- Real Estate
- Paris Flash
(EDITOR’S NOTE: In a 10-part series for eParisExtra readers, Paris City Manager John Godwin, who received a new heart on July 2, shares a series of short stories/character sketches about his transplant experiences – “doctors, nurses, drugs, my wife, a trainee priest, the night I got the new heart.” He returned to work on Aug. 19 for the first time since a near-fatal heart episode on June 14. Godwin, who has written three historical novels (Hope, 2004; Talisman, 2005; and Of Blood & Faith, 2010), wrote the 10 stories in July and August “while home bored with a laptop.”)
Part X: The Wife
My wife is perhaps the kindest and nicest person I have ever met. The same could and likely would be said by anyone who has ever met her. Unfortunately, that means people sometimes take advantage of her. And at other times, she comes across as soft and over-emotional. Like one of our daughters, she has the reputation for crying at the drop of a hat. On a bad day, when she is feeling especially insecure or vulnerable, she over-thinks, over-worries, and over-analyzes, borrowing troubles that exist not in reality but only in her tender feelings. Her own children have accused her of being weak, of letting people push her around and using her. But one finds out the true character of any other person not in the normal times. It is when things go wrong – horribly, frighteningly, unplanned, unfathomably bad – that you find out what a person is truly made of. An accurate measure of any person’s strength comes only in the dark times. At work, at home, in war, in an athletic contest. In a hospital.
In addition to being almost indescribably giving and kind, my wife is hard working to a fault. She has an incredible talent, too. What the Bible calls a gift. She has spent the last 11 years working with special needs kids. She is magical in the way she gets through to them, reaching deep inside them when no one else can come close to even penetrating the surface. She spent two special years with all autistic kids, most of them violent. Many a day she came home bruised, spat on, cut up, her clothes torn, an earring yanked out, bite marks on her arm or hand. But she loved every child and they knew it and loved her back, and in those two years she changed their lives. Changed them forever! One spoke for the first time, and others completed schoolwork the experts said they could never do. Ever. An incredible gift, and one she shares freely and happily. We tease her proudly and call her the “child whisperer” because of her uncanny ability to reach any child, no matter how far gone he or she seems to be. It’s ironic that those emotions she carries so close to the surface, the ones people mistake for signs of weakness, are what makes her so effective. For it is those very emotions that make the connections to her special kids.
On June 14, her husband suffers a catastrophic heart attack. He is stabilized just in time at one hospital, then transferred to another for life-saving surgery. The almost 10-hour surgery goes badly and even the surgeon later admits it is a miracle the patient survives. Even at that, he survives only with the aid of machines, and the prognosis is not good. So how does the wife respond? Hand-wringing, crying, paralyzing despair? Hardly! Concern, worry, fear? Of course. But most importantly, she acts. Through a series of painful-to-make phone calls and text messages, she gathers her children around her, and then the rest of her family and friends. She contacts his friends and family and coworkers, too. She interacts regularly with the surgeons and medical personnel. She makes decisions. She takes care of the insurance and the bills and all the business aspects of a major hospitalization. She even allows herself to prepare a tentative list of pallbearers – just in case. She prays, and asks for the prayers of others. She is involved, in charge, and under control. It does not come easy, especially in the first few days when she is deathly afraid, but she becomes the personification of strength under fire.
For four days she watches her unconscious husband – tubes, hoses, wires jammed into every available space – as he wastes away and the surgeons debate what to do next. Her surroundings and the people within them fade into the shadows. Some of them feel ignored. But she has one concern only, one crisis, and her entire heart, soul, and mind are laser-focused on the man in the bed kept alive by machines. She is involved, in charge, and under control.
They have been married for more than 28 years. He likes to tell people 22 happy ones and six really bad ones. He is not joking. There were a pair of three-year skids that threatened their marriage. The children are old enough to remember the latter triad, during which they heard far too many harsh, intentionally hurtful words. The husband hopes what they take from those three ugly years is that their parents did not give up on each other. That no matter how bad it got, they fought through it and the result was a better marriage than ever. Now the wife wonders if they will celebrate 29 years.
The patient wakes up and things look a little brighter. They suffer through a week of delirium and confusion, but the husband gets gradually stronger, the change from one day to the next almost imperceptible, but real nonetheless. She continues to stay in charge, through the long days and nights. She finally leaves the hospital after days and days, and makes time to take the two grandchildren on a water park outing, and the entire family takes in a fireworks show back in their hometown. She spends a day in Paris, taking care of business there too, for life goes on outside the hospital. But the focus is still on the husband, and she is otherwise beside his bed, no matter what. The hospital staff knows her well, as do the families of many other critical patients. She is kind and soft-spoken with them, and they are in awe of her strength, her control, the deepness of her character.
A new heart becomes available. A celebration for one family. An unspeakable tragedy for another. One hopes the wife/mother in the latter family is as strong as the wife in the former. Surgery is efficient and subsequent improvement rapid and dramatic. After 27 days and nights, the patient makes it home, his old useless heart donated by his wife for study, a new one beating excitedly in his chest. The wife becomes nurse and servant now. Cooking special foods and serving them on a tray; cutting his meat because his hands are still too weak; distributing over 30 medicines a day to her one patient; checking blood pressure, blood sugar, and temperature twice a day; helping with showers and getting dressed; cutting toenails; driving him to the hospital four times per week for outpatient care; even mixing one medicine by hand every morning and night. I cannot possibly do this alone. I wonder if I would even have survived without my wife.
But one finds out about the true character of any other person not in the normal times. It is when things go wrong – horribly, frighteningly, unplanned, unfathomably bad, that you find out what a person is truly made of. An accurate measure of any person’s strength comes only in the dark times. At work, in an athletic contest, at war. In a hospital. A Paris firefighter stepping up at a dangerous structural fire or a police officer willingly putting himself in harm’s way, UT quarterback Vince Young single-handedly rallying his Longhorns to win the Rose Bowl, George Patton racing on a tank to save trapped Americans at the Battle of the Bulge. And my wife at UT-Southwestern Medical Center. Courage – and the deepest kind of character – under fire. It’s the difference between good and great
A young intern chaplain says it best in a letter he writes. He tells her she epitomizes the phrase, “do you promise to love your husband in good times and bad, in sickness and in health…” She is, he goes on, a wonderful witness to him and the world. He promises to share the strength and devotion, the hope, he has received from the time he shared with her at the hospital as he works with other patients and their families in his future. Thus she will continue to help others, even strangers she will never meet, through her example of strength and courage. Strong? Like steel. Or diamonds. My wife. My hero! Greatness, indeed.
For other “Transplant Experience” stories in the 10-part series, go to: