Monday, January 7, 2013
A Goodhearted Fellow
Brad was not surprised to hear his old friend Woody Malone tell him he was dying. Woody didn't speak of it often, but Brad knew his heart had been damaged when he was a youngster after contracting rheumatic fever.
“How much time do they give you, Woody?” Brad asked solemnly.
“I don't know how much time I have left. I can feel myself getting weaker all the time.”
“What do the doctors say? Have you gotten a second opinion?”
“What are you talking about? I didn't think it was necessary to go to a doctor. I'm surprised I lasted this long.”
“What in the world are you saying? You haven't been to a doctor, you are just predicting your own death. Are you crazy man?”
“Look, Brad. I accepted my fate years ago when Dr. Pike told my mother I would be lucky if I made it to my teens. He said my heart was damaged beyond repair. I never bothered to see a doctor after that. If there was nothing to be done for me, why bother?”
“Woody, you have to know what progress has been made in recent years. Surely you've heard of heart procedures and transplants. Do you have a death wish?”
“No, of course not. I guess I just figured I was a goner. Do you suppose there is a chance they could do something about my heart?”
“I think it's worth checking into.”
He went to the door and called Samantha. The children were back to watching their movie and eating popcorn.
Samantha wasn't totally surprise that Woody had not seen a doctor in years or that he believed what he'd heard when he was young. She had heard of similar cases where a child heard a dire prognosis and accepted their fate without question.
“I'm going to call Dad right away. He will be able to evaluate your problem and refer you to the best doctor,” said Samantha.
“I don't want you to disturb your father, Samantha. I'm sure he's a busy man.”
Samantha smiled at him and picked up the phone. “Hi Dad, any chance you could see a friend of Brad's first thing in the morning?” Samantha filled Joe in on Woody's history.
“Sounds like he could use a medical opinion. Have him come by the office around 9:30, I should be finished with rounds by then.”
“You are all set for tomorrow morning. My dad will check you out and set you up with the heart clinic. They perform miracles every day and I have a feeling they will help you, Woody.”
“How can I thank you Samantha? First I dump my kid on you and now you are giving me hope that I will be around to watch her grow up. Brad, I'd say you have a pretty special wife here.”
“You don't have to tell me, old pal. Other than your health, how has your life been these last few years? It seems time has a way of slipping away.”
“It's been great. Mallory disappeared after the baby was born,” Woody said as he glanced toward Samantha. “That's Maggie's mother. We lived together when she was carrying Maggie, but that was only so I could keep an eye on her and make sure she wasn't harming the baby in any way. I paid her to stay well and she earned an extra bonus for a healthy baby. I know some day I will have to be honest with Maggie about the kind of woman her mother was. I thought maybe I would be able to avoid telling her the truth by dying, but you two changed that,” he laughed.
“She certainly loves her daddy. I'm sure you have been a good father to her, Woody,” said Samantha.
“Where are you staying while you are in town? We have plenty of room here. Last night I thought it was better for Maggie to sleep in the guest room, but she and Daisy are getting along so well, I'm sure the girls will be fine sleeping in the same room. You may use the guest bedroom.”
“I've imposed on you enough. I noticed a motel just outside of town. Maggie and I will stay there tonight and I'll keep my appointment with your father tomorrow.”
“I won't hear of it. You are staying here with us. How about some dinner? We have leftovers or I can fix you a sandwich if you would prefer.”
“I have to admit, I'm a little hungry. I haven't been able to eat since I dropped Maggie off here yesterday.”
“Let me help you, Samantha,” said Brad. “I wouldn't mind a little snack myself.”
The movie was almost over when Maggie turned to look toward the den. She could see that the light was no longer shining through the crack under the door. “Daddy!” she shouted. “Daddy, where are you?”
Woody came running out of the kitchen. “I'm here baby,” he put his arms around her.
“I thought you went away again,” she walked back to the living room and watched the end of the movie with the others.
“What have I done to my daughter? She is scared to death I will leave her. I hope the doctors can fix me up.”
Samantha and Brad both went to Joe's office with Woody. They were afraid he may change his mind if they let him go alone. Samantha guessed correctly that he had developed a fear of doctors since his last encounter with a doctor was when he heard one tell his mother he was going to die soon.
Brad recalled that Woody was always one to take chances. “He seemed to be tempting fate. For a time when we were roommates, he brought home a different girl almost every night. I believe that all changed when Mallory announced she was expecting his child. He mentioned last night that he hadn't been with a woman since Maggie was born. It sounds like he has devoted his life to her. That's why it still doesn't make sense that he wouldn't see a doctor. I don't have a heart condition but I do know the strides that have been made in that area.”
“His mind may have shut off any information that could help him because he was convinced it wouldn't change the outcome. That doctor did a number on him but the poor man probably believed what he told Woody's mother,” said Samantha.
“Woody, I'm going to send you to Dr. Raymond at the heart clinic on the first floor. He has time for you now. He's a good man. He'll be running a battery of tests, I'm sure. He will be honest with you about your condition,” said Dr. Joe.
“Samantha, your dad is a nice guy but I didn't realize what a fear of doctors I have. Now I'm going to another. I don't suppose you will let me escape from here?”
“Not on your life. Dr. Raymond is very nice. I've known him since I was a kid. I know you are afraid Brad, but just think of walking Maggie down the aisle one day. That should spur you on to get to the bottom of your heart trouble.”
“Brad, you married a very persuasive woman.”
Dr. Raymond arranged for several tests for Woody. When the results were available, he told Woody his findings. He recommended surgery to replace his heart valves that had been damaged from the rheumatic fever. He told him it would be necessary for him to take medication for the rest of his life, but his prognosis was good.
“You mean I'm not going to die, Doc?”
“There are no guarantees, Woody, but I believe with surgery and medication, you will be with us for many years to come.”
He explained the surgery in detail but Woody couldn't concentrate. He couldn't wait to get back to Maggie and give her a hug.
“Whatever I have to do, Doc. I'll do it.”
The surgery was scheduled for the following morning. Samantha was happy they were able to take care if it so quickly. She was afraid if Woody thought about it, he may change his mind.
The surgery was successful, but Woody didn't feel any better. He woke up in the recovery room and wondered if he would ever feel good again. Something was in his throat and he couldn't speak. He heard a pleasant voice calling his name. He tried to tell her to take that thing out of his mouth. He couldn't see her but heard her say it had to stay in a while longer but he would feel so much better once he was able to breath without it. He wanted to reach up and yank it out himself but he couldn't move his arms. He felt himself drifting off again and then blessed sleep came once more.
Maggie was aware her father was having a very serious operation. Samantha knew she was trying to be brave.
“She won't be able to see her daddy until he is out of intensive care,” she said to Jillian Slater. Jillian was a good friend of Samantha's. They had gone through nursing school together. She would be one of the nurses taking care of Woody when he was assigned a room in the cardiac unit.
Samantha was hopeful her friend and Woody would hit it off. “Don't you think they would make a wonderful couple?” she asked Brad.
“Is Jillian interested in a relationship? Last I heard she had sworn off men after she found out the pharmaceutical salesman was married.”
“That was six months ago. She had her doubts about him right from the beginning. Woody is lonely, he just doesn't realize how lonely he is. Yes, I think they will make a wonderful couple.” Samantha smiled.
The critical days passed and Woody was moved out of intensive care. After getting him settled, Jillian told him he had a visitor. Maggie poked her head around the corner not sure what she would see.
“Hi Daddy,” she called out and ran to his side. “Jillian said I have to be careful because you have a bad sore on your chest.”
“I'm not too sore to get a hug from my best girl,” he said.
She stood by his side holding his hand. She wasn't sure what to make of all the tubes going into his body. Jillian explained everything to her in a way a little girl could understand. Maggie left with a smile on her face. Woody could hear her say to the nurses at the desk that her daddy was going to be alright because Jillian was helping him.
“You seem to have captured my daughter's heart,” Woody said.
“She is a very special little girl. She has been very worried about you. Samantha has been working hard to convince her you were going to be alright. It's difficult for a child to understand that their parent is safe when they can't see them. I can see the relief on her face.”
“How much longer until they spring me from this joint?” he said.
“Only a few days. Samantha said you were going to be staying with her while you recuperate. Dr. Roberts has asked me to look in on you when that time comes. Would you mind having me hang around to keep an eye on you?”
Woody looked into Jillian's eyes, he was beginning to realize what a pretty girl his nurse was. He must have been sicker than he thought if he was just beginning to notice her.
Dr. Roberts walked into the room. Woody could feel the perspiration forming on his forehead. Dr. Roberts noticed it too. “Still don't like doctors, huh Woody?”
“Sorry, Doc. I know you saved my life and I'm grateful to you for that.”
“Maybe it's the stethoscope, I'll set it over here out of sight.” The doctor placed his stethoscope on the table by the entry where Woody couldn't see it. “There, is that better?”
“Yes, that's amazing. I guess it isn't you, maybe it's just seeing the stethoscope. I wonder why I don't have that reaction when Jillian puts that thing on my chest.”
“Maybe you are distracted by her. After all, you are still a man.”
Jillian could feel her face heating up.
“I think, in time, you may get over your fear of doctors. You are going to be seeing them at least once a year from now on. Woody, you are doing nicely. You will have to take it easy for awhile. I'd rather you weren't alone during the day when you are discharged to Samantha and Brad's home. If you have no objection, I would like Jillian to provide home care for you.”
“I can't imagine why I would object. Just as long as she doesn't make me use a bed pan, we will get along just fine.”
“I'll agree to that,” Jillian laughed.
Each day Woody felt better. He liked all the nurses, but he found himself looking forward to morning when Jillian would begin her shift. He made sure he was up and out of bed, showered and shaved before 7:00 each morning.
Jillian and Maggie had become good pals. They both walked down the hall with Woody when it was time for him to exercise. Maggie had questions about everything she saw in the hospital room. Jillian took the time to carefully explain everything to her. Woody's doctor ordered some follow up testing. Maggie was waiting for him to return and sat on his bed pretending she was the patient.
“Jillian?” she said quietly. “May I ask you a question?”
“Of course you may, Maggie, you may ask me anything.”
She picked up her father's chart and said, “Does it say in here where my Mama is?”
It was the last thing Jillian expected to hear coming from the little girl. Samantha told her about Mallory and her plan for an abortion until Woody stopped her. She wondered what Woody had told her about her mother and if she had any business discussing it with the child.
“Maggie, I want to answer your question, but I don't know how. Would it be alright with you if I talk with your daddy first?”
“I don't think he knows where she is. I asked him one time and he said he didn't know where she went. I thought he was mad at me for asking so I didn't ask him again. Everybody has a mother except me. I think she didn't love me.”
“If she knew you, Maggie, she would love you.” Jillian hoped she hadn't said too much, but the heartbreak on Maggie's face was more than Jillian could bear.
Woody was wheeled back into the room. “Hello you two. Did you miss me? I missed you. Both of you,” he said.
Brad came by to pick up Maggie. She hugged her father and Jillian goodbye. Woody noticed his daughter and his nurse seemed to have formed a bond.
“Woody, are you up for a serious discussion?” Jillian said after Brad and Maggie left.
“Are you going to ask me to marry you? If so, my answer is yes.”
“This is serious Woody. Maggie asked me about her mother. She seemed to think there was information about her in your chart. I know this isn't my business, but Maggie has made it my business. I do know Maggie's mother has not been a part of her life. Woody, she is eight years old, she wants to know why she doesn't have a mother like the other children. I won't lie to her, but I don't feel it's my place to tell her the whole story.”
“I knew this day would come. She asked me about her mother one time and I evaded her question. I know it was wrong to do that, but I hoped having a father that loves her would be enough.”
“It's good that she has you. You haven't asked my opinion, but I think being honest with a child is the best thing for them.”
“How can I tell Maggie her mother wanted to abort her? That I had to pay the woman to bring a healthy child into the world. That she never wanted to see Maggie or hold her. How can I tell my daughter that?”
“The details aren't important. You explain that her mother never saw her, that she never held her that she didn't know her because if she had, she wouldn't have left her. You tell her her mother wasn't able to care for her and wanted the best for her so she gave her to you. You are her father and you love her more than anything or anyone in the world and you always will. Someday when she is a grown woman and asks questions, you can fill in the details. With your love and support through the years, I'm betting she will be able to accept what you tell her.”
“How did I ever get so lucky to have you come into my life? It sounds so simple when you say it. Would you be willing to be here when I tell Maggie about her mother?”
“Of course, now how about a stroll around the floor before your dinner arrives?”
The next afternoon, when Maggie came for a visit, Woody told her exactly what Jillian suggested.
“Maggie was thoughtful for a moment and said, “I'm glad you aren't mad at me for asking about my mama. Jillian told me she would love me if she knew me. I think I would love her too. I wish Jillian could be my mama. Can she Daddy? I really like her and she can take care of you.”
“Jillian lives in Camden Corners and we live in Boston, Maggie. That's awfully far away.”
“I like Camden Corners, Daddy. I don't want to go back to Boston. Can we stay, please?”
“Jillian, it's been six weeks since my surgery. Maggie is happy here and school will be starting next week. I can't impose on Samantha and Brad any longer than I already have. I'm thinking of staying here in Camden Corners. I don't mind giving up my job, I don't think the corporate world was ever what I really wanted.”
“What do you think you want to do, Woody?” Jillian said trying not to act excited about the possibility of him staying in town.
“I'd like to teach school. I have always liked history. I checked with the university and it wouldn't take much to get my degree in teaching.”
“I don't want to be nosy, but do you have enough money to stop working and go to school?” Jillian asked.
“Haven't I mentioned this before? My family owns Gillespie's Department Stores.”
“Your family owns Gillespie's and you never thought to tell me that? Woody, you are a billionaire.”
“Not a billionaire, a multimillionaire, maybe,” he said quietly.
“How could you keep something like that from me?”
“I didn't think about it. Does it make a difference? Are you telling me you won't marry me because I have too much money?”
“You probably do have too much money but that's not the reason I won't marry you. I won't marry you because you haven't asked me to marry you.”
“I'm asking you now. Jillian, will you marry me and Maggie? She and I both love you very much.”
“I love you both very much too and yes, I will be happy to marry you. I hope you know I'm not a big fan of huge diamond rings.”
“I didn't think you were, that's why I bought you this one. He took a velvet box out of his pocket and opened it. It was a solitary diamond, not too big and not too small.”
“It's perfect, Woody.”
Maggie came running into the room and wrapped her arms around Jillian. “You are going to be my mama now. I love you Jillian.”
“I love you too, Maggie.”