Sunday, December 12, 2021

"The Heart of the Matter"

By Jerry Zezima

Love means never having to say you’re sorry for not doing the laundry.

For the first time in 43 years of marriage, I have been washing clothes. I’ve also been performing tasks I did before but am now doing more frequently, like loading the dishwasher, vacuuming the house, cleaning the bathrooms, going grocery shopping and playing chauffeur.

There’s a good reason for this uncharacteristic usefulness: My wife, Sue, recently had a heart attack.

She’s recovering slowly but well. She gets tired easily, especially after watching me fold the clothes I just took out of the dryer and pile them on the bench in the family room. And she will be the first to say that this life-changing event came as a shock — though not, in retrospect, as a surprise.

“The warning signs were there for months,” Sue admitted. “I chose to ignore them.”

She’s not unlike a lot of people who shrug off chest discomfort as stress or indigestion (in our house, I’m the cause of both). This is especially true of men and women of a certain age (in Sue’s case, 68) who acknowledge that they’re no longer spring chickens but don’t think they are old enough to have a heart attack.

Sue also wasn’t a good candidate for cardiac problems because she’s slim, she exercises daily, she eats healthily, and she doesn’t have either high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

But she does have a family history of heart issues. And that, even without the warning signs, should have been a warning sign.

The attack happened the day after Thanksgiving, at our daughter Lauren’s house. It was late morning and Sue and I were preparing to go home after what our granddaughters Chloe and Lilly called “a double sleepover” (we spent Wednesday and Thursday nights there).

I loaded the car while Sue was in the bathroom. Right after I came back in, she emerged ashen-faced and said she had just vomited. She sat down and said she was having chest pains that radiated to her back. She also felt dizzy.

Lauren, who is on the ball with everything, said Sue needed to go to the hospital. I concurred. I probably should have called an ambulance, but the hospital was close by, so I drove Sue to the emergency room.

Her EKG was normal, but her blood work showed an elevated enzyme level, a sure sign of a heart attack.

Sue was rushed into surgery. Two hours later, Dr. Andrew Persits came out and told me that Sue had an attack during the procedure.

“I did an angiogram,” he said. “Two or three spots in her left anterior descending artery were 70 to 80 percent blocked, so I put in three stents. Her right side was 40 to 50 percent blocked, but that can be managed with medication.”

Sue stayed in the hospital for two nights and was released on Sunday morning.

Dr. Persits and all the other doctors, nurses and technicians who attended to Sue at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, New York, were wonderful. In fact, they were lifesavers — wintergreen, the best kind.

When Sue got home, it was my turn to attend to her. Even for a writer, words can’t adequately express the depth of my love for her. That’s why I was happy to be the caregiver for someone whose care and giving have made her the backbone of our family.

Which brings me to the laundry.

“I appreciate that you’re doing it,” said Sue, who had to show me how to use the washer and dryer. “But you think you do it the best. You hadn’t done it for 43 years, but now that you’ve been doing it for a week, you think you’re the King of Laundry.”

“I do a pretty good job,” I said immodestly. “And I haven’t flooded the house.”

“Even though you know how to do the laundry, you don’t know how to put it away,” Sue responded. “You just let it pile up. It’s clean, but it’s in piles.”

She did have kind words for my ability to do other household chores.

“You do clean the bathrooms. And you vacuum nicely. It gets me off the hook,” Sue said. “You also do a good job with the dishes. I can tell because you have dishpan hands.”

Before dinner, I set the table. And I clear it off afterward. But if it were left to me to prepare meals, we both would starve.

“You don’t cook,” Sue reminded me. “You don’t know how to turn on the oven and you don’t turn the stove off.”

That’s not entirely true because, by Sue’s admission, I do make scrambled eggs. I also heat up leftover pizza in the oven. And I can operate the microwave.

“At least I haven’t burned the house down,” I said in my own feeble defense.

Sue said she’s grateful that I chauffeur her around, mainly to go to doctor’s appointments and to run errands. Because she’s not yet ready to get behind the wheel, I am the designated driver — even though I don’t have a chauffeur’s cap.

“You’ve been very good about it,” Sue said sweetly. “But,” she added, “I don’t like going to the grocery store with you. You’re always 10 paces behind me. Then you wander off somewhere. And you put stuff in the cart that we don’t need.”

“We always need beer,” I countered.

Sue smiled, took one of my dishpan hands and said, “Thank you for taking such good care of me.”

“It’s my pleasure,” I responded with a kiss.

“I know being a caregiver isn’t easy,” she said. 

“It’s easier than being a patient,” I said.

“I’m getting better every day,” Sue said. “Some days I get tired, but overall, I’m doing all right. I just never thought this would happen to me.”

“Once you start cardio rehab, you’ll be back to normal,” I assured her. “And I did buy that pillbox for you.”

“You mean the old lady pillbox,” Sue said with a smile. “I went from not taking anything to taking five pills a day.”

“Am I a pill?” I asked.

Sue smiled again and said, “No. You’re good medicine.”

We both laughed because laughter is the best medicine — and the cheapest.

“Now if you will excuse me,” I said, “I have to do another load of laundry.”

Copyright 2021 by Jerry Zezima

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