The day didn’t start with a sense of foreboding, but it got that way in a hurry. I’ve never ventured out on Black Friday, but I decided, against the prompting of my inner voice, to get out and about to see what all the fuss was about. I was holding my own, wandering aimlessly from store to store at the Legends Shopping Center. Then I made my big mistake. I walked into the Gap. The place was mobbed with young people. They appeared to be competing furiously for marked-down jeans and hoodies. It was serious business. I tried to stay out of the line of fire, but the crowd was just too much. As I stood, dazed and confused, in the aisle near the sweaters, I heard a young, gruff voice directly behind me. “Get out of the way, you old buzzard.” My first reaction was to pretend I wasn’t the roadblock. But, I knew better. The bald spot on the back of my head was a dead giveaway. I thought about protesting, but decided the best course of action was to comply with the young man’s request. I stepped aside. Discretion, they say, is the better part of valor.
The rest of the day was uneventful. I shared a quiet dinner with Nancy and Corina at the Al Dente Café and quiet conversation at our River Market loft. I went to bed about ten, with my ego a bit bloodied, but still somewhat intact. Then, at about 2:00 A.M., I felt a wrenching pain in the middle of my chest. I got up and wobbled my way to the bathroom. I looked in the mirror and felt a sense of panic grip me. Three years earlier I’d gone through double bypass surgery. I wondered to myself whether or not this was going to be the big one.
We got to the emergency room at K.U. Med Center at about 2:15. It didn’t take long at all to get me wired up to EKG’s, IV’s, and other monitoring devices. Nurses swirled around me, pumping me full of Nitro-glycerin, and aspirin. By the third tablet of nitro the pain was dissipating. I started to feel a bit giddy. I told one of the nurses if they didn’t stop poking me I was going to sneeze and blow the place up. Then the doctors started marching in, like Laurel and Hardy’s wooden soldiers. There was Doctor Singh, from India. He was followed by a young doctor who appeared to be six or seven years younger than Doogie Howser.
By 3:00 A.M. the medical staff decided to admit me for further tests. I didn’t like the idea, but knew that settling in to the routine was the best course of action.
I was taken to my room by a man named Chris. I found out that he had retired from the fire department and that he’d lost his wife a few years back. He said he still felt occasional pangs of loneliness when he thought about her. Serving others in his current capacity seemed to rub healing salve into those wounds.
Not long after I got to my room the day shift nurse introduced herself. Her name was Nina. She had an interesting accent. I asked where she was from. “Togo,” she responded proudly. She was followed by another woman whose accent was slightly different than Nina’s. “Where are you from?” I asked her as she read my vital signs. “Ethiopia,” she responded gently.
“What’s your name?”
“That’s a beautiful name. Have you ever been there?”
She smiled. “I’ve never been, but I am going to the New Jerusalem someday.”
I smiled back. “Me too. I’m sure I’ll see you there.”
In the two days that followed I felt increasingly comforted. Everyone was so kind and so professional, from the doctors to the nurses to the technicians to the housekeeping and dietary staff. When all the tests were done I was told that my heart was fine and that the episode may have been esophageal reflux.
I’m back home in Emporia and I feel good, better than an old buzzard like me should. I feel frisky enough that I’m tempted to back to the Legends and find that young guy to let him know that a year from now his gut will be so big he won’t be able to wear that sweater he coveted.
But why bother? I came home with something far more important. My prognosis for this life and the next is really good. My faith and experience tell me this is so. I feel a renewed sense of connection to the long ago events that took place in a stable. It’s a great gift to have, particularly at this special time of the year.