Returning to the Scene of the Crime
Work took me back to Houston, TX last week. I had not been there since my husband Pete was there for his last checkup in November of 2015. He passed away in January 2016.
Even though we were based in Nashville and received phenomenal care from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Pete was required to travel to Houston every six months for a check-up, (and contrary to his preference, a hospitalization every now and again.) Pete’s medical device, a ventricular assist device (VAD), was implanted in his heart at the Texas Heart Institute in May of 2011. At the time, the device was not FDA approved except within the clinical trials. Pete was not in the trials but was allowed to get the device based on “compassionate use,” a term the FDA recognizes as a “he gets this or he dies” kind of thing. Insurance companies don’t like it much either, but when Pete was at death’s door and his surgeon was the world-renowned scientist and inventor Bud Frazier, they bent the rules. But, part of the deal was that we had to agree to return to Houston every six months to so they could include Pete’s progress in the study. Now this time, not only was I back in Houston, but the organization that brought me there was on the same block as Texas Heart, and my hotel was just across the street.
The minute I landed at Houston Hobby Airport, I felt the weight. Part of it was the heat and humidity, but there was also a different weight. It was exactly this time of year back in 2011 that Pete was here, and we weren’t sure if he would live to make it to surgery, or live if he made it through the surgery. The smell of the city was the same as I remember. The air was heavy, the scents were heavy, and the memories were heavy.
I waited until I was just about to head to the airport to fly back home before I decided to go over to the hospital. I had agreed to meet one of the nurse practitioners who had taken care of Pete so many years ago. She had to cancel last minute, but I didn’t get her message until I was already in the hospital. I considered turning around and walking (running) back to my hotel, but it was too late.
I don’t know what to call myself. What do you call someone who is a glutton for punishment and self-inflicted torture–oh wait, yeah–a masochist. Well, maybe I am. I walked ALL over that hospital, sunglasses on so nobody could see the panic or tears. I walked to the ICU floor and waiting room, to “12 Tower” as the nurses called it, the 12th floor step-down unit where he stayed for weeks and weeks. To the cafeteria where I ate 90% of my meals for four months, to the gift shop where I’d kill time, up and down the various elevators to all the various wings of the hospital, most of which we inhabited over time.
The entire time I just knew that as painful as it was, and as rough as the memories were, I could feel a real closeness to Pete that was truly indescribable and priceless. He and I (but mostly him) went through hell there, but we survived it together and came out the other side.
As I was leaving, wearing my jeans and boots (Texas requirement), a long jacket–my sunglasses on and my head hung low, a female doctor walked past me and said, “Hey, that’s a great look, you look really cool.” I said thanks and started laughing to myself as I walked out the door. If she only knew.