Every now and then life gets in the way. I'd planned to see and write about another new movie, to do all the normal trivial things one does when one isn't paying particular attention to how precious and fleeting being alive is. But so much for plans. My parents, visiting me here in Los Angeles, were planning to have some leftovers for dinner at their hotel the other night, when they made the left turn into their hotel's parking structure and were broadsided by another car that was speeding down Wilshire Boulevard.
Amazing how everything can change in an instant. That they're both alive is somewhat of a miracle, considering that the force of impact, besides spinning the car round and shattering the windshield, threw my father's glasses to the far right corner floorboards and ripped one of his hearing aids loose, still to be found in the wreckage. Paramedics had to cut the steering wheel and slide my mother out on the driver's side. The car was totaled.
My mother, 83 years old and still in the best of health, suffered a fractured pelvis, a broken collarbone and rib. My 87 year-old father, although suffering the agony of feeling (wrongly) responsible for my mother's injuries, came out relatively unscathed -- whiplash, a pulled muscle, a few cuts and bruises. And this is where the story turns bizarre, written with the perverse pen that only reality can wield. My father's CT scan revealed that, entirely unrelated to the accident, he harbored an abdominal aortic aneurysm: a swelling of the aorta in danger of imminent rupture, an event that usually is instantly fatal.
"You're a time bomb," is how one ER trauma doctor put it to my dad. Which is why as I write this, he's slated for surgery tomorrow, in a high risk procedure (my father has a history of heart disease) that Cedars-Sinai's expert team of doctors nonetheless believe is doable, and God willing, will allow him to emerge from the hospital alive, with perhaps another decade ahead of him.
It's ridiculous to observe that this car accident was a good thing in that it may have saved my father's life, but really, what does one say? We're all too busy reeling and dealing with the many curveballs any hospital stay inevitably throws at you -- my mother's reaction to the anesthesia, for example, after the surgery that successfully realigned her pelvis. She became agitated when she emerged, as many elderly patients apparently do, and needed to be sedated. Which is why my older brother John and I -- he'd flown in from Baltimore the day of her operation -- ended up each holding one of her hands, in lieu of hospital room restraints, to keep her from clawing off her oxygen mask in her delirium.
Considering that Dee-Ann Mernit had never, up until the night of the accident, been a hospital patient in the over-50 years since she gave birth to me, she has come through the whole traumatic experience like a trouper, retaining the same sweet and benign optimism that has helped keep her and my father Dick Mernit such a loving couple for past 61 years of marriage. In the midst of her drugged fog that night, as we held onto her hands, she spoke a lot of indecipherable babble, but one phrase emerged that she kept repeating like a mantra. "Love and kisses," she murmured, over and over again, "Love and kisses."
We celebrated Valentine's Day together in the hospital, me, my wife Tater, and my brother moving from his room to her room and back, bearing gifts of chocolates and cards and fruity non-alcoholic, faux-champagne beverages. My father couldn't get over the fact that my mother had already bought and inscribed two Valentine cards for him, days before the accident. "She gets it done before the bill arrives," he said wryly, wondering over the cards, then joked, referring to his own lack of preparation, "You see what's wrong with this relationship?"
There is nothing wrong with their relationship. And one of the things so wonderfully right about it is my father's deep, reverent devotion to his wife, which he shows each day in a hundred ways. I wish you could have seen their reunion, that night she came out of surgery and was finally lucid, how he bent so carefully over her hospital bed, he in his own hospital gown, to tenderly kiss her forehead. It could renew your belief in love, in the awesome force of the human heart, if that's something you've ever questioned.
Tomorrow, the heart has to triumph again. I'm not a praying man, but I am a believer. And it's not that I'll ever take the gifts we've already received for granted. I simply refuse to believe that a story like this could come to some poorly written ending.
I'll let you know how everything goes.
SATURDAY UPDATE: Dad had a relatively minor operation on Friday -- the insertion of a defibrillator -- which went well. However, his team of docs are being cautious about the major operation and so even Monday is now iffy as the target date; the procedure could happen as late as next Thursday the 26th. He's being great about all this, but it's a trial. Mom on the other hand is beginning her rehab therapy work and determined to heal as fast and best as she can. It's frustrating/sad for all of us that they can't be together, but we go back and forth, and there's the phone... Thank you all for your good wishes and check-ins. I'll keep you in the loop.