Oh dear God – how do I go from here?
This was my prayer of panic in the 2 AM dark in the waiting room of the cardiac building of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. I suddenly realized I was hunched over a small round table, my hands and face wet with tears that finally poured out of me following the most bizarre and incomprehensible 24 hour period of my life. Standing over me were my parents-in-law, and the heart surgeon who had just informed me that my husband of only four weeks had survived the seven hour surgery to repair a massive aneurysm and dissected valve that had been found in his ascending aorta the day before. Although my face was hidden, I was keenly aware that the people above me – the only other people still left in the dark waiting room at 2 AM – were watching me with intensity. It was a moment of total suspension.
The preceding day, Martin had called me to say he was on his way to the ER and I should meet him there immediately. I had forgotten that he’d gone to see a cardiologist that afternoon, as a precautionary measure, because his brother had had a procedure a few months prior. We hadn’t paid much attention to it, because we were busy being happy and excited for our wedding over Thanksgiving, and were filled with the promise of the new life we would create together.
So when I received the phone call and Martin used unfamiliar words like ‘massive aortic aneurysm’ I didn’t fully understand what they meant, or why it was so urgent that I get myself from Brooklyn to upper Manhattan that instant.
When I arrived at the hospital, Martin looked completely fine, the same as always. He had no symptoms of any kind. Indeed, he had his gym bag with him because he’d intended to lift weights after that doctor’s appointment, just as he did several times each week.
As word of his condition spread throughout the ER, several interns came to look at Martin, curious to see a 43 year old man with an aorta 5 times the size it was supposed to be. “Wow,” they all said with the enthusiasm of finalists at a national high school level science competition. “It’s amazing – you are actually alive!”
When the surgeon came in, he said, “I have never seen this condition. Somebody must want you to be here because, medically speaking, you should have died last summer.” “It’s my wife,” Martin said, which was supposed to be a joke, but I knew he meant it.
I could not fully comprehend what was happening. Aneurysms, dissected valves and cardio-thoracic surgery are not things newly wedded couples spend time thinking about. When one speaks vows of “in sickness and in health” and “until death part us,” one doesn’t think those words apply to RIGHT NOW – surely they are meant for much later.
“What if it doesn’t go well?” I asked Martin. “I need to know what you want me to do.”
Later, in the 2 AM darkness, after hearing the successful result of surgery, after finally falling into weeping, after feeling the eyes of Martin’s parents and the surgeon watching me intently for what I would do next, after knowing they were waiting for some kind of cue from me, which I could not give, I prayed . . .
Oh dear God. How do I go from here? How do I move? Because I do not understand any of this. How do I physically make the journey from this moment into the next? And what on Earth will the next moment bring?
There was no noise. There was no light in the room. Nothing remarkable happened. Very simply, peacefully – I sat up. And the next moment began, and life moved on.
I often think of that moment in my life. In the chaos and confusion of a real emergency, that simple movement – from here into there, supported by God’s peace – was the bridge that upheld me as I entered the next unknown.
Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, NY
December 10, 2017