A Corkscrewed Heart


The greatest man I’ve ever known is 90 today.  Two weeks ago, for just a minute, we were scared that he might not make it to this birthday.

He’d had pneumonia, or close to it, and still wasn’t feeling well.  He called my uncle, who quickly got him to the hospital.  It was there that the doctors discovered that he’d had a heart attack.

We were all sort of astounded by that news.  “You didn’t know you had a heart attack?”  I asked him.

“Well my chest was tight, and I was feeling week, but I thought it was the pneumonia,” he answered, shrugging his shoulders.  And all I could think was that, for a man who pulls his own teeth with a pair of pliers, it made sense.

A subsequent heart catheterization showed some blockages (hey, he’s 90 – what do we expect?) but relatively strong heart function for a man his age.  And it showed that the veins leading to his heart are corkscrewed.

It’s like his heart’s been sucking blood through a crazy straw his whole life, and all it did was make it stronger.  It’s been strong enough to survive the Great Depression, to dig graves for Holocaust victims at the end of World War Two, and to bury the love of his life after nearly 60 years together.  Strong enough to be patient with two teenage boys who frequently tore the transmissions out of the car and to make sure they became good men.

Ten minutes after he got back to his room following the heart catheterization, I caught him trying to rearrange the furniture.  “What are you doing?”  I said, my voice pitched high in panic.

“The bed’s crooked.  I’m trying to fix it,” he said, pushing on the hospital bed.

“You can’t.  It has a brake on it.  Now get back in bed,” I demanded.  And he obeyed, laughing.

See, that heart’s strong, but he’s never let it get hard.

I’ve mentioned before how the story my mom tells about him coming over just to watch me sleep when I was a tiny baby was what changed my concept of self-love.  As I sat in his hospital room watching him kindly interact with the nurses and doctors and allow his family to make his medical decisions, I was struck by his level of surrender to the process.  You see, he’s made it clear to us that he misses Grandmom and would prefer crossing over to be with her.  Yet he’s okay with sticking around for us a little while longer, maybe because he knows we still need him.

I hope I got his heart.

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