He Chose

Don’t let me linger, he always told me. If I’m irreversibly ill, if I cannot be whole again, let me go, let me die. No heroics. I don’t want to be less than what I am.

You need to know, I’d answer, that if I think there’s a chance for you to survive, I will take it. I will let them hold on to you for a while. I will give you every opportunity to live.

I don’t want to linger, he’d repeat. And if I do, you find a way to let me go. There are ways and there are places to go to find out how.

I could never do that, I’d say.

I would want you to, he’d say.

He’d tell me this when there wasn’t a thing in the world wrong with him. Then on June 27-28, 2008, the situation came up.

The doctor at Williamson Medical Center told me his organs had been without oxygen too long, maybe even his brain. With the mention of brain, I closed my eyes and let my head fall hard against the stone wall of the hallway. I couldn’t bear to hear that the brain of this brilliant man had been compromised.

Fix him, I said. He’s got to be at work Monday, he has customers depending on him, he owns a business.

It was an order. I meant it. I needed him, too.

So he lived through five hours of surgery. Then the doctor said his only chance for survival was to go to Vanderbilt, and he only had a 5% chance with that. And at Vanderbilt he had seven more hours of surgery. They fixed part of him; they repaired his heart, rebuilding it after the aortic dissection ripped it to shreds. But there was the issue of the other organs that had been without oxygen because of clots formed by tissue of the inner layer of the aorta. They’d take him off the heart/lung machine and he couldn’t make it.

So the doctor came to me and said, there’s one more surgery we can do, I think the outcome will be the same, but I’ve got a team ready if you want us to go ahead with it.

With that, it was all put on me. Do I carry out his wish and say no, enough, let him go, or do I give him another chance and put him through more surgery? The doctor stepped away for a moment and let me wring my hands, look beggingly at my brother-in-law, tell my son that I cannot walk away from this place without giving him every opportunity to live. My son said okay, of course, okay, sure, we’ll tell the doctor.

I cannot walk away from this place without giving him every chance to survive, I repeated.

Okay, the doctor said, and rushed away.

It wasn’t long into that third surgery, maybe ten minutes, before it happened.

I was sitting in the waiting room, leaning back, looking up at the lights, shaking with fear. I felt a calming warmth I’d never felt before in my life slowly brush against me from the front and take hold and wrap all the way around me and soak into my being, and then I heard my husband say urgently, I’m going, I’m going.

I went home from the hospital without him and as I walked in the front door, it hit me to go read that story, the one he had written two months earlier, titled “The Will to Live,” about the Styrofoam cup tossed about in traffic on the busy street in front of his office and how it finally found a resting place on the grass beside the curb. I went immediately upstairs and pulled it up on the computer. I knew he was trying to tell me something.

In the two years that have now gone by, I’ve read it again and again and found different meanings and have now reached another conclusion.

I thought of placing the cup back in the middle of the turn lane for another go, but decided it may prefer the resting place it had chosen and worked so hard to reach.

The cup chose its resting place. Did he choose his?

Such an adventurer needs freedom and would not fare well in captivity. So I left it where it was, and carried away the memory of its struggles and the lesson of perseverance it taught.

He didn’t want to live in captivity, less than he was, unable to do the things he wanted to do. He didn’t want to be less than whole. He chose to give it a good fight, and then quickly go to the other side where he was whole once again. He chose.

He chose.


2 Comments on “He Chose”

  1. Donna says:

    Kathy. The Big No. The Bigger Yes.

  2. inktarsia says:

    Such a powerful counterpoint to other pieces you’ve written about this journey.

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