The crime in question started 14 or 15 miles down the road with a simple doctor's appointment in Buford, Georgia. I'd been fighting bronchitis and, as everyone that has known me my 50 years on earth, a simple respiratory infection that is a nuisance to most quickly becomes something that kicks my posterior, all because of respiratory issues I inherited from our dear Mother (all the sweet things I COULD'VE gotten from her but I got bad lungs...anyway.) On October 21, 2014 I went to see why this infection was hanging on so long and had beaten two rounds of antibiotics and why I couldn't take a shower or pour a cup of coffee without having to sit down and rest afterwards.
The doctor came into the room and after the obligatory "Who's Tech playing this week?" (my doctors know me well) He put a stethoscope to my lungs and heart and said "Dang....that ain't right" and looked outside the exam room door and hollered at his nurse - "BRING ME THE EKG AND CALL GWINNETT COUNTY!!!" I figured they'd had a toilet backing up or low water pressure and wanted the county to come out and see if they could fix it!! No, he was summoning some brave young men from the fire station right up the street to come and take me somewhere for help. I asked him what was wrong. He said "I need you to relax. But you ARE in A-FIB at the moment." I asked for an explanation. He said "It means you're not going home....we're going to the hospital." Again, I asked him for an education on A-FIB. He said "either you've had a cardiac episode or you're about to have one....either way, we need to get you to a hospital.....but relax." Hmmmm...ok...there's a pack of wild dogs chasing you and you might survive....or you might end up supper.....but relax.
When these brave young men arrived (I'm fairly certain that I have socks older than all of them) I was - in spite of my fear - impressed at the way they went about their work. The one in charge told the doctor (after seeing my EKG) "We're not going to Gainesville (where my doctor wanted them to go) We're not taking that chance. We need to get him someplace closer." Not exactly words of comfort. They decided to take me to Northside/Forsyth in Cumming, apparently figuring I'd live that long! As we made our way out to the ambulance I told one of them that he probably would've eaten a bigger bowl of Wheaties if he'd known he was going to have to drag ME into the back of a truck. His response - "I ain't lost one yet, Mr. Freeman. Me and you both are about to go for a ride." I wanted to give him a big man hug. He was right....we both got in the back of that truck. And we both made it to Northside Hospital..
I say all of that to say this. During that ride, despite hearing transmissions from ambulance to hospital telling them how far out we were and what EKG was showing and to make sure they had this, that and the other thing ready to stick, strap and glue to me, it wasn't my demise I was most afraid of facing. I knew it was a possibility but it became a separate issue. What was at issue was the fear that I might cross into whatever happens to us when we leave this very temporal existence without seeing the sweetest, most perfect face I know ever again. She's the soul that braved taking me as her own. She's the soul that had a thousand other chances in life but decided I was the one she wanted to live with "til death do us part." I just didn't want that to be right there, right then.
Long story short (too late, right) she made it to the hospital and the grasp of her hand felt better than anything they'd given to relax me. The minute she was there she became two people. The RN I married and my wife. She was asking doctors questions and keeping a close eye on monitors. With her there, I felt like I was gonna' beat this thing like a rented mule. Still, it was touch and go for a while (as my heart wouldn't find normal rhythm until they forced it to with a dose of electricity late into my second day there.) But that very first night, after they moved me to a room on the cardiac floor, she fell asleep with her head on the railing of my bed, not letting go of my hand, refusing to be comfortable anywhere else. Again, it made me realize I was walking out of this damn hospital and nothing would stop me. And a bunch of tests and procedures later (some of which hurt like hell - I've never had a needle puncture the lining of my lungs) I did, in fact, get in her car and come home and sit in my recliner and pet my Labrador Retriever.
Fast forward to yesterday, when I went to a professional building next to the hospital for a follow-up appointment with one of the specialists that saved my life. I saw an ambulance flying around to the emergency entrance. I felt compelled to follow. The ambulance parked. And so did a woman nearby who got out of her blue car and broke several olympic records running to the ER entrance to meet the soul being rolled down the same hall I'd recently traversed. I watched her and I cried because I imagined my own angel running across that same parking lot and felt guilty that I'd put her through that.
Her favorite show comes on tonight. I'm gonna' cook her a steak and rub the feet that she works on all day while she watches that show. And I'm going to say a prayer for some folks we know that have taught me what life and love and eternal things are all about. They've done this all while watching their husband and father (one of the finest spirits I've encountered) fight something far worse than what I faced. To my boy I say this...let those 3 lovely ladies take care of you and think "THERE ya' go...." (which I've heard you say with every Georgia Tech first down.)
"So, if I had a barrel of rum and sugar 3,000 pounds....a college bell to put it in and a clapper to stir it 'round. I'd drink to...." THAT good fellow.......
(And also to my cousin Patrick who - standing in my hospital room - told me he missed my writing. You lit this fire....)