September Reads

Oh, what a month! For those who may not have heard the story, I spent a great majority of my time in September (visiting) in the hospital. A short version is this*: on September 11, a Monday, my dad had a heart catheterization that showed he had 90 percent blockage in his main left artery and four other places of 80 to 90 percent blockage; he was taken by ambulance to UNMC in Omaha (now called Nebraska Medicine). He had a quadruple bypass that Wednesday. Meanwhile, my mom had been having episodes of near syncope (blacking out) since August 9 (I remember because it was my birthday when she had the first one). The episodes had at first been weeks and then several days apart, but the week that my dad was having heart surgery, she began to have episodes once a day and they were becoming (even more) alarming. As my dad was leaving the ICU on Thursday, I took my mom to the ER and she was admitted later that night. Friday was a full day of tests in which they ruled out, or as much as they could, a neurological cause. Friday as we were getting ready for bed (I was sleeping in the chair in her room), she had another episode. Since she was on the heart monitor, they could see that she had ventricular standstill, which means the top of her heart kept pumping but the bottom said, “Nah,” in this case for sixteen seconds. We had cardiologists in her room until midnight that night, but at that time they thought they could delay putting in a pacemaker until Monday. But at 6:30 on Saturday morning, we were awakened by a surgeon that said this was an emergency, and he put in a pacemaker that morning. (We had decided to let my dad sleep the night before, and I hadn’t even gotten a chance to update him on what they had found before they wheeled her away.) So my parents spent Saturday night both recovering from heart surgeries on the same floor of the hospital, their rooms on the same side but opposite ends of a long hallway. Even after forty-seven years of marriage, I think they took the whole doing-everything-together  to a ridiculous extreme. Then! to top it all off, my dad came home on a Tuesday (my mom had been dismissed on Sunday) but had shortness of breath and what seemed like anxiety attacks all week. He was readmitted the following Sunday with blood clots in his legs and lungs and then was finally discharged again Saturday. *This short version leaves out all the people who cared for my parents, who saved their lives with sharp thinking and skill, who prayed for us and cared for us in meals and childcare and encouragement; it leaves out all the instances of providence–I mean, I know it’s a wild story, but it’s even wilder in the details; it leaves out all the feels, and you better believe I had ALL the feels; and it leaves out how incredibly grateful I am that in spite of the intensity of this month the end of the story is that both of my parents are living, recovering. It could have been so different.

With all of the time I spent in waiting rooms and hospital rooms in September, you might think I would have had an extraordinary reading month. I assumed I would. I did not. I’m okay with that.

This Is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel. This book absolutely took my breath away. It is the story of a family, and it is beautiful and complicated and heartwarming and heartbreaking and all the things.  I have been typing and deleting for a long while here, and just thinking about this book, these characters, makes me want to cry and read it again and talk to everyone about it. So maybe just read it. The thing I love about Frankel’s writing is that her characters are so fully developed–they ask hard questions and have conflicting feelings and live in the unresolved. I just finished another of her books (Goodbye for Now), and I am absolutely awed by her ability to take a situation and explore all the ins and outs and questions and doubts without it ever becoming boring or absurd or manipulative. Through these characters (that I totally fell in love with), she articulates and so aptly describes so many emotions and things that just wouldn’t have occurred to me but that I’m richer for thinking/feeling about.

The New City Catechism: 52 Questions and Answers for Our Hearts and Minds. We are learning this catechism as a family. The kids particularly love the songs (questions and short answers) available in the children’s mode on the app.

Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie. I picked this up to read before I see the new movie version coming out (already out?). It was a delightful read. I liked it better than the only other Agatha Christie I had read (And Then There Were None), and I suspect it will not be my last Hercule Poirot novel.

Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, by Anne Bogel. I, of course, heard of this book through the author’s excellent podcast, What Should I Read Next? This book is not what I was expecting, and I’m not sure this was the author/podcaster’s fault, but I have talked to two other people who thought the same thing I did. I (we) thought that Reading People would be about people who read. Alas, no. It is about how to read people, an overview of personality tests and how to use them to improve self understanding and relationships. I was about four chapters into the book before I realized what the title actually meant. This was not the right book for me at this time since I’m a little personality tested out after the last couple of months loving the enneagram. This doesn’t mean it was a bad book; I just don’t have much of an opinion and don’t want to damn it with faint praise.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,  by Isabel Wilkerson. This is the book I toted around with me to six floors of UNMC and read in five and fifteen minute spurts for three weeks. It. is. excellent. It tells the story of almost six million black citizens who moved from the South to northern and western cities in search of a better life. This migration spanned decades–from 1915 to 1970. Wilkerson tells the story through three main people, but she includes details and stories from hundreds of personal interviews. The stories are brutal and infuriating and heartbreaking, but there is beauty and strength and dignity along the way as well. All the stars.

Emily of New Moon, by L. M. Montgomery. This was our book club selection for the month, and it was just okay. I think I probably would have enjoyed it more as a twelve-year-old girl than I did as an adult. It had its moments, but I don’t think it will be particularly memorable.

1 Comment

Wow, Renae, what a crazy story about your mom + dad. I am so glad they’re ok, home now, and recovering.