It seems like only yesterday that I was stretched out on a hospital bed inside a cardiac ward with my heart in my hands, wondering what fate had in store for me.
I was ready for a triple by-pass being performed by one of the best surgeons in the business — the same guy who did David Letterman and Regis Philbin. You might say those hands holding the heart were very good hands.
But any kind of open heart surgery, even a stent procedure, could be risky if destiny takes a turn for the worse.
A buddy of mine went in for what was considered routine surgery and never woke up. The poor soul never knew what hit him. A devastating turn of events ensued on the operating table and he suffered a fatal heart attack.
I was more fortunate. In as much time as it took for me to go under, that’s how quick the operation lasted — or so it seemed. Time becomes inconsequential at moments like these.
I may have mentioned this in an earlier column. If I did, it’s worth repeating anyway. Nothing like a dash of levity at a time like this, right?
I’m out of surgery one day, groggy and listless. To say I was in “la-la” land is an accurate scenario. Suddenly, I began hearing harp music. It kept getting louder and louder by the minute. My immediate impulse was that it was the angels of heaven coming to get me.
“It’s time,” the cherub would say, reaching out to take my hand.
“But I’m not ready yet,” I would respond.
“That’s for us to decide.”
And the harp filled the air with the most melodic music the ears would ever take. Turns out, it wasn’t any centrifugal force or spiritual being making a call. Rather, it was a woman making rounds to all the rooms in intensive care, entertaining the patients on this morning.
Once a week, she made it a point to visit the hospital and bring some cheer to the patients. When she arrived at my room, I looked up in bewilderment.
“Good morning,” she chirped. “Hope you’re feeling well. I brought my harp for you and would like to perform a selection. Do you have any requests?”
“Yes, I have one. Do you know ‘Pachelbel’s Canon?’”
“One of my favorites as well,” she replied. “And my instrument’s favorite, too.”
The next five minutes were filled with absolute bliss as the woman moved her fingers deftly across the strings, creating some of the best musical sounds any classical buff would want to hear. A nurse entered and listened before checking my vital signs.
It was the best panacea any patient would find. Five days later, I was discharged, then spent three weeks at a local rehab center close to home before adopting my own regimen inside a fitness center.
I don’t consider myself a walking miracle by any stretch, only someone who had God on his side and the best possible care along the way. Since then, maybe some bragging rights are in order, not for vanity sake, only to provide some reassurance to others going through a similar ordeal.
I got to take a long, postponed hike to a mountain’s top with my daughter — a climb that was in the works before the surgery. We managed to scale New Hampshire’s Mt. Kearsarge with her husband. Okay, so they had to wait a bit before I caught up, but I did manage to negotiate a rather tricky 3,000-footer.
I’m back playing an aggressive game of racquetball against players 10 and 20 years younger. Matter of fact, where once fatigue came quickly, it’s been replaced by endurance.
Mornings are usually spent at the rowing machines and treadmills at a gym by my camp. My workout often stretches to 90 minutes, compounded by the racquetball three times a week. I tend to be lighter on my feet, more energetic, and enjoying a far better lifestyle than I had before.
Must be the fresh blood being pumped into my system. Had I waited another day before the warning signs, this column might be coming to you from the hereafter.
My advice to any of you out there is this. Don’t hesitate. Listen to the symptoms. Plan your regular checkups accordingly and take them seriously. Don’t take your health for granted. It could come back to betray you.
Above all, trust your physician and have faith. Partner with God and reflect a positive attitude. And should you encounter a harpist along the way, let’s hope it’s a human being and not an angel.
Let the music play on.
Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from the Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.