Tuesday, December 23, 2008


It was a day like any other, time spent in front of the television, relaxing. He sat on the sofa after she had put the kids to sleep. She returned to the large recliner and put her feet up on the ataman as she browsed their movie selections. With the dishes done, they settled back, chose a film, and each breathed a large sigh.

They’d been soul-mates since high school: married for 15 years. They had grown comfortable with each others’ idiosyncrasies and limitations, but they always worked things out for the better. Now, in a moment of peace, they were content as one more day was coming to a close. And yet, as is the case with life’s great unknowns, they had no idea it was the calm before the storm.

As a commercial aired she heard something. She had never heard that sound before. Was it gurgling? She looked over at him. He stared blankly. “John, knock it off. That’s so inappropriate,” she said. The sound grew louder. He did not respond. “John, come on, that’s not funny.” Then he collapsed to the floor.

Instinctively, she rolled him on his back, panicked. “John? John? Dammit, John, wake the hell up!” He was turning blue. She ran to the phone and dialed 911.

“911, how may I help you?”

“My husband just fell to the floor – he’s not breathing! He’s blue! I think he’s had a cardiac arrest! Please, send an ambulance to 123 Main Street NOW! PLEASE!”

“I’ll send an ambulance right away. Do you need help with how to do CPR?” She dropped the phone and dashed back to him.

She started pressing. “Dammit, John, come on!” She kept pressing. Then she realized: the front door was locked. She jumped up and unlocked it, then returned to him, pressing. She wondered, “Should I wake the kids? Oh my God, please, not now! Keep pressing.” Moments later she heard the sirens. “Thank God! Come on, John! Hang in there!” she thought. She kept pressing. She could see the lights now as their iridescent flashes brightened, then darkened, the room. She could hear the squawk of the radio as they came in. They saw her sweating, pale with adrenaline. “Thank God!” she said.

One of the men opened their bag. Someone tore open his shirt. Stickers. Tubing. Patches with wires. The machine said something. They stopped. Why? She saw her husband’s body jerk slightly. They waited. A faint green line moved. Slowly at first. Then accelerated. They checked his leg. It was faint, but present.

“I think there’s a pulse!” Another man stood at his head with a silver instrument. Another man moved her away. “He’s putting a tube in to help him breath,” he explained. Things were a blur now. Tape, fluids, radios for assistance. Calls to others, more people arriving. “Seventy-eight over forty,” she heard them say. A cart entered the living room. They lifted him together. He wasn’t moving.

All too soon, he was gone.

She stood, shocked. People asking questions, she answered, but didn’t know what she said. “Will be be okay?” she thought. “Did I do enough? Where’s he going? My God, the kids! What will I do?” She called her best friend for help, for someone to help with the kids. “I think they’re taking him to General,” she told her.

“I'll be right over.”

* * *

He had woken the third day after 24 hours of medically-induced hypothermic coma. At first, he moved his leg, then his head and arms, then moved quickly to try to pull the tube from his throat as he opened his eyes. The next day the tube was out, he spoke to her, smiled, and asked what had happened. He soon knew how lucky he was. He squeezed her hand.

She held back tears and smiled.

Two weeks later, he received his defibrillator and returned home to the kids. It was snowing soft flakes. The house glowed with Christmas lights placed there by the neighbors. A nativity had been placed above the fire place. They stopped and took it all in as they hugged and gave thanks nervously. Uncertainty remained but they knew they were still together for a reason.

Angel after incredible angel.

All smiling.



Anonymous said...

Then the bill came from the hospital followed by the collection agency and the lien on their house resulting in their eviction out into the cold.

Very good writing Wes! I just wante dto add a dark ending to the happy story for us that are more cynical.

Bruce said...

Wow, terrific piece! Thanks for the holiday story.

Marco said...

Great story, which I'm sure happens often with different names.

Thanks, Wes, for blogging for us all year 'round. I find your posts informative, interesting, and fun.

Happy Holidays,

Anonymous said...

Having had an eerily similar experience just this time last year, I can only add my thanks to the many 'angels' who took care of my family. And a special thanks to the doctors, nurses, EMTs and everyone else who probably didn't want to be on call or in the ER/CCU over the holidays... and Dr. Wes, you and your partners were some of them. Thanks for making 2008 possible!

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I never get used to meeting someone who is lucky enough to survive a sudden cardiac death.... Thankfully it is becoming more and more common as more people are learning CPR and defibs are available in more public places.