Last December, my eighty-three year old husband, Rafe, received the news that the reason behind his breathing difficulties was a “structure” between the aortic and mitral valves of his heart. Neither the cardiologist nor the radiologist was willing to call it a “growth,” or, heaven forbid, a “tumor,” because of the dire connotations of those words. The structure hadn’t been there before, but there it was, acting just like the dam on the Yangtze River as far as his stamina was concerned.
At 83 years of age, a man has many opportunities to accept things, to compromise, to “live with (or without) that.” Life’s little indignities make their visits one-by-one: lifting objects, getting down to retrieve dropped items, opening bottles of pills, eating heavy foods - all have their hidden costs. Even though the consequences of aging had each made their visits – and most decided to stay, like an unpleasant uncle – this breathing difficulty was different: it had come on rather suddenly, and experts predicted that it would get worse. Much worse - and probably quite soon.
The two options came down to “live with it,” and surgery. Because walking, hiking and keeping our rustic cottage operating are our primary recreations, severe shortness of breath was not something to determine to live with. When we are not recreating in that active fashion, we are rejuvenating over multiple pots of tea, good books, music, or movies.
Open-heart surgery is serious. This surgery would involve replacing the aortic and mitral valves, removing the structure, and bypassing any clogged arteries discovered during surgery. To get to the repair site, the surgeon saws through the sternum and separates the ribs. Because Rafe had open-heart surgery in 2010, surgery would be more complicated, with a longer hospital stay, longer rehabilitation, and longer recovery.
While agonizing over the decision, Rafe celebrated his 84th birthday with multiple cups of Doke Black Fusion and a walk on the Klickitat River. Struggling to walk just a mile back to the car, we determined that surgery was the only answer. A date was set two months hence. We cherished our morning ritual of several cups of tea – Yunnan Gold, Hatialli, Rohini, Doke Black Fusion – and animated conversation.
As the date approached, so did a serious case of the “what-ifs.” (What-if the irrigation goes out? What if he . . . ?) As managing editor of T Ching, I worried that I would be unable to format and schedule posts during the time Rafe was in Intensive Care in a hospital 65 miles west of home. In my monthly reminder notice to contributors, I shared the upcoming surgery as explanation for a new posting schedule. The response from our contributors was heartwarming! Many sent encouraging messages; one sent in multiple posts to use as needed; almost all beat the deadline for post publication. It was an outpouring of kindness.
The most touching show of support was the gift of tea from Rajiv and Vivek Lochan. Within hours of reading my e-mail, Vivek e-mailed me to inform me that he and his father decided to send a parcel of Doke Black Fusion to help with the anticipation of surgery, the surgery itself, and recovery from surgery.
Some five days later, a generous parcel from India was on my doorstep. Rafe and I enjoyed it for several days before he went into the hospital and he was sipping his first cup less than 48 hours after surgery! We enjoyed the tea through his first weeks back home. There is a lovely spiritual quality that comes through this tea gift from fourteen time zones away. The empathy of tea transcends time and space. Thank you.
Rafe is well into cardiac rehabilitation, walking regularly, and cherishing his morning cups of tea.