On November 27, Les and I arrived at Denver International Airport after a Thanksgiving visit to our son in Michigan. We deplaned at Gate B 95 – miles from where we needed to be. Les walked on the people-carrier and I walked briskly beside it. It was my walk for the day. Les began walking slower and slower. I suggested that he quit walking and just ride. I shouldered one of his bags to add to the two I already commandeered. Finally he said, “I can’t walk anymore. I have to sit down.”
Les looked so haggard and pale that I checked for his pulse. Where is it? I must have a bad spot. An airport cart waited nearby, but the driver said that he was unable to leave that area to take us to the train. “However, your husband can sit on the cart and rest. And there is a wheelchair station right over there,” he pointed.
We waited a while until a young attendant came to settle Les into a wheelchair. She took us down an elevator, then got us onto the train at Station B.
As we sped toward Station A, I suddenly noticed that Les was staring into space. Eyes wide open—nobody home. I called to him, “Les. Les, honey, wake up. Please wake up.” I shook him, and called again. No response. I could get no heartbeat anywhere. One of his arms dropped. The other dropped. I begged him not to leave me and screamed, “My husband is dying. My husband is dying.” I couldn’t grasp that our sixty-four plus years of marriage was ending on a stupid train at DIA.
Someone—another employee?—swooped in and whisked our attendant and Les' wheelchair off the train. I jammed one of my suitcases into the door to keep it from closing with me still in the train, departing for God knows where.
Where are we? I didn’t know. Our young attendant flailed her arms in the air and moaned, “Oh, God, I don’t know what to do.” She didn’t know where we were, either.
I kept calling for help into this huge empty space where I could see only three other people. I grabbed one passerby and begged him to please help me lift Les off the wheel chair so I could do CPR. But I couldn’t even budge Les’ right leg. I doubt if five men could have lifted him.
Then Les moved ever so slightly and the man said, “See, he’s OK. He doesn’t need CPR,” and hurried on his way.
Les was alive. But had he had a stroke or heart attack? Could he stay alive? At some point someone called the paramedics. When the eight burly men arrived, the lead guy said, “Your husband is very ill. An ambulance is coming.” They started IVs and oxygen, working feverishly.
And there we were somewhere in the bowels of a huge airport. Somehow the ambulance men found us and transported us (and our baggage) to a hospital.
When we arrived, Les was more lucid and began to stabilize. I stayed in his room overnight. I couldn’t have thought of leaving him. By the next afternoon, he had returned to his normal health. Diagnosis: dehydration and atrial fibrillation.
The following Sunday, our pastor spoke of Advent as a time of waiting and preparation. He offered the thought that things we have done in the past can help us in the present and will assist us in the future. He told how, when his wife’s mother died recently, they read Scripture and sang hymns as she lay on her deathbed. The fact they had sung these hymns hundreds of times in the past made it possible for them to sing them at this sad time. The many previous readings of Scripture had girded their souls for such a time. We prepare, sometimes unknowingly.
Did past events help me during this crisis? Will this episode provide any help in the future? Was it a dress rehearsal, a preparation, what?
All I know is that I want never again to feel as I did for those harrowing, however-many minutes.
But I also know that I probably will.
Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad