Copyright© 2016 by Joesephus
They released her from the hospital 10 days later ... an unconscionable short stay in my opinion. I drove her to her apartment, where her mother was going to provide ongoing care. She clutched a little heart-shaped pillow to her chest to help the deep bone pain that even the smallest movement evoked. How could the hospital release someone who couldn’t suppress a moan every time I hit a pothole?
Still, they did some things right. We’d had all sorts of warnings and counseling sessions. Depression is one of the almost universal side effects of open-heart surgery, and generally worst for transplant patients. So many patients, and their families aren’t prepared for it. Temple had a great program and we were taught what to look for and what to expect.
I think one of the worst of “hidden problems,” was that so often the depression was masked by the medication that was needed to deal with the chest pain. We were also warned about the fear factor. Because her sternum had been sawed in two she would have chest pain. It would be very difficult for her to discern the difference between that pain and the pain she’d come to associate with heart problems.
It was strongly recommended that she not be left alone for at least four weeks. Of course she’d be going to the clinic once or twice a week for the first month then weekly for the next month or so, until she would hit her maintenance of once every other month. But she also needed people and life around her ... as if getting people to stay with Cindy was a problem -- just the opposite!
There were a host of other things, but the bottom line was that while life would never be normal again, she would live! The really good news was that about 50 percent of heart transplant patients were still alive 10 years later. One had made it longer than 25 years!
It’s funny, after staring death in the face for so long, you just don’t think about what those number mean. I’m not being negative, but for someone our age to know that we’d probably not celebrate her 50th birthday is sad. I suppose it’s better to concentrate on the joy of being able to plan for her big three-oh party.
It was a little longer than four months after Cindy got her heart that we boarded a plane for Austin. Of course she’d been in contact with my folks, and her serenity about the trip was making me a nervous wreck. I was assured that I wouldn’t see Lorelei, or hear her name, but how could I not? She lived in the same house with her mother, and it was still only a little more than a block away from my folks.
Of course I’d never asked the question directly, but from the start of her homebound time, Cindy openly talked to my parents on a daily basis. After her first call, Cindy had asked if I wanted to know how “my ex” was doing and I had a mild panic attack.
I hadn’t told anyone, but once I’d asked Cindy to marry me, hearing or seeing the name no longer seemed to affect me. Still that was a whole different kettle of fish from hearing the details of her new life, or God forbid, having to see or talk to her. When Cindy made the arrangements to fly down there, she assured me I wouldn’t have to see “my ex.”
I know that there are some men who want to keep up with their ex-wives. That wasn’t me! If I thought about seeing Lorelei, it was as if my mind saw a door filled with grey fog, like you might see in a slasher movie. Or perhaps what those old mapmaker thought lay beyond the edge of the Earth. “Here live dragons!” Whatever image you wish to use it was a place my mind refused to go. Even the thought of being forced to talk about her was enough to make me fidget and if I thought about it long enough, I’d break into a sweat.
If that meant I still had issues, I didn’t care. As long as I wasn’t force through that door or into the mouths of dragons I was happy. I was normal and I was in love with Cindy. I know that I’d shied every time I’d approached that juncture before, but helping to take care of her, cured me. Bringing her bedpans in the hospital and being in charge of her physical therapy once she got home let me see her at her worst. I even heard her curse! It was the first time, against doctor’s orders, she sat down in her tub and couldn’t lift herself up.
I had cleaned her mouth when the drugs made her sick and too weak to even hold her head up. I’d seen her at her emotional worst. I’d seen her pain make her short tempered and I’d seen her loopy from taking OxyContin. OxyContin is a miracle drug, but I do pray that I never have to take it. Aside from the personality changes, Cindy was also unnaturally upbeat, was it the drug or the lack of pain that made her assume she could do all sorts of things she couldn’t. I’ll never forget the day I caught her trying to flip the mattress in her guest room! As I laid into her she wasn’t nearly as repentant as she should have been. That was another effect of the meds. I did thank God when she was able to get by with lesser pain medications.
I’d never thought about it, but pain serves a real purpose. It keeps us from damaging ourselves. You don’t stir boiling water with your hand because it hurts. Cindy felt so little pain that for a few weeks she tried to talk us into letting her got back to work part time. Part of Cindy’s nature is to help people and she never stopped that, but ... well if you’ve ever been around anyone who has been really sick you know the stories I could tell.
Besides, I think it’s easier to dwell on those than what happened when we arrived in Austin. I insisted that my folks not meet us at the airport. I rented a nice car and I got us a double room at the Red Roof Inn in Round Rock. When I was a kid it had been a Hyatt and I knew the rooms would be fine. It was 10 miles or so further north of where my folks lived in Pflugerville, but I didn’t want to stay that close to them. I thought there’d be less likelihood of seeing old friends if we stayed up in Round Rock.
Cindy didn’t even fuss about our sharing a room. It wasn’t a matter of cost, but while she was much better by this point, she still shouldn’t be left by herself. We slept together in the same bed frequently, we just didn’t have sex. You want a layman’s view of hell? Try doing that with a sexy woman you love!
The reason we were in Austin was to announce our wedding and to personally invite my folks. To say I’d fought the trip was another of those wonderful examples of understatement I seem to be making. I didn’t fall on the carpet crying and kicking my feet ... but I did think about it.
I suppose no matter what happens, we always want, need our parent’s approval. I didn’t give a damn what my parents thought of my decision to divorce Lorelei, but it was vitally important to me that they approve of Cindy. We weren’t going to have a big wedding, but it would be in the church, and I wanted them there.
As I waited, in the lobby, for Cindy to finish doing whatever “freshen up” means, I was as tightly wound as I’ve ever been. The flight to Austin had been brutal. We left Philly at 6:30 on Delta and after a plane change, in Cincinnati of all places, we’d arrived in Austin at 10:50, only 15 minutes late. Naturally our plane had selected the very last gate at Bergstrom Airport and we had to walk 14 miles to the baggage area and car rental. I had tried to get Cindy to ride in one of the courtesy carts, but she refused.
By the time we battled the traffic and construction on I-35 it was close to noon. I’ve been told by lifelong residents, that, with the exception of a few months here and there, I-35 has been under constant construction since it was built in 1965. I don’t know if that was true, but it’s been under construction my whole life. Between the construction and Texas drivers (did I ever drive that fast?) I arrived a bit frazzled. Our lunch meeting was set for 1:00 at La Margarita, a half mile or so down the frontage road from our hotel, and some of the best Mexican food in the area. But I was worried we might be late. OK, I was a little nervous about how this meeting was going to go.
Frankly, being late didn’t bother me. Hell, I didn’t want to go at all. I especially didn’t want Cindy to meet her future in-laws when she was wrung out from the trip. Cindy, of course, was her usual serene self. Oh, she might have been a tad nervous -- she did banished me from our room because she said I was hovering over her. That was a vile slander; I was at least a foot or two from her ... most of the time.
When she breezed into the lobby, she took my breath away. It wasn’t just her beauty, I suppose most wouldn’t judge her quite as beautiful as Lorelei, but she had this aura of ... I don’t know how to explain it. She was like a shaft of pure light on an overcast day. Or maybe she was a rainbow after a hurricane. She made you want to smile because you just knew that God was in his heaven and all was now right with the world ... no matter the horrors that had preceded her.
It could have been that because she looked, no, was so confident, my worries seemed petty somehow. Whatever it was, I held my arm out to her like you see in the old movies and I, I don’t know any other word other than escorted, I escorted her to the car.
The Dell Computer lunch crowd was thinning out as we arrived at the restaurant, and I was able to find a parking place. As soon as I opened the door the aroma of good Mexican food hit me like the sound of a chuck wagon bell. You’d think that with all the Mexican immigrants you’d be able to find a decent Mexican restaurant most anywhere, but I’ve never been able to find one outside of the border states. I’ll admit that you can find acceptable Mexican in California, but it does not compare to Tex-Mex. They say that smell evokes stronger memories than any other sense, and I can testify that the smell at La Margarita reminded me that my last meal had been uneaten on the plane!
My folks were already waiting in the little ante room as we entered. I stiffened when I saw them, but Cindy flowed out of my arms to embrace first dad then mom. Anyone watching would have thought we’d been married for years and ate together at least weekly. I felt a weakness in my chest at that easy acceptance. As Mom opened her arms for me my eyes remembered that Central Texas is the allergy capital of the world. Her hug was fierce, and she seemed to have the same onset of allergies I was having. She didn’t release me when Dad approached and as I took his proffered hand I noticed through blurred eyes that the allergies clearly ran in the family. In addition to watery eyes, I think his nose was running. I know mine was.