dressed ready to knock one out of the park as they say. They wheeled him to pre-op at 10:30, shot his butt with morphine while he sang a song about his “lower back with a crack” which made everyone laugh except the prisoner patient chained to his bed next door. And then we waited. Six and half hours of surgery. 30 second updated every two hours: “all is going as expected”. We ate health-food snacks in the sunny courtyard of the hospital, pretending it was college or “My Own Private Grey’s Anatomy”. We whittled the time away, stopping for a prayer huddle towards the end. We waited and hoped.  They never stopped his heart. While his chest was splayed open like a fish being gutted, the heart thumped the entire time, slow and steady, never missing a beat. We saw him with chest tubes and monitors and holes and stitches all over his body as he lay sedated but fixed. His head turned when I said the girls names and told him Roy wanted a walk. Medicine and surgeons and nurses and discovery are truly miracles for which I humbly thank God.

So what now? Recovery? A new life? It’s not that easy. What took 44 years to break down will take more than 2 weeks to build back up. We are literally being carried by thousands of friends who are praying cooking, driving, sitting, chatting, working, loving for us. The work is shifting from the skilled hand of doctors and caretakers back to us, the owners of these lives. It feels a bit like being a first time parent when you are so tired and emotionally drained from getting TO the baby part it seems absolutely absurd anyone would dream of handing you a life to manage on your own. Only there is little joy in this new life. And it weighs heavier than anything I have carried before. For those who want to know how to help I have two answers. First: Bear with me. I am not myself. I don’t know what day it is or who needs what permission slip to go where or how to write a marketing report or blog post or even how to parent. I don’t know if I have slept or merely closed my eyes. I am trying to put one foot in front of the other but even that is hard. Second: Offer each other glasses of water. Anne Lamott says that’s how we know the light of God is getting through. Be kind. Love your children. Run outside (you can take a hot shower when you are done). Eat good food. You will not find the answer in retail therapy or really anywhere indoors. Breath. Because you can.

14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Sue Avery on January 25, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    Such a raw and honest slice of your life right now. I was the person on the other side of the bed – the nurse taking care of the patient and family in the open heart unit and seeing all that you wrote about in their eyes. They didn’t have your gift of words. What I do know is that time can heal, physically and mentally. Things won’t be the same as B.S, that is for sure, but the A.D can be what you wish. I know that Greg, the girls and you will find the wish that works. Keep writing. Sue Avery


  2. Posted by Lisa Meadows on January 25, 2014 at 7:47 pm



  3. Posted by Mary Holly Bigelow on January 25, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    You do have a way with words. God’s richest blessings on all of you especially during these days.


  4. Posted by Allison A. on January 25, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    Though not your normal self right now, your voice is strong and clear…stripped down to the basics but always strikingly transparent. Writing will be one of the many things to transport you through this fog of war to the better days ahead. I am going to have some water now, and offer a glass or two.


  5. Posted by Teresa Rouse McLean on January 25, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    As a nurse who sends patients to surgery emergently after having a heart attack — WOW — I thought I did a great job of preparing spouses and now I realize after 25 years of nursing I still have work to do to prepare and support a spouse. It is a scary time for all. Greg is strong. He has loving supportive family and a FANTASTIC wife and family! Our God is amazing and if it was Greg’s time — he easily could have gone to be with our Lord — it’s not his time — he just needed to be physically healed so he can continue amazing work Greg does with his congregation. God is the curegiver! HE will take care of Greg! I have watched many people over my years as a cardiac nurse — I believe Greg will heal and grow all the stronger!


  6. After the very long six and a half hours of waiting….you end your sentence with – fixed! Amazing things happened in that OR….Praise God! You have a very special gift Melanie, putting your thoughts out there..Thank you! Prayers continue for all of you. Call if you think I can be of help in anyway….


  7. Posted by Mary Snow Crawley on January 25, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    Take care of yourself and let the love of all your friends and loved ones lift you up and help you take one step at a time.


  8. Posted by Mary Rupp on January 26, 2014 at 10:44 am

    Thank you for writing this and expressing so eloquently what you are going through. My family experienced the same this summer. My husband is now five months “out” of a triple bypass, walking the beach and back to almost normal-whatever that was. I can promise you that it will get better. I remember feeling as you are feeling but it will be better. I send you a glass of water. Or two.


  9. Posted by Mary Kay Lundberg on January 26, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    Melanie, We love you and your family and your Mom and Dad and we will keep all of you in our prayers.It’s as big team effort now and you have a great team.


  10. Posted by Marcie on January 26, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    Beautiful post! Praying from the sidelines. Love you friend!


  11. Posted by Jay Bartol on January 27, 2014 at 3:31 am

    Melanie, Wow your gift for writing and your love for family continues to be extraordinary. Greg and you and your girls continue to be in our daily prayers.
    Love, Dad


  12. Posted by Curry Walker on January 28, 2014 at 12:02 am

    What a beautiful and moving post. Please know that we have been praying for you all. Like you, I have been through some dark hours when Nat’s life was hanging by a thread and can identify with your emotions. I love what you said about water and light- it is all so true-


  13. Posted by Ashley on January 28, 2014 at 7:08 am

    You are amazing.

    Love you and your people ~ always.



  14. Posted by Rose Bartol on January 30, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    Melanie…your story is riveting, yet I sense a strong will in both you and Greg. I believe it is not Gregs time. All will take time, perspectives and way of life will adjust but life goes on…assuredly fuller and deeper than before. We love you all.


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