Last week my mother was struck with – in my cousin’s words – an arrow to the heart.
It all began with a spectacular sunset.
It’s almost always a pretty time of day in the mountains, but the sunset the evening before Thanksgiving this year was unusually vibrant and gorgeous, filled with stripes of hot pinks and glittering golds, as if a psychedelic zebra was cavorting across the sky.
Wait ’til Mom sees this, I thought driving out to pick her up at her retirement village in the Black Mountains.
A short while before, I had gotten a call from the retirement village nurse letting me know Mom wasn’t feeling well. It’s not an emergency, she said, but the doctor’s office is closed for the holiday. Can you take her to the ER just in case she needs some medical attention?
I got into my car and headed east through the mountains, marveling at the sky the whole way.
If I had not come immediately …
Once I reached Mom’s place, I hurried her as best I could.
Have you seen my keys? she paused, glancing around.
You can use mine, I said. We have to go now so you can see this amazing sunset!
Still, she prevaricated, looking for one thing or another. I practically pushed her outside in my urgency to have her witness the evening’s spectacular light show.
If I had not hurried her …
Outside, we paused for a moment to admire the soft jewel tones in the mountain peaks surrounding the retirement village. The colors cheered her up enormously. And after we got on the road, she said she already felt much better. Maybe we don’t need to go, she said.
If we had not kept going …
Neither of us had been to this particular medical center, and, as luck would have it, it was a slow night and Mom was taken in immediately. We were actually enjoying the visit ~ it was a lovely facility with pleasant, jovial staff.
But then, about twenty minutes into our visit, everyone’s faces changed.
My mother’s face, which only moments ago had a big smile on it, was contorted with pain. The faces of the attending doctor and nurses changed, too. Nitroglycerin was slipped under her tongue, and she was ordered to bite and chew 4 aspirin. Morphine was injected.
Unbelievably, my mother, who has hardly been sick a day in her 94 years, was having a heart attack.
If she had not been in an emergency room …
EMS techs were suddenly in the cubicle, hooking her up to their own EKG monitor. She was switched to a mobile gurney and whisked away to another hospital, sirens and lights blazing.
If she was still living all alone in the big city …
I left the medical center by myself.
At the next hospital, I waited in a holding room for news. I waited for my thoughts to catch up with the reality of what was happening. I tallied up the what-ifs.
If the nurse at the retirement village had not called me …
At some point that evening, a heart surgeon appeared with diagrams and x-rays and bad news. My mother had suffered a massive heart attack. She was in critical condition. They’d performed an emergency angioplasty to open up a collapsed artery.
She is 94, he said gently. But, she’s in good shape and she’s pretty feisty. We don’t know what will happen.
At least she saw that amazing sunset on her last evening, I thought – unable to think.
Against the odds, she made it through the night. The following day was Thanksgiving.
Mom was lively and vocal, insisting that Tom, Leif and I go out to the retirement village and have the Thanksgiving lunch we’d planned on before all this happen.
And so to please her, we did. Our server took a photograph of us so we could supply proof. The three of us ate lunch with an empty chair at the table – one of the more surreal Thanksgiving meals any of us had ever experienced.
Mom, however, was delighted – determined to host us, even if she wasn’t there.
The thousand ifs of how we nearly lost her still dance in my mind, like mischievous small children who won’t settle down for the night, taunting me with their insomnia. Which makes me wonder all over again at life in these mountains and the unseen webs of serendipitous energy that lace through them.
[cover photo by Renee Weber]