Friday night my husband Bob and I were getting ready to go to a friend’s house for dinner when Bob’s cardiologist called. I answered the phone and called downstairs to Bob to pick up. He had been experiencing some shortness of breath and had seen his cardiologist that morning, after having passed a nuclear stress test earlier in the week with flying colors. Concerned, I came downstairs and caught Bob’s end of the conversation, “Emergency, now, transfusion, okay.” Low blood counts, he said, low enough that he had to be admitted to the hospital for a transfusion that night. My heart raced as I started gathering the things we would need to take with us.
Frantic and tearful, I called our friends to cancel dinner. But once we got to the emergency department, the crisis seemed more manageable. Our friends came to visit and we chatted in the hallway, just as though we were six friends around the dinner table. They left to go eat their wonderful dinner, and Bob and I got a sandwich from the Subway counter conveniently located right there in the waiting room. We hoped we’d have enough time to eat the sandwiches, and we did. We ate, we waited, we read, we waited, we talked with other people waiting – a young woman who had had an allergic reaction to the cheese in a Big Mac, a waitress from Bob’s favorite diner.
We waited, and I thought about breathing and staying in the moment. I had seen Julie, my spiritual adviser, the day before and we had talked about breath, about Bob’s shortness of breath, about my learning to breathe in my singing lessons, about just breathing when there was nothing else you could do and it was too scary to think about what might come. Just breathe, Julie said. Sometimes that’s all I can tell people.
So I breathed, and read, and held Bob’s hand. And I tried to stay in the present moment, where we were safe and warm on a cold January night, and where Bob was telling me that he hadn’t really wanted me to go away that weekend anyway, and we both laughed.
He got his blood transfusion, he moved up to a bed on the oncology floor – how scary is that? – and we waited. Over the weekend we kept singing a wonderfully upbeat song we’d been rehearsing in choir practice, “The Storm Is Passing Over.” We waited for the bone marrow biopsy on Monday morning and then for results. We breathed and sang. What else could we do?
We spent three days in the hospital, eventually, and still don’t know what’s causing the low blood counts. With luck, we’ll know something this afternoon and it won’t be as horrible as the possibilities that sent him to the emergency room. But we’re fine. We’re together, we’re breathing, we’re in this moment with the sun setting across the creek and the deer coming into the yard to eat the yucca plants, and we’re breathing. Just breathe, Julie said. Sometimes it’s all you can do.