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Mending a broken heart

Posted Jan 02 2011 8:35pm

This New Year’s Eve, my dad collapsed on the living-room floor.

My dad, the strong, capable, fixer-of-things, the man who for most of his 66 years has been dedicated to running and fitness and, as founder of a very popular local running club, is passionate about cultivating fitness and self-belief in others. My dad, falling to the floor at my sister’s feet.

It’s the kind of phone call we all dread. I rushed to the hospital.

Over the next twenty-four hours, I sat willing the colour to return to my dad’s face. I held his hand and looked into his eyes and saw that he was already somewhere far away from me – in a place of pain, in that in-between place to which people retreat when it all becomes too much for the body to bear.

For hours I sat listening to the blip and bleep of the monitors. I watched the graphs – mysterious translations of my dad’s heart rhythm and blood pressure – moving on the screen above his head. Those green and white lines seemed like the threads of his life, unfurling above his head in delicate webs, and I sat and watched them and willed them to bccome stronger whilst we chatted about nothing in particular, each of us complicit, knowing all the time that he was slipping further away, each hour a little further beyond the bright lights and clatter of the ward.

Leaving him last night was the hardest thing I have ever done. I did it because that is the thing you do. I did it because I had to. Visiting time was over.

But what I wanted was to lie down on the floor next to his bed so that I could be there if he needed an extra blanket. What I wanted was to roll the pain up in that extra blanket and carry it for him. What I wanted was to scream and cry and rage and demand of everyone and anyone that Something More Be Done. And, should I be tried and tested, should even more love be required to heal him, then I would love him harder, longer, stronger, louder.

Later that night, my dad was transferred in an ambulance with blue flashing lights to Leeds where a team of eight emergency staff performed a state-of-the-art angioplasty.

Only minutes after it was completed, my dad described to me on the phone how he had seen his heart pumping on a monitor from many different angles and how he had felt his cheeks and forehead infuse with warmth for the first time in weeks as the surgeons cleared blockages in a major artery.

Today, my dad has made the journey back: back from the critical care unit in Leeds to the ward in York, where skilled staff will monitor his progress and chart the next steps for the further procedures he now needs; and back from that other place, that strange space where we go for a while when we’re exhausted with pain and fear, whilst our bodies get on with the business of breathing, of living.

Tonight, whilst my dad told us the story of his journey over the last few difficult hours, I looked into his face and welcomed him back. I thought not about how fragile we all are but about how strong and resilient we are, even in the face of such seemingly superhuman challenges.

My dad’s heart is not quite mended. There is still some way for us all to travel together. But tonight I am giving thanks. Tonight, my heart is brimful.

I’m so grateful to everyone who has supported my dad, my family and me over the last couple of days with messages and thoughts and kindness.

I’m so thankful that I live in a time and place of amazing technologies, with medics who are willing and able to save the lives of people like my dad every day with their expertise, hard work and dedication. I’m humbled and awed by what I’ve seen.

And this New Year, I wish you – belatedly but from a place that I couldn’t have accessed or understood just a couple of days ago – a deep-down knowing in your heart, and the courage to trust that your heart is stronger and more resilient than you might ever imagine, that it is always ready to open a little more, always ready to mend.

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