Hands Upon My Heart:  
My Journey Through Heart Disease and Into Life
  By Perry Foster

  A true-to-life story about the author's confrontation with the cardiac world's harsh realities and his endless struggle with coronary artery disease.

     Ken [my brother] lay motionless on his back under a taut white sheet pulled up to his neck.  An oxygen tube had slipped from one nostril, and his matted hair looked pasted to the pillow.  His ashen face needed a shave and his swollen, puffy lips had turned deep purple.  But, thank God, he’d come through it well enough to have the tube removed from his throat.
     Two plastic tubes, their interiors filled with tiny moist bubbles, sagged under Ken’s bed.  Attached to one of the drooping tubes, a clear plastic bag contained an inch of urine.

     My eyes began burning.
     Ken turned his head toward me and opened one eye.  But he wasn’t fully conscious and the eye rolled up, showing only the white.  Stunned, Ed [my brother] and I stared at each other.  Ken had been the most physically fit among us.  He was a good athlete, as well as a clown.  He always had a smile and a joke.  But now he looked like he’d been in the ring one too many rounds with a professional boxer.

     Now plastic tubes and cold, sterile mechanical devices kept this vibrant man alive.  I pulled out my handkerchief, wiped my eyes, and blew my nose.

     The nurse walked in and whispered,  “Ten minutes are about up, gentlemen.”

     ...Ken’s surgeon’s keen dark eyes darted from Ed to Denny to me.  “If you men have not had a stress test in the past twelve months, I recommend that you get one.”


      Mary Ann [my wife] looked lovely, descending the stairway, wearing a pretty navy blue dress and heels.
     After the movie, we ordered wine and shrimp cocktail and danced to a three-piece combo.  Conversation came easy for me this time.

     Back at her home, we sat side by side on the living room couch, chatting late into the night.  Sometime before dawn, I walked over to the window and pulled back the curtain.  Big fluffy snowflakes floated down through the street lamp’s hazy blue halo.  I didn’t want to leave her warmth.... We were married six months later.


      Mary Ann put down the magazine and walked over to me.  “Don’t worry.  It’ll be okay.”
     It had become her mantra: don’t worry; it’ll be okay.
     Now an unadulterated, bona fide optimist, she could conjure up a positive attitude at will.  But I didn’t trust her mantra voice.  The tone sounded almost indifferent, as if she didn’t truly comprehend the gravity of my plight.  Her voice and demeanor didn’t seem to match my crisis.

     After twenty-five years of marriage, she was still an enigma to me.  Her mind seemed to skip off my dilemma like a flat stone skipping off smooth water.  But she would have collapsed if our nervous little poodle had been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease.
     “Please,” I said in an unpleasant tone, “I’m not in the mood for another Norman Vincent Peale spiel.  I flunked the stress test and I’m here for a catheterization.”


     My mind relentlessly recycled the day.  I didn’t need to speak to my surgeon to have him explain the procedure: I’d picked up literature at our local American Heart Association and researched the procedure online, practically memorizing it.
     No, I wanted to meet him to size him up.  I wanted to see heartfelt compassion in his eyes.  I wanted to sense self-confidence in his bearing.  I wanted to intuit extraordinary competence.  I wanted to grasp his hand, the hand that would hold my beating heart, and feel reassured.


     Then she [a nurse] removed the urinal catheter. “You can use the bathroom now.”
     The first time I tried to pee, only air whizzed out.  I was sure something vital had been severed and just as I began to feel panic, a weak yellow stream began flowing.
     I couldn’t wait to take a hot shower.  Still physically and emotionally traumatized, I stood rigidly under the hot water, letting it drench my entire aching body.  Shoulders hunched forward to protect my chest incision, I made tiny circles with the tip of my finger, massaging the incessant itching.  Then, worried I’d slip and fall and split my chest open, I stepped out of the shower with protracted caution, onto the floor towel.  The long red incision running from my inner thigh down to my ankle burned.  And the raw, crimson red drainage-tube wound on my stomach was sore and swollen.

     Toweling off, I avoided the mirror.  Finally, unable to tolerate it any longer, I swiped condensation off the mirror with the towel, grasped the sink with both hands, and stared at the gruesome gash running from my collarbone to just inches above my navel.  The punctured skin, pulled taut by the blue nylon stitches, had turned yellowish black.  And a puffy red bead of swollen flesh—the diameter of a pencil, made redder by the hot water—had formed over the incision.

     Tears stinging my eyes, I stared at the sad gray face needing a shave in the mirror.  I’d never seen such an ugly chest scar.  No more beach vacations.  Was God punishing me?

     I pulled on the clean hospital gown and limped back into the room.  Depressed, I sat on the edge of the bed and cried again.  I’d never cried so much in my entire life, and Mary Ann and Claudia were in and out of the room, but I managed to keep it together in their presence.

     Lying in bed, exhausted, I fought sleep because the medications caused such ghastly dreams.

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Copyright 2007 Perry Foster    All Rights Reserved