From the pause when I answered the phone, I could tell something was wrong. The caller ID told me that my husband was wondering if I was ready to be picked up from work. The woman on the other end had a different inquiry.
“Your husband was brought in by ambulance. He’s still talking but…how soon can you get down here?”
I spent the next thirty minutes enveloped in the sounds that, as a city dweller, I usually find comforting – the honking of irate rush-hour drivers, yells of greeting and farewell from kids released from school, the screech of the buses lining up to take commuters home. And of course sirens, which grew increasingly louder as I approached my destination.
That was the last time for many days that I would find comfort in sounds. The caustic smell of a city emergency room greeted me, along with wails of varying length and pitch from its occupants. The electronic swoosh of the doors as I was escorted into the sanctity of the “you really need emergency services” section of the emergency room, followed by a steady stream of questions from the team of doctors already preparing my husband for surgery. “When did he eat last?” “Any allergies?” “What medications is he taking?” “Does he have a health care proxy?”
I followed the clicking of the gurney toward the operating room, the rhythmic pattern set off by one wheel with a mind of its own. For the next several hours, the inane banter of talk show hosts and infomercials in the waiting room. And then, finally, the ring of the telephone to say the surgery was over and the patient was being transported to the CSICU for recovery.
In retrospect, the fourteen days spent keeping a bedside watch seem barely out of the ordinary. The ever-constant beeping of the monitors assured me that my husband was still alive, even when he was not awake or even conscious. My vigil was broken to eat, sleep, and attend the sonogram for our unborn child. Even as I heard the fast thumping of the baby’s heart, it did not occur to me that we would go on without a father and husband.
The night he was released from the hospital, my husband and I climbed the stairs, pulled up the down comforter, and positioned ourselves in bed around the dogs and baby-belly as if nothing had ever happened. Only the eight-inch gash in his chest told the tale of what we had been through. My husband was asleep in seconds. It was not until that interminable silence between his breaths, anxiously waiting for the next, that I asked “what if?” and allowed myself to cry.
[I originally wrote this for a local literary magazine but ended up submitting a different article. We are forever grateful to Baltimore City Fire/Rescue, Johns Hopkins Medical Center and their CSICU for their part in this story having a happy ending. – CP]