I began loading photos for this post in February. Before Valentine’s Day, before Bob’s heart attack, and before we were sucked into the Health Care Vortex.
On February 22nd we found ourselves at Reid Heart Center in Pinehurst, a forty-five minute drive south, awaiting open heart surgery. It would be two weeks before we returned to Moncure and started putting our lives back together.
I stayed in Pinehurst during this time. When I wasn’t loitering near Bob’s hospital bed, I paced the corridors with my flip phone pressed against my head. I slept on a vinyl chair that stretched into a bed if certain parts were pulled in a particular sequence. The long nights felt like slumber parties with their whispered blood draws and dark conversations, Bob and I laughing with the nurses as if we were in on the joke.
After daylight I walked big loops through the sprawling FirstHealth parking lots, confused and bereft. The old Bob was dead and no one knew who would emerge in his place. I distracted myself by searching for a migration of robins that swung through the pines as noisily as a troop of monkeys.
I started walking the Pinehurst Greenway and it became my path to enlightenment, my lifeline, my escape and solace. It was the next best thing to being home in “our” woods.
On February 26, I walked the greenway for hours, ringer on high to receive nurse Steve’s operating room updates. They’ve made the incision,” he said at 8:55 AM. At 9:29 he told me, “They’re having trouble. The heparin isn’t working, so they’re trying something else.” And later, after they got Bob hooked up to the heart/lung pump, he called to tell me the snipping and stitching had begun.
I watched the sun light up the pines, and rather than return to Reid Heart Center to wait in the lobby, I lay on a trailside bench and talked on the phone.
We left the safety of ICU on March 5th and began the slow process of recovery. Lucky for us, Bob’s three daughters flew in to ease our transition.
Rewind to December. This is Bob before the bottom fell out of our lives. He was no longer up to walking the mile down to Stinking Creek, so we were enjoying a minor expedition slightly beyond our back acre. “I’m getting old,” he would say, unaware that his heart was starving for blood.
Sometimes I look up and see the moon and am reminded of an after-dinner walk with Haruka. We took note of how the moon followed us through the woods, sometimes disappearing, but always reappearing — a comforting constant.
I called Haruka from Pinehurst and let her absorb my fear and exhaustion. “I am always with you,” she says. “Like the moon. Remember that night?”
I didn’t see any beech trees on the Pinehurst Greenway and realize how much I miss the Queens of the Forest after we get home. I love how their roots climb over the leaves to ascend their smooth trunks.
Beech trees wear their leaves like tutus long after all the other trees have dropped theirs.
Their marcescent amber leaves brighten the winter landscape.
I named my favorite beech tree Carl, and our friends built me a cedar bench for my 62nd birthday so I could sit beside my favorite tree in comfort.
When I come across a broken tree, I wonder how I might have felt had I been standing here when the wind swooped down to rip it in half. I marvel at the surrounding trees, still straight and intact, and going about their business.