After four years of relatively stable health, using the mantra of moderation in exercise (mostly walking and bicycling), eating, drinking, and scheduling, I found myself in midwinter trying to fit too many things into a few days when a snowstorm hit. My little Chevette slid into a snowbank, and, being such a little car, I thought I could push it out by myself. That didn’t work. A farmer’s tractor did the job. For several days afterward the physical stress increased, until one night I was again in full-blown distress. It was a night of ice, snow, and wind. Our home in Minonk was thirty miles from the nearest hospital, and driving ourselves was out of the question.
Jan called the local ambulance squad. Two friends, Paul and Jim, responded, with oxygen, monitors, and radio, ready to make the trip, usually thirty minutes, this time more than an hour. Jan stayed home with the children. I prayed and meditated, hoping that the wild pounding of my heart, sometimes racing, sometimes taking an alarming break, would become more regular.
By the time we arrived at Streator, I was much quieter and wondering if we should have just stayed home. My blood pressure and pulse were abnormally high, my oxygen level low, my lungs sounded full, and the ER doctor said he heard a loud “click and blow murmur” that could bear some watching, so he reassured me that I had come to the right place. Again, the blood tests, oxygen mask, IV’s, unknown medicines (no penicillin!), standard protocols. The worst part was being away from my wife and family, knowing that the roads would be closed to traffic for the next day or two, but thankful for the telephone to reassure each other.
The next day went slowly but uneventfully, with stats moving steadily in the direction of normal. Toward evening, into the hospital room came Jan, accompanied by Leslie Barth, one of the Minonk gentlemen who always did more than expected. Leslie was a large, good-natured man, a farmer, who had a suitably large, four-wheel-drive pickup truck with a snowblade attached. He had heard of our predicament and volunteered to bring Jan to Streator.
There were several helping hands during that trip and that hospital stay, not least of all Jan’s, but the most memorable touch that moved me came from the large, warm, gentle hands of Leslie Barth, when he took hold of my cold feet, as they stuck out at the end of the light hospital blanket. He held my feet and warmed them, and his warmth filled me, as he told me to get well, take my time, not to worry about work that other people could do while I was recovering, and remember that I was loved, respected, and wanted by him and many others. Thank you, Leslie, for that and more.