When the night turned darkest, I did not doubt. When there seemed to be no hope, I refused to lose faith.
Against the odds, against predictions and prognoses, my husband survived the most serious medical challenge of his life. I always believed he would. Absolutely. Those who thought otherwise just don't know the strong and strong-willed man I married.
septic shock when the end of his esophagus ripped open. After a seven-hour surgery, doctors warned me his organs would fail, that he had a 50-50 chance of survival.
That Friday night, in the Siberian frigidity of the ICU, something in my world shifted. I listened to the litany of medical terms and reasoned: The doctors know the science, but they don't understand the man. They don't know what anchors him here.
Can you will someone back to health? Can you insist on an outcome so adamantly that reality has no alternative but to follow? Can you bargain with God even when you have nothing substantial to offer in return?
You can, you can.
The Hubby survived the first night. Then the second and the third and the fourth. He was off the ventilator sooner than expected and transferred to a regular room long before he was due. He chatted up the surgeon and charmed the nurses. Often exhausted, occasionally crabby from the pain, he still managed to play host to astounded visitors. I teased that he should campaign for mayor.
In the evenings, though, when the Miami sun sank below our fourth-floor hospital window and shadows stretched across his bed, when the oxygen whispered and the IVs beeped, he grew quiet and pensive.
Are you OK? I'd ask.
He'd nod yes. Within arm's reach, he nevertheless seemed far away, an unbridgeable gap between us.
Silence, I know, carries its own message. You don't have to speak to express worry or to define fear.
During those long, fitful nights, I clung to what makes me happy, the one constant joy in my ever-stressful life. Before I settled into the hospital recliner that was by then as familiar as my own bed, I played the videos on my phone. The music of my granddaughters' voices conquered the anxiety and tamed the terror. John Lennon got it right: Whatever gets you through the night.
In the past month, the vocabulary of our daily lives has expanded. G-tube. J-tube. Beta blockers and blood thinners. Thoracic surgeon, infectious disease specialist, hematologist and cardiologist. The learning -- and the suffering -- has been a humbling experience for both of us. Once healthy, he now depends on others for most everything.
I'm no stranger to unexpected death. My first husband died of a heart attack at 37, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit I was frightened beyond reason, panicked by the million possibilities that crossed my mind. When I chased The Hubby's ambulance to the emergency room, driving the same back roads I had a lifetime ago, I shouted into the empty car: Not again. Not again.
This time, the "again" was different.
Today, as I write this, The Hubby's home and across the hall: hollow-cheeked, sallow-skinned, weak but undefeated. A walk to the mailbox spells victory. Drinking a full cup of chicken broth is a triumph. Sleeping through the night is an accomplishment.
I'll take those little wins and run forever and ever with them.
(Ana Veciana-Suarez is a family columnist for The Miami Herald. Write to her at The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132, or send e-mail to aveciana(at)herald.com.)