Here I am snuggled up to her, my dear ostomate, I’m all warm and safely tucked in. The family room air conditioning is blowing cool air down on us, on an already cool day. Breakfast finished, her 80 year old Mother is reading the morning paper. With every turn of a page, the sound of crinkling newspaper brings back memories of her childhood. Then, her mother’s hair was light brown, now her silvery white hair glistens in the golden glow of the lamplight.
Her sister is reading a book that must be at least 1000 pages thick. It has a beige cover with a dark brown spine. One of her old and much loved literary treasures. With each word she reads about angels and healing, she reminds Jo-Ann of a cat in a pool of sunshine curled up in the bulky chair. Every once in a while she closes her eyes and takes a short nap.
Her husband Mark, sits in the tapestry covered chair, the musician and high tech wizard is reading another biography on his ebook reader.
The TV from the other room is filling the air with the muffled chitter chatter of the morning news program. The last super moon till 2015 is now fully set, and a sunrise is spreading it’s rays into an azure sky. All of this brings sweetness to the beginning a new day. Yet, we are a family in fear. We are family with optimism. We are a family together without one.
I’m Percy Stoma, and me and my family are sitting in the “family room” of the Heart Institute in Ottawa, Canada. The University of Ottawa Heart Institute, (UOHI), is Canada’s largest cardiovascular health centre. A complete cardiac centre, encompassing prevention, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, research, and education. The UOHI was founded by Dr. Wilbert J. Keon. The Order of Canada recipient, was the first Canadian to implant an artificial heart into a human as a bridge to transplant. It is the Institute that is world renowned for many other procedural and technical heart saving and life enhancing break throughs.
From the volunteers who greeted us at the main entrance, the medical professionals, (nurses, technicians, and doctors), and even the custodial staff, with their beating hearts expressed all of the heart felt care, concern, competency and professionalism a family needs at a time like this, a time when our loved ones life hangs in the balance.
You see, Jo-Ann’s Dad is at this moment undergoing open heart surgery. Our patriarch is 80 years young, a man who has always kept himself in top physical condition. We are in shock as he’s the last person we would have thought would be in the operating theatre, undergoing triple bypass surgery.
He’s a force of nature, a man who has been our mentor. And, in this moment the landscape is dramatically different. We are adrift. We are in the middle of nowhere, and at the same time somewhere we never expected to be.
It’s Jo-Ann’s second chance at life, I her Percy Stoma is the biological mechanism she relies on to stay alive and present right now with her beloved family. The people she most wants to be with, in a place and a circumstance she doesn’t want to be at. Life – hmm… throws curves, zingers, and how many left turns does a person take in a lifetime. Sure would be nice if a person is born with all the coping tools to get through it all like a breeze. Well, as George Gershwin (famous musician and composer) put it, “Life is a lot like jazz – it’s best when you improvise”.
So here we are, improvising, as the hours are ticking by. With the family snuggled in the “family room”, on the surface it’s almost a sweet and dreamy scene. Then, the cardiac surgeon fills the doorway of the room, and like a blaring alarm his presence shakes us awake. “The surgery went well. Quicker than we planned. He’s now in the Intensive Care Unit, (ICU). It will be a few hours more, and then you’ll be able to visit him”, he said.
During the following days we switched to a recovery mode that carried us day by day to the happy place.
But, as Jo-Ann’s life experience has never been conventional, another one of life’s curves lay just ahead, lying in wait for her.
Her Dad was now on the 3rd floor of the Heart Institute. Amazing Earth Angels in the guise of nurses mostly, and Doctor’s, had been attending to our beloved for 5 days post surgery, now. It was early Saturday morning when Mark awakened with pain and heaviness in his chest.
With a shot of nitroglycerin (nitro), which opens up (dilates) the arteries in the heart, (coronary arteries), under his tongue, he waited five minutes. The discomfort abated for a short time, and then it returned. He administered a second shot of nitro. The pain and heaviness subsided. He suggested he should stay home and relax.
Jo-Ann said, “no-no-no, you’re not going to be alone when you’re feeling like this. We’re picking up Mom and Diane, and heading to the Institute to be together with Dad. You’re not going to be alone, and besides which, the Heart Institute is the best place to be if you have another episode.”
So off we went. Well, as life would have it, on route Mark began to experience another episode. Keeping all of this quiet in order to spare our family from additional stress at this time. We arrived at hospital and into the room we quickly entered. Jo-Ann devised a bit of a ruse and explained to her Dad, that she had not been able to take her usual morning walks, and I needed these walks to help keep me flowing, and so, she was going to take a walk, and Mark was coming with her.
Jo-Ann, Mark and I walked out to the nurses station, and Mark said to one of the staff, “You’re not going to believe this, but, I’ve had to administer two separate shots of nitro this morning, and I’m not feeling very well.”
They promptly sat him in a wheelchair and rushed him across the hospital campus to the Emergency Department of the Civic Hospital. During the following hours, Mark was now hooked up to monitors which were keeping a close watch on his vitals, and he required two more shots of nitro to fully stabilize him.
He was admitted to the Heart Institute, and now tucked into his bed in a ward on the 5th floor. We are a family in fear. We are an optimistic family. We are a family together without two.
In the days that followed, JoAnn, myself and family rode the elevators between the 3rd and 5th floors. Jo-Ann’s Dad was concerned for his son-in-law. He could fully relate to Mark’s situation and feeling he wanted to reach out, had a vase of flowers with a little white teddy bear delivered upstairs from him to Mark.
A grateful, delighted and touched Mark, took pictures of the flowers and teddy, so that Jo-Ann’s Dad would be able to see them.
A couple of days later, Jo-Ann’s Dad was discharged home to the care of her mother and sister, while Jo-Ann and I continued our daily trek to the Institute for our Mark.
Many tests were conducted, all was quiet for Mark, and there were no other episodes.
Jo-Ann and I had been sleeping at night with the phone on the pillow beside her head, when all of a sudden we were awakened at 4:00 am, by the ringing of the phone.
The nurse on the other end of the line stated, “Mark has had an eventful night, and is now being moved to the 1st floor, into the Coronary Care Unit. He is stable and if there is any other concerns, we’ll call you immediately.
In our state of emotion, I became a little overactive, hmm… sorry Jo-Ann, I just couldn’t hold back.
We arrived at the Coronary Care Unit on the 1st floor, after getting into the elevator and pressing the button for the 5th floor. Then, realizing she had pressed the wrong button, Jo-Ann promptly pressed the 3rd floor button, only to realize as the elevator doors opened, that she really wanted to press the 1st floor button. Geez!
Arriving into a room that looked just short of the ICU, we saw a rosy-faced and smiling Mark. After his cheery and affectionate greeting, he stated, “I don’t know where my teddy is. He didn’t arrive with me.”
When Mark had started the episode at about 3:30 am earlier that morning, there had been a flurry of activity as the monitoring instruments were sounding off. There were alarms that could be heard throughout the 5th floor. Nurses and Doctors had jumped into controlled and coordinated action. Mark’s lovely ward mates in the other beds were very concerned and worried for Mark, who was in the process of being stabilized and then hustled from the ward room to the 1st floor.
The nurses had gathered all of Mark’s clothing and what not, during the excitement to be moved with him. But as it was, the flowers and teddy had not moved with him. Teddy was missing in action. He had disappeared, he was no where to be seen.
When I was satisfied I could leave Mark for a short while, I headed up to the 5th floor to relay to Mark’s ward compatriots that he was fine, and to locate his missing teddy. The fella’s were relieved to hear about Mark, but no one had seen teddy.
We excused ourselves and went back to the first floor, pressing the correct elevator button this time.
Later that day we popped back up to the 5th floor to check in on the fella’s and to give them Mark’s health report. It was at this time a concerned nurse apologized to me, she could not find teddy anywhere.
Mark’s former ward mates, with sadness in their voices, told us they and the nurses had looked for teddy, and the little fella was no where to be found. You see, Mark had told them who the flowers and teddy had come from, about his father-in-law, and so, they knew how important teddy is.
We assured everyone that although we regret the loss of teddy, we are so grateful for the compassion and understanding of what teddy represents to us. And, we are grateful for their “all out 5th floor and elevator search “, for the little white fella. With a wave good bye we headed down the hall to the, yes, elevators, yet another time.
As we passed the nurses station, Jo-Ann turned her head to view all of the many trinkets, gifts and flowers passed on to them by patients and their families. Amongst the myriad of objects, Jo-Ann was surprised to see a little white fuzzy face, whose black eyes twinkled as they reflected the overhead lights, with a half smile peeking out from behind a blue box.
Snapping him up, sure enough, it was teddy. The nurses broke into broad smiles, Jo-Ann hugged teddy to her chest as she turned around and scampered back down the hall to the ward to show the fella’s that teddy has been found. Indeed teddy was intact, and within an elevator ride would once again be safe and sound with Mark.
Later that day Mark underwent an Angiogram that determined that although he’s experiencing A-Typical symptoms for a heart issue, his heart and arteries are healthy. The source of the issue lays elsewhere. There are many tests and such ahead of Mark, in order to pinpoint the source.
Today, Dad continues to recover beautifully, Mark is home, and teddy has a special place beside our bed.
In matters of the heart ; we are forever touched and grateful by the heart felt care expressed to our family by all of the special people at the Heart Institute in Ottawa, Canada.
And, speaking heart to heart; this has been an everyday amazing slice of life story. Sure glad I’m here for Jo-Ann doing my stoma duties and attending to my jobbies, so that Jo-Ann can be here for the experiences and times of her life.
“Better With A Bag Than In A Bag”