"Once they open up, it's like a catharsis. I've had wives call me and say, 'What did you do?' Their husbands had made such reversals in psychological or emotional attitudes." "What we do," he continues, "is really quite simple. We answer questions that patients may feel uncomfortable asking their doctor or nurse. They ask us things about sex, or what their chest or leg will feel like, or how the incisions will look. We tell them to do everything the doctor and nurses tell them to do after the operation. Hug that teddy bear or pillow and cough. Breathe into the respirator gizmo as often as they tell you. And, as difficult as it may be, get up and walk. The more you do it, we tell them, the quicker you're going to recover. I tell them my goal was to play golf as soon after the operation as I could." And with a wide, toothy smile, Catalano says, "I played nine holes six weeks later."
Most chapters of Mended Hearts hold monthly meetings featuring speakers on a variety of subjects relating to heart disease. At one recent meeting, for instance, a woman faced with an angiogram was frightened. A large number of members surrounded her to help allay her worries, and lend support. At another meeting, a speaker pointed out that heart surgery is unique because it is both elective and dangerous. "It is," the speaker said, "a coerced blessing." In other words, patients are forced into doing something they would rather not do, but the surgery offers such a fantastic reward that it can't be refused.
As for me, I'll never forget Paul Catalano's first visit. Within a matter of seconds, his presence, his positive attitude, his message, and yes, his volunteer ministry had lifted me out of a pit of fear and depression. I'll never forget his parting remark. As taught in their training program, the Mended Hearts visitors never say things like "Good Luck" when they leave a pre-op patient.
Instead, as Catalano left the room, he turned to face me. "I'll see you," he said, "in a few days." I believed him. And we did meet again. Three days later.
Writer & Mended Heart member