Here’s a little background for you.
Over the last few months, it has become increasingly difficult for Jack to breathe until even walking across the room left him struggling for breath, then even just standing up got him gasping.
We returned from a visit to the VA with the knowledge that his heart rate was irregular and slow. We also obtained a promise of an echo cardiogram in a month’s time. That night Jack had pain that ran across the back of his neck, down both arms, across his chest and into his abdomen.
He went to the ER by ambulance. He was taken to the local hospital because the VA did not have a bed for him. Within hours of his being admitted to the heart ward, an echo cardiogram had been done as well as a catheter heart procedure which revealed that an upper chamber of his heart was not able to pump blood out like it should. I am still fuzzy as to how, but apparently this defect causes fluid to build up around the lungs which is what is causing his shortness of breath.
For the first time in twenty-five years of hospital visits and emergencies with his health, we have a diagnosis that is less about an acute problem that can be solved and more of a long-term, chronic condition that may well end up killing him.
Both Jack and I are scared.
We deal with fear in polar opposite ways.
Fear makes Jack desperate to be the center of my universe, as though my acknowledgement of his central importance will convince the gods that they cannot take him. I, on the other hand, am desperate to know that my life will, in fact, go on if I lose him.
You see the issue.
This inconsistency in our methods has started The Great Buttermilk War.
He called from the hospital. “Bring me a quart of buttermilk when you come up.”
“What?” I pulled myself out of the lovely world I was building on my computer screen, a scene with its own problem, none of which involved a husband, the love of my life, in the hospital. “Buttermilk?”
I’m slow to catch on when jerked from one world into another.
“Yeah. The nurses don’t have any and I need some.”
“No, I’m not sneaking you buttermilk. They’re feeding you what they want you to have.”
Jack is well over a hundred pounds too heavy. This extra weight contributes directly to his high blood pressure, his diabetes and now it seems to this damn heart condition which may rob me of him. I went, not only from one world into another, but from calm and reasonable to fighting mad in less than ten seconds.
“I asked the nurses and they said it was okay.”
“You don’t need buttermilk. Besides, how are you going to refrigerate it?” Yes, I know, here is where I messed up. Never negotiate with a Marine.
“The nurses will keep it in their refrigerator for me.”
So, I closed out my computer and swung by the local neighborhood Walmart. No buttermilk. I asked the friendly clerk. Nope, they usually carry it but there was evidently a run on the disgusting crap. Sorry, no offense meant to those lovers of buttermilk, but yuck.
At the hospital Jack was sitting up in bed.
“You bring my buttermilk?”
His first words. I swear to you. His very first words to me.
I told him why I didn’t have any buttermilk for him. We talked about what his doctor had said. For about thirty seconds. He picked up his cell phone, called two of his buddies, Marty and Jim, both it goes without even saying, Vietnam combat vets.
Three guesses what he asked them to do. The first two guesses don’t count.
Before my head exploded or I said something I couldn’t take back, I left to walk with a friend.
When I came back to the hospital, I ran into Marty who was trying to talk a young Vietnamese nurse into marrying him at 4:00 that afternoon. Two quarts of buttermilk rested in a bed of ice in a bedpan.
Combat vets. You gotta love em.