Yesterday, I sat in the waiting room at day surgery at one of the local hospitals, my lips whispering tehillim (psalms) as I waited to hear news of how my husband’s test was going. He was having his fourth heart catheterization, a procedure that shows cardiologists how the arteries that supply blood to his heart are doing. He’s had four over the years with no further work necessary and so I waited, knitting and praying for a similar result.
Except this time, I had a feeling that something was different.
At every other test, I’ve been relaxed in the waiting room, a bit nervous, but not really on edge. Yesterday, I found myself crying. I just couldn’t stop the tears no matter how I tried to talk myself out of them. They just kept falling. So, when the doctor asked me to come back to a consultation room, I wasn’t entirely surprised when the news wasn’t as good as tests before. The doctor said nothing as he drew out branches, like a tree, on a blank piece of paper. It was a etz chaim, a tree of life, but in this case, the trunk was my husband’s aorta and the branches his arteries. The cardiologist explained that all of the branches were blocked by build up, some almost completely, others less so. He explained why a stent, a coil of metal used to open up blockages, wouldn’t work here and he explained how a bypass works, adding grafted on branches to the tree that arched around the blocked arteries to make sure his heart would get the blood it needed. He explained how important it was that my husband get surgery.
I calmly listened, looking at those grafts like our family, grafted on to the Jewish family tree and now…damaged and in need of healing.
As I returned to wait to see him in recovery, I sent texts and made phone calls. I texted our Rabbi and called family. It still didn’t seem real, that my husband who had moved us from Alaska with his bare hands was now going to need open heart surgery. I was still digesting the full meaning of this for our family even as I made arrangements for someone else to pick up our daughter at camp drop off and canceled the job interview I’d had. Life suddenly becomes starkly simple when someone you love is attached to monitors and IV tubes. Of course I can’t start a different job now, particularly when the one I have allows me to work from home. My family’s health comes first.
Finally, they brought me back to see him. He was groggy and tired from the procedure, unable to understand what he’d been told. I was his memory. The pace of the nurses was slow, unhurried, as it often is around those who are seriously ill. Nothing big is fixed quickly. They explained he could come home today, but we need to follow up with his cardiologist to get a referral to the heart surgeons. I knitted and continued to update family. He rested.
As I finally began to feel my mind shift and adjust to this new information, I began to feel so much gratitude. Our family had literally been guided and delivered from the remoteness of Alaska to a place where top notch medical care was just a short drive away. We had been delivered into a warm, supportive community that was already rallying around us with just a few short texts. We had been brought safely through all the uncertainty of our conversion process to a place where our halakhic status was no longer a question. Everything had been smoothly prepared for us to be in place for this and then, when it was the right time, this problem was found before it could cause my husband a heart attack that could have taken his life.
How kind Hashem has been to us!
A feeling of peace washed over me and I realized that, no matter what the outcome of this, Hashem is with our family and will help us through it. We’ve been led out of Egypt and protecting in our wanderings through the desert. We have nothing to fear of the challenges we face as we enter the land, no matter how daunting they might seem.
My husband’s heart is broken, but even if, chas v’sholom (heaven forbid) it wasn’t fixable, his neshama (soul) is secure. I have hope and faith that his body will be healed and that we’ll have a good long life together after this, but even if that weren’t the case, I would have comfort in the fact that we made it this far and that he would be buried as a Jewish man and I would see him in the world to come.
I firmly believe, though, with certainty, that Hashem has much more for him to do here and that this will only lead to greater growth for us all.