The Last Word: Rerouted

Off My Natural Course Toward Death

Pain in my left arm signaled something wrong with this seventy-something body. The doctor ordered tests. “Take some Ativan before you come,” he said, “to lower your blood pressure.” Just four minutes on a treadmill predicted a serious heart attack. He ordered a catheterization. The cardiologist called the day before to reassure me. I would be myself again. My husband had a stent years ago and cleaned the basement drains the next day. I could live with that. I could live.

I chatted briefly with the nurse and entered la-la land. Later, the doctor was not smiling. The heart muscle and other vessels looked pretty good, but the major arteries showed a tight community of plaque like that which killed my father at sixty-two. The pictures said it all: bypass. CABG, they call it, coronary artery bypass graft. Three days before surgery I cleaned the attic, shoveled snow, returned library books, and finished the book I was writing—all to ease my anxiety.

They invaded me with tubes. They stayed the bloody traffic of my heart and rearranged its roadways. They cracked my chest, pumped me with morphine, someone else’s blood, lidocaine and lactose, glucose and glue. Family stood silently by. Finally they removed tubes, leaving tracks of tape and torn skin. They moved my body—was it still my self?—to a step-down room. After two more days they retrieved the remaining wires,...

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About the Author

Dolores L. Christie is former executive director of the Catholic Theological Society of America. She has taught undergraduates at John Carroll University and Baldwin Wallace College, and has taught in the graduate departments of Ohio Dominican University and Ursuline College.