hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

August 8, 2013

When life gives us a wake-up call

By Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — Every once in a while, a knock comes at your door with a wake-up call jolting you back to reality.

Mine came a week ago. There I was, 80 miles from home, attending a reunion with old friends at an Armenian camp in Franklin (Camp Haiastan).

I had served on a committee bent on bringing together the people who founded this camp some 63 years ago. After searching high and low for these pioneers, we compiled a list of 110 people from all parts of the country. Of that number, 40 agreed to attend the festivities.

I had picked up two long-time acquaintances and we headed south on Interstate 495 toward our destination.

I do not own a cell phone, nor do I intend to carry one. I figure if people want to contact me, they will find a way, same as they did a generation back when portable phones were merely a vision.

Upon my arrival later that afternoon, there was a message waiting for me at my passenger’s home. “Call your daughter immediately,” it said.

Without the slightest hint of what had transpired, I was given the bad news. My wife and daughter were with the grandchildren at a recreation park when an insect bite had suddenly left my wife’s arm swollen.

Upon being examined, she was transferred to a medical center nearby and later taken to Lawrence General Hospital for emergency treatment.

By the time all the news hit home, I was speeding toward the hospital, hoping to get there in time. The initial prognosis indicated a mild stroke. Another theory indicated Lyme’s Disease. What resulted over the next three days was chaotic. One test after another. Doctors in and out of her room, joined by therapists, a chaplain, nursing assistants and RNs, orderlies and dietary aides.

Two days after discharge, a relapse occurred and off we went to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston where a similar ordeal took place over the next 24 hours. The good news is that every test came back negative and there didn’t appear to be any serious ramifications.

The bad news remains an enigma. So what triggered all these complications? Perhaps the neurologists at MGH might have an answer. They had taken over her case and hope to find some answers. Sometimes no news is good news, especially when it concerns your health.

I look back upon two heart procedures which impacted my lifestyle and made me realize how fragile life can become. I often recall all my close friends and acquaintances who are no longer with me after a fatal experience.

It occurs every day at a moment’s notice when we least expect it. Fate can betray us at any time. It can also be our best friend.

A rear-end collision one evening brought the Jaws of Life to my wreckage. I could have expired right there on the spot. But I lived to tell about it.

All throughout life, we have our escapades. I firmly believe that sound spiritual values are sometimes the best medicine that can be prescribed. I recall two years ago being wheeled into the operating room for a triple bypass.

Yes, I was terrified. I won’t lie. Would I wake up to see my family again or drift off somewhere into the unknown? A priest left me with a little angel figure.

“Take this and hold it,” he told me the day before my surgery. “And say a prayer to yourself. God is listening.”

I was wheeled into the inner sanctum that morning. I remember giving the nursing station a thumbs-up as they whizzed me by. The little guardian angel was secure in the palm of my hand.

I cannot tell you very much about the operation, for I was heavily sedated. But obviously, I pulled through or else you wouldn’t be reading about it. I may have flirted with the Grim Reaper, but I gave him the boot.

“Not just yet,” I told the morbid specter.

In the days that followed my wife’s emergency, I was at her bedside, keeping a positive front. We shared the food from dietary. We greeted the medical staff. She napped. I read. My daughter was at our side and refused to leave. We slept at MGH. It wasn’t the Ritz, but it worked just fine.

I eventually brought her home to the comfort of her own home, and under strict orders to take it easy. I had to pull the broom out of her hands on one or two occasions. It didn’t take long for the same old rigmarole to catch up.

We’re already making plans for a golden anniversary to Disneyworld in two years with our grandchildren.

Writer and photographer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.