The Morning I Never Woke Up

My wife tried to wake me, but according to her, I was unresponsive – breathing, but barely so. A visiting nurse was also in the house. She tried to rouse me as well – nothing. They called 911. It wasn’t the first time an ambulance had come to my home, but it would be the last. I awoke, thirty hours later in ICU at my local hospital. I had spent time on a ventilator, and a feeding tube had been inserted down my nose. Everyone thought it was the end for me, including me, but God had mercy on me. I remained in the hospital for a month. Hospital food is bad enough as it is, but getting fed through my nose – I pictured liquified Salisbury steak and mushy vegetables going down that tube. How did they get that stale dinner roll down there? Of course, there was no dinner roll, and when they pushed orangy nutrients through a giant syringe into my stomach, it felt cool and refreshing. Wifey looked more worried than I had ever seen her. Tears stood in her eyes. It made me cry too. She put her arms around me and kissed me. I tried to make a joke out of it: “Honey, can’t you see I’m eating?”

My gastro doc had grown distant over the last several weeks. When he finally showed up, he’d lost his familiar smile. I asked him for help. He said, “The only thing that’s going to help you now is a new liver.” He recommended a transplant center, then left in a hurry. I asked Wifey, “What’s with him?” She answered, “He doesn’t want to see you like this.”

“You mean dying?” I asked. She teared up again and nodded. We cried in each other’s arms. We’d been together twenty years, much of it – except for a few nasty bumps, in a state of true marital bliss. It was a rare love of things in common we shared: Weekends spent devouring movies – sometimes sneaking into a second, or a third, cooking together, long, long walks in the park, road trips – always searching for small town bars with 50-cent pool tables and a good juke box. We’d become inseparable friends over the years. We hung out with lots of good people, but we’d always preferred our own company. Snow days working jigsaw puzzles while we talked politics and our faith – or lack therof, depending on the season. We listened to the Beatles, Leonard Cohen, Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix, Allman Brothers. Come springtime, we’d stroll through the woods to the creek and step across it on stones, but our springtime passion was our two backyard flower gardens. The circular garden, surrounded by stones, featured a human head of plaster, made by my younger son in grade school, dominated by a center of white lillies. In the corner garden, a trellis of jasmine with black adder. The adder draws bees – the bees, dragonflies of purple. A pair of cardinals nested in our yard every year. Wifey and I have always thrived on the ordinary things, but the magic in our marriage turned these into the extraordinary, the interstellar, the spiritual. She confessed to me, “I don’t know what to do next.” I told her, “Call the transplant center. Tell them I’m ready.”

“I called them,” she said, “It’s a hundred miles from here. The doctors here are afraid you won’t survive the trip.” Looking into her blue-green eyes, I couldn’t imagine my life with her coming to an end. “I’ll survive,” I said. “Just get me there.”

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