by Mary Lee Gannon
Originally printed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (20 December 2000)
About the time my newspaper carrier was pitching news of the Nasdaq onto my driveway Friday, I was creating my own plummeting index on an electrocardiogram. I had awakened with chest pains, sweats, tingling fingers, and lightheadedness.
I couldn’t make it down the steps, so I called for my 11-year-old, crawled back to bed and phoned 911. I explained my symptoms and then, as any healthy 40-year-old would do, immediately went into denial.
“It’s not that bad. I’m young. Don’t you think I’ll be OK?”
“We don’t know that, ma’am,” said the dispatcher. “Have someone turn on your porch light. We’ll be right there.”
Just what you want to hear when you are having a tug of war with middle age – “ma’am”. I wanted to tell him, “I’m not my mother,” but couldn’t remember if my underwear was new or old and thought I’d better not argue.
When the Emergency Medical Service team arrived, I was relieved to see that two of them were people I know – relieved, that, is, until I thought again about my underwear.
Standing around my bed were my children, whose faces had dropped two stories. Tears were welling in their eyes.
I did my best to comfort them, but the most calming effect came from the EMS team. In between starting an IV and doing an EKJ, they offered gentle words to the children, words which had a reassuring effect on me, too. They even let me think I had a choice about going to the hospital.
Once there, I expected to be greeted by someone asking me for my insurance card. It never happened. Instead I was met by concerned doctors and nurses who treated me with a suspicious immediacy.
I didn’t really get concerned, though, until they told me I needed to be taken to another hospital for a heart catheterization.
Then they told me I had to go by helicopter. I lost it.
“Could I die?” I asked the cardiologist.
“If you weren’t here it could be a possibility,” he said, “but you are in the best care.”
I looked at a nurse who had been sweet enough to stay with me. My face must have told the story. “Please don’t cry, or I’m going to cry too,” she said.
The sights and sounds of an emergency room during a crisis remind you of what life really amounts to. There is no sense of day or night. The words of nearby conversations pale next to the beeping of the monitors. Intravenous tubes feed you what you hope is tomorrow into pricked veins in your arms.
There are no windows through which you can breathe fresh air. There is no horizon from which you can anticipate the next sunrise. There is only today. This minute. Now.
I thought about my children and how proud I am of their choices. I thought about my friends whom I am so blessed to have. I called my family, friends, and children’s principals to make sure they knew to take care of the children.
Then I let God have the rest.
I knew that in spite of the difficult hand I had been dealt, I had so many things for which to give thanks. I had the best of care. I had the best technology. I had the best transportation. I had the best in medicine. And I had a God who would not abandon me. Everything else was out of my hands.
God continued to remind me of his presence through his children. The helicopter paramedic eased my fears by telling me about his father having the same procedure. The heart catheterization room was like the United Nations. I was never happier to be an American. What a blessed place it was to have the top people in the whole world summoned in one room waiting to take care of me.
As I was coming out of sedation, I watched the monitors display the movement of blood through my heart. I sighed with relief when I heard the cardiologist say in an Irish accent, “Mary, you are not having a heart attack nor do I think you will ever have a heart attack.”
He asked how I felt. Pleased with his work and thoroughly drugged, I answered with a very Tony the Tiger-like, “Grrrrrreeeeeaaat!”
He smiled, “We only give the best cocktails here.” I was sure they only gave the best of everything there.
By 2:30 that afternoon I was getting dressed to go home. I found that my underwear had been sealed in a bag. I was assured they did that for everyone. Whew!
I left the hospital and nobody had even asked for my insurance card. My Social Security number and my word were enough to insure me the best care insurance or no insurance could by.
The paramedic who treated me called my house to see how I was. He told me that two of the other paramedics had called him twice asking about me.
I knew at that moment that I was thankful for one more thing.
I was thankful that American is not only a place where the doors are open to all, but that in addition to its cutting edge technology and in spite of its capitalistic drive, there are still many here who have not compromised the virtue of compassion.
God Bless America.
Mary Lee Gannon is a free-lance writer.