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I noticed it by accident, those slow calculated steps from one chair to another. I had walked, fearlessly and deliberately. I had all but forgotten it was possible.

For weeks after my heart failure, I had been told I was living on the edge of survival. I confined myself to one couch in my house, sometimes crying and thrashing and sometimes catatonic.

My speech was jumbled, my lips dry and I felt as bleak as I had ever been. Now without a car or the freedom to leave my property, I was left alone to my thoughts and prayers. I was embarrassed to ask for help.  “How can I live my life this way?” I cried.

More than two dozen times I had fallen, every thump in the night frightening my wife, Yahindi. She would find me on the bathroom floor, having pulled the towel rack from the wall. I had landed in the hallway, on the front steps and even the entrance to the hospital.

How unfair life could be to a man who never feared the dark and found so much happiness in the world?  How fair could it be to anyone who has lived a good and loving life, only to find their own fractured by a misstep. I knew that whatever happened, I would never be the same.

I was used to that, the rug pulled out from under me — people telling me I had no more value to them. It has happened to everyone, and we learn to cope with loss. Time makes it easier. But this isolation is different. You can no longer do the things that made you happy. Instead, you gasp through the night on trips to the bathroom.

Once, just for the fun of it, I timed my journey from the living room to my office. I had no help, no chair — nothing but determination. For 28 minutes, I crawled on my hands crab-style, every inch an exhausting exercise.

I made it, exhausted but safe — but what if I could never walk, as one therapist predicted. How would I laugh with my family or witness my daughter’s graduation? Could one really be forgotten like a sputtering old Roman candle? I was about to find out.

It started with one uninvited guest, an old friend who had once cared for my cat. He stopped by to change a lightbulb. Tom Throssel is the executive director of Teen Challenge and a trusted old friend. He said that I mattered to people, recalling the kid who had stolen my car. I asked the DA not to prosecute him. Now, wherever he is, he calls me the father he never had.

Then my friend Rick St. Charles arrived. He and I were the kids of TV who never grew up. We survived and usually outlived them all. I want a plaque on the corner of Broadway and Sixth, where we worked.

Singer Jeff DeMark reminisced about baseball and his friend, Charlie Gilbert, gathered last Sunday with the only conversation ground rule being to make each other laugh.

Friendship is a potion with miraculous powers. It can help you laugh when you want to and grieve when you need to. It brings alive our essence of us, undetectable by electrocardiograms. They left me in awe, these beautiful men who gave me the gift of their time.

They reminded me that I would always bring value to their lives. What I could do didn’t matter. Who I was surely did.

For weeks, experts questioned my memory, though their names escape me. I was a mumbling, bumbling medical mystery. They gave me a list of diagnoses so long I wondered why they didn’t just take me for a long walk.

Then came those steps once recorded in my baby book. I was wailing, yelling and crying, talking, walking and then moving again. Something had snapped.

Maybe there is something more promising than the physician, more powerful than the pill. Whatever it is, I am thankful for life. I am also thankful for the friends who never forgot me.

I pray for you the same.

Dave Silverbrand’s columns and other writings are available on his website, http://www.davespeople.com.


 

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