It’s been an awful time. I wanted to tell you about so many things, like how the dove has become an actual nuisance because she comes into the kitchen every chance she gets, so that I can no longer leave the kitchen door open when the weather is warm enough; I wanted to tell you all about my trip Tuesday to a monastery, and that my children turned 39 and 37 on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. But all those things have been eclipsed by the situation of our dear friend and koumbaros, Kostas.
Demetrios and Kostas decided they would like a second opinion, in fact a third opinion, too, since two of the dearest and closest Old Friends are cardiologists, Tasos (short for Anastasios) and Andreas, who is also a published poet. Tasos was a year ahead of Demetrios in medical school. The university here is free, but books aren’t, and Demetrios couldn’t afford any books. So Tasos used to let Demetrios use his, when he was finished with them, and it’s due to his kindness my husband acquired an education. (Now we buy him books as often as possible.)
Tasos is a world-class cardiologist, literally, who has been around the world, speaks fluent English, and has treated movie stars, assorted crowned heads of Europe, and other celebrities.
So to take Kostas to him was clearly the thing to do. Tasos did many, thorough tests and checks. On Thursday night, Demetrios was to pick up the results from Tasos’ office and bring them to Kostas. (As I’ve mentioned, doctors here work late.) Andreas also came and the three had a long discussion at a nearly kafenion, coffee shop.
It’s very serious. It’s so serious the two cardiologists told Demetrios they don’t know why Kostas hasn’t died; it is only the grace of God keeping him alive. They couldn’t believe Kostas’ regular doctor had not told him of it; a simple cardiogram should have caught the problem; even just listening to the heart with a stethoscope should have told a lot of the story. There was no time to waste, not a day, not an hour.
They tried repeatedly to reach Kostas by phone, but Mena was talking the whole time. She was preparing for a kolonoskopia the next morning, and anyone who has had one of those knows what that means. She was in bed, bored, and amusing herself by chatting with her girlfriends.
Demetrios came home and we spent until nearly midnight until we finally got through. They must be ready for an angiogram first thing tomorrow (Friday), if it could be arranged. Surgery, ideally, the next day. They agreed, without having to be told how very bad it is. Demetrios called Tasos, who said he would call back in the morning to tell us how soon the angiogram could be done. (He is semi-retired, and doesn’t do them any more, himself.)
We got to bed around 1:00, too worried to sleep before then.
The telephone awakened us a 9:10. Tasos said get Kostas over to the hospital as soon as possible. Kostas said he would be ready. Mena was having her colonoscopy. No time to eat breakfast, no time to brush teeth (which fortunately I had done last thing before getting in bed), no time for Demetrios to shave, no time for me to put on makeup. Yank the clothes on, don’t forget to take house key, dash to the corner, hail a cab. We were with Kostas before 10:00 and at the hospital fifteen minutes later.
It’s a private hospital, as opposed to state-owned and operated. The people there were so efficient (yet so kind and reassuring in manner) it almost hurt to watch, rushing us from one station to another. First stop, the station where they do cardiograms. Next stop, office of the doctor who would do the angiogram. Brief medical history, list of medications, don’t tell the lady all about each one, just how much you take and when, show doctor the cardiogram, ultrasound pictures and Tasos’ report (which Kostas still hasn’t seen). Third stop, chest x-ray.
A man in the waiting room asked if he could look at the book I was holding in my lap. It was what Demetrios had brought to read, entitled, The Road of Life. The man devoured the first few pages, so when we got called to move on, Demetrios gave it to him.
Then on to the hospital room, shared with a very nice man who turns out to have nothing seriously wrong with him and will go home later this day.
Mena arrived at that point, driven by Pelagia and George, who are koumbaroi of hers, godparents of two of their children. They are wonderful people, gentle and kind. Pelagia has short, red hair with gray roots and a highly misleading, perpetual frown.
Demetrios dashed downstairs and in a snack bar the size of a walk-in closet found us some food and water. It wasn’t suitable food for a Friday – ham and cheese, lettuce and tomatoes, on a hoagie bun, but we didn’t care at that point.
The men sat around cracking jokes with Kostas until they were all having silly fits; Pelagia and I tried to comfort Mena. I thought she looked awful, until I later caught sight of myself in the mirrored wall of an elevator; I looked much worse. Face a wreck and something was making my eyes look all slanty.
(Flashback: German school, sharing a double desk and bench with Pui Wah Yung, a refugee from “Red China”. She was a big admirer of blonde hair and blue eyes. “You’d be so beautiful,” she used to say, “if only your eyes would slant.” And she’d take her fingertips and lift the outer corners of my eyes to see the effect. Well, Pui Wah, they do and I’m not! Your slanted eyes are beautiful because God made the rest of your face to harmonize with them. Mine, together with my sharp nose, make me look like a vixen!)
The angiogram was done and Kostas began shaking violently. No doctor in sight. Allergic reaction to the dye. Nurses running in and out of the room, Demetrios telling them what to do. Injection of cortisone. The shaking stopped. Thank you, God, for not letting the stress kill Kostas.
By now it was 3:30; Pelagia and George went home. The rest of us had just settled down, just begun to say how glad we were it was over, when they came to take Kostas away for another angiogram! Mena had a fit. I had to take her aside and plead with her not to argue with or yell at Kostas (for agreeing to the procedure); he must have calm, he must have peace. The second round was necessary because the surgeon who is to do the open heart operation had requested a clearer view of some places.
This time, precautions were taken against Kostas’ allergy, and he did fine.
To the surgeon’s office, to consult with him. Bad news. The new imagery reveals that Kostas’ anatomy is such that getting access to the heart (without rupturing an artery, I assume is what’s meant) will be very difficult. Estimated chance of death during the operation: 10 percent. In surgery, Demetrios says, that’s considered very high. Estimated chance of death within 6 months if there is no operation, 100%. And six months is highly optimistic.
“We will not discuss this in front of Kostas,” said Mena, firmly. Obviously not.
There are numerous other tests to be done in preparation for the surgery, so it probably will not take place until the middle of next week. Kostas will stay in the hospital meanwhile. I was unfortunately right in my instinct to want to wrap him up in cotton gauze and put him on a shelf somewhere, under glass…a hospital bed is the closest feasible thing to that!
Their daughter, Elpida, arrived at 7:00, followed shortly thereafter by her fiancé, Panteleimon, tall, slight man with a very deep voice and short dark hair, somewhat spiky on top. He’s an interior decorator.
We left Kostas tired but in excellent spirits, as always. There is something about that man, I don’t know what, that can only be described by the word, “magnificent”. Il Magnifico ought to be his nickname. He reminds me yet again of a lion. I suppose he reminds me of the Lion of Judah.
We took Mena to supper at the Seraikon, our favorite eatery, a couple of blocks from where we live. It’s home-style food that you choose from behind a glass counter, mostly casseroles. It’s quick and cheap and convenient, so we eat there often. Christos met us there.
“Some tourist you’ve been,” said Mena. “You’ve mostly seen hospitals!” Yup. All other plans on hold, including a trip to Florina and Castoria, and another to one of the southern fingers of the Halkidiki peninsula where George and Pelagia have a house they want us to visit.
“At least you should show a tourist different hospitals,” I replied, “instead of always the same one!” (Kostas had prostate surgery last time we were here.)
Then home and to bed early, as we were exhausted. Prayers for Kostas, turn out the light, toss and turn. I slept very little and had bad dreams.
The doctors say we’re seeing a miracle, in that God is keeping Kostas alive. So I can’t help thinking, and hoping, this must mean He intends to continue doing so for the time being.
But we’re at that age when we are going to start burying our friends, or they us.
Today is rainy and windy and dark and the dove wants in. Nope. I’m cooking kokkinisto, and I’d never forgive myself if the dove flew up to the hot stove, as a couple of days ago she flew up to the sink.
Saturday, October 20, 2007