Shortness of breath, dizziness, no energy — these were the clues that tipped my wife and boss to the final edict: “You’re going to the hospital or we’ll take you there.” Sometimes, martial law is a lifesaver.
So, by the middle of the afternoon, I lay in hospital jammies while doctor and technicians poked and prodded me, looking for answers.
I thought the dizziness was low blood sugar and the constant coughing related to allergies. It turns out that all symptom are related to a single cause — a heart that has been working too hard. A bunch of pills would fix everything. No more coughing or runny nose. No more asking someone for a tissue.
That is the conclusion of a full night in ER and the next three days in a hospital room. There, one is subjected to the questions no one likes to think about, including the advance directive: What to do when I stop breathing.
Meanwhile, my wife Yahindi and daughter Leticia hovered over me like Dominican angels, making me eat when I wasn’t hungry and laugh when I needed to.
It is hard to keep your spirits up when doctors are slinging new terms in your way — diabetes, congestive heart failure and my cold fingers.
I looked for humor where I could find it. I heard one man proudly announce to all that his facial scars came from a “sucker punch.” I didn’t realize that people still communicate that way. Isn’t there a sucker punch emoji they could use online instead?
Hospitalization is a suspension of reality, a mystery ride in which life transforms minute by minute. You cannot plan for a change that is still in progress. Can you drive or not? Can you work? How much and when? I missed my cats.
Change comes rapidly with many decisions to make. But ironically, your health diverts you from the national news of the day, that seductive syrup that is full of snippy comments. The abusive language recycles itself like scratches on a 78 record. Who lets these people out every morning?
I had been mentally preparing for change all my life. Obsessively, have tried to live as fully as I can and shared my stories through every possible medium, including books, documentaries, plays, television features and newspaper columns. Any medium, just as life itself, can be taken away or become obsolete. My Silverbrand Library, should there be one, will probably be in an Indianola storage unit, equidistant from our two colleges
Now, those books I wrote are boxed in my garage along with old 16 mm film and photos. They all seemed so magical at the time. Now they represent stories to be recalled with other old journalists sitting around the space heater. I say that because fireplaces and oxygen tanks can be a deadly combination.
I collect way more than I should and it is impossible to find the things I am looking for. But now most of my “collectibles” are disposable. I have a parking meter from an Oregon city to which I have never been, a ceremonial flag from a battleship on which I never served — both bought on eBay.
I used to think they were my everything — evidence that I mattered to myself. Now I realize that my wife and daughter are everything — a powerful force of good worth living for.
Sure, it is a topic that enters our mind as you face morality. I have learned to condense the purpose of life to two things — who matters to you and how can you contribute to their lives.
In my case the answer is easy. It is a single mom who raised two kids in the barrios of the Dominican, including the teenage girl, Leticia, a sophomore now at St. Bernard’s. They are my family. That’s all I need to know.
Dave Silverbrand’s columns and other writings are available on his website, http://www.davespeople.com.