With Death Before Us: A Memoir

With Death Before Us: A Memoir

by Mary Lou Mirante


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What happens, after the doctor delivers a death sentence? It is a heart-wrenching; love story, memoir about a man, that fights for life.

With a history of heart and lung problems Tony visits his family Dr. before a planned trip to Maui, only to discover another nodule has appeared on his lung.

The story is about an illness, with many, escapes from death, and multiple blessings along the way. The struggles a close family faced in the name of love, packed with emotion, as they supported each other.

As the reader, experiences their journey; that is factual, inspirational, informational, and touching.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781477284285
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 12/04/2012
Pages: 348
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.94(d)

Read an Excerpt

With Death Before Us

A Memoir
By Mary Lou Mirante


Copyright © 2012 Mary Lou Mirante
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4772-8429-2

Chapter One

With Death Before Us

Dr. Bane's face looked saddened as she entered the exam room where Tony and I waited. I fought to hold back the tears but lost, when Dr. Bane told us the bad news. As we sat in the exam room, tears filled my eyes as I looked at Tony. Tony had a blank look on his face as he stared at me. To endure another cancer scare so soon after the last was unthinkable, especially since all three cancer scares occurred at a time—Christmas—when we were supposed to be joyous? I didn't think we could bear another episode of cancer. I saw by the numbed look on Tony's face he felt the same.

Tony had gone for his routine check-up back in December of 1999 so he would have a clean bill of health before we left for Maui. However, the doctor wanted him to have a stress test for his heart, and a chest X-ray, to make sure the cancer hadn't returned. Dr. Bane called with the results the week before Christmas. Tony's heart was okay, but a "new nodule" showed up on his lung. "Tony you'll need another X-ray in three weeks, to keep a close eye on the spot," the doctor said. It was Christmastime, and not quite a year since his last lung surgery. Tony already had two lobectomies for lung cancer. Two years earlier he had had a lobectomy and again last year. To say we were both extremely upset about the "new nodule" was unexaggerated. Neither one of us knew what to say to the other—leaving us speechless.

Throughout the holidays, the specter of cancer distracted our minds, all seven of us: Tony, me, and our five children. Anthony the oldest, was a successful hairdresser working on movies and plays as well as working at a salon. He had an interesting, exciting career and sometimes even traveled. Paul is Anthony's partner; they've been together for forever since they were very young he's been just like a son to us, also with a great position at Sears. Tammy was our only daughter and the apple of her father's eye. We called her "Princess." She's married to Mike, and they have beautiful twin daughters, Adriana and Carissa, born on Tammy's birthday. The twins called us Nane and Papa, and they were our joy in life. Tammy was also my partner in a busy, successful party store. Our middle child Michael was handy as hell. There wasn't a thing that kid couldn't do once he set his mind to it. He had just started his own mold-making shop. Mario, had suffered bouts of severe depression, an illness he had battles for years. In spite of his problems, he was a perseverant fighter. He managed the party store. He was a creative, diligent worker and took pride in designing specialty balloon sculptures for both corporate and personal customers. Joey, the "baby" of the family, had a job working for a gasket company. He'd worked his way up the ranks, starting at the bottom in the warehouse, to sales manager. He had just married that past November. Tony and I were proud of their achievements that included owning their own homes. We were proud to have raised independent people.

We were a close-knit family and helped each other in times of need. If one needed money, help around the house, a ride somewhere, anything at all, one of us was there to help. I always told them as young children how important that was. "That's what family was all about," "I'd tell them." "It's important." When teaching our children that lesson, never in my dreams, did I think that someday, Tony and I would be the ones in need!

Tony had worked for a large food warehouse for thirty years, and we had invested through the company's profit sharing, which helped us become financially set, and mortgage free. We weren't rich by any means, but we weren't hurting either. We had just started to enjoy our lives, after raising our children. We traveled, went on cruises, visited different states, and visited friends who had moved out of town. It was a joyous, wonderful time in our lives, 'Only to find ourselves once again facing a cancer scare!'

Five years earlier, at age fifty-seven, Tony went on disability after the second open-heart surgery. Tony had had medical problems all his life, with everything from hemorrhoids to back surgery and everything in between. Despite all his illnesses, he had worked hard to give us his very best, and had often worked two jobs so we could make ends meet. He took and did all the fun things with us; fished, camped, flew kites, sledding down big hills with the hot chocolate waiting in the thermos, outdoor movies.... If Tony and I watched a late movie together, during intermission, he'd disappear, reappearing with either candy bars or fresh donuts for a treat, he was thoughtful that way.

Tony went for another chest X-ray, per doctor's orders back in December. Three weeks had already passed since the last chest X-ray, and it was a few days before we were scheduled to leave for Maui. We became more excited, the closer it came to our departure.

Two days before we were to leave, I was finishing the packing when the telephone rang. Dr. Bane was on the other end. When she called instead of her nurse, it was never good news—I immediately knew there was a "bomb" about to be dropped. I started trembling before she spoke a word. She asked for Tony. I hollered to him to pick up the phone, I stayed on the extension—wanting to hear what she said.

"This saddens me to have to tell you this, but the spot on your lung has grown, and you need a bronchoscopy right away," she said. Both of our hearts fell straight down to our toes.

I asked, "Could we postpone the bronchoscopy, were supposed to leave for Maui in two days."

She said, "I'll have Dr. Lucas, the lung specialists call you."

Dr. Lucas called us back immediately, and said, "Go on your trip. We can do the bronchoscopy when you get back." Tony and I were relieved, thinking if the nodule were that serious the doctor wouldn't have allowed us to go. Anthony and Paul were going too; we had been traveling together the past few years.

After getting off the phone with the specialist, Tony left right away to pick up the twins from school, which he did quite often. That day he was picking them up from Score, an extended schooling like tutoring. The twins had started school earlier, at age five because of their birthdays, and Tammy didn't want them to get behind which was why they attended Score. Mike worked nights and Tammy ran the party store we'd opened fifteen years earlier, so we helped with the twins as often as possible.

The same year—1987—that we opened the party store, Tony had the first open-heart surgery; the second one was seven years later. I still worked from home doing the paperwork for the store. Our life was at its best, and everything, seemed to be on an upswing, we thought!

About the time Tony should have been back with the twins, the doorbell rang, Ding-dong, Ding-dong. I ran to the door, Ding-dong, Ding-dong! Ringing the doorbell like that was something the twins enjoyed; it tickled them down to their toes. It was the twins at the door, but much to my surprise they weren't tickled at all; they were in a dither.

I could hear the concern in their voices, they said, "Nane, Papa's in the car; he told us to come and get you; he doesn't feel well; he's very sick. He even pulled over to the side of the highway, and told us he was really sick." My thoughts fled—I was frightened.

Just as I rushed to go to the car, Tony fell through the door, lethargic, weak, and barely able to stand. I grabbed him and tried to hold him up long enough to help him into the powder room. I sat him on the toilet seat. Asking, "Does your chest or arm hurt?" Tony wasn't able to speak, he kept losing consciousness; I called the twins and told them, "Hold Papa up." I ran to the refrigerator to grab a nitro to put under his tongue right away. The nitro didn't seem to help; he kept losing consciousness. I couldn't get Tony to stay coherent, I kept giving him juice and water to help hydrate him, but that didn't help. I immediately called 911 for an ambulance; the twins stayed out of the way, speechless, we were all terrified that Tony would die. I didn't know what was happening to him. I kept thinking, is it his heart? Nerves? I was confused because he'd just had his heart checked the month before, and it was fine.

Our neighbor saw the ambulance arrive, and ran over. She said, "Go to the hospital with Tony; I'll stay with the twins." The paramedics worked feverishly on Tony to stabilize him enough to transport him to the hospital. As they were starting an IV and giving him oxygen I hollered to Tony, almost screaming, "Breathe."

"Why are you screaming?" The female paramedic said.

I explained, "I'm screaming so he hears me." In my hysteria, I called Tammy and told her, "I'm losing him." Tammy assumed I was referring to her dad, and was shocked, by what I said. "I'm on my way, I'll meet you at the house," she said. Then I called our sons crying.

I thought we were going to lose Tony right then and there. I thought after all, how lucky could one person be, with already surviving—two lung surgeries and two open-heart surgeries. I kept praying, "Please Dear God, keep him safe."

I wasn't a regular at church but I am a believer. God has helped me through a lot in my lifetime. Getting through the loss of our first son was difficult.

Just as we were leaving in the ambulance, our children arrived at the house one by one. We all went to the hospital: I in the ambulance with Tony, our sons and daughter in their cars. As soon as we arrived, the emergency room nurse called Tony's cardiologist. "Dr. Wilton will be right over," she said.

The ER nurse was sweet as she could be, and went overboard trying to put Tony at ease. She comforted him by talking softly, and reassuring him, saying he was doing fine as she checked his pulse and blood pressure every few minutes. She stayed right at Tony's side the entire time.

When Dr. Wilton arrived; he let me stay in the room, as he proceeded to have all kinds of drugs pumped into him. I watched the monitors, and I could see the results of Tony's heartbeats on the screen. At that point, ignorance would have been a blessing; I hoped my thoughts of another heart surgery were wrong. Dr. Wilton told the nurse, "Get things set up for an emergency angiogram right away!"

I asked Dr. Wilton, "It's his heart, isn't it?" He put his finger up to his lips in a shush motion, as he nodded his head, "Yes." I was beside myself, wondering how much more Tony could endure, as I prayed even harder: Please—please—please—Dear God, hear my prayers, please! Don't take Tony from me.

They took Tony immediately to the catheterization laboratory at the other end of the hospital. Our children and I followed him like puppies. I was terrified out of my mind, as I waited for the test to be over, I paced like a rabid dog. It was near twelve midnight by then; outside it was dark and gloomy. At night that part of the hospital was only used for emergencies; it was desolate, and spooky. Without a soul in sight, we were all alone to face our fear. It felt like Tony was in the laboratory of Frankenstein.

After Dr. Wilton finished the angiogram, he came out to speak to us, but he didn't give us much hope. He said, "Tony needs three new bypasses immediately." Another open-heart surgery—on top of the two previous lung surgeries, it didn't look good. Dr. Wilton continued, "This will be a very hard recovery for him, if he even makes it!"

Beside Tony's heart, the doctors were concerned about the veins in the calves of his legs. They weren't the best veins to use because they were much smaller than the hearts. Tony's larger veins had already been used for the last two heart surgeries.

Dr. Wilton said, "If the veins in his calves can be used at all, it will be a miracle."

By then it was after midnight, and we were scared and fatigued with stress that Tony wouldn't pull through the surgery.

While the heart surgeon and the anesthesiologist were called for the emergency surgery, Tony was moved to the intensive care unit, so he could be watched more closely. When all the doctors arrived, we stood around Tony's bed. Dr. Vital the heart surgeon, Dr. Wilton the cardiologist, Dr. Bane our family doctor, the anesthesiologist and us. We listened intently as the doctors explained and discussed what had to be done. Not one of them said anything positive, repeating what had been said earlier about the veins. Considering all Tony's problems and all the previous surgeries, cancer plus heart disease, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, high cholesterol, and the nodule on his lung, the prognosis was negative. Having his chest cracked open for a fifth time was unheard of.

I was speechless over what had happened. By then, our children, the twins, our son-in-law Mike, Paul, Tony's sister Aida and I stood there, horrified by what lay ahead.

Dr. Vital said, "We need to get Tony prepped for surgery." They needed to shave and sedate him before they started. The doctors told us we could see him before they took him into the operating room. We were all wringing our hands and fidgeting as we waited to see him again. No one said anything—we were lost in our own thoughts and fears. I thought is he going to make it through the surgery? He's had so many already, are they going to be able to use his veins to save him will they hold up? Question after question ran through my mind, the thoughts wouldn't stop!

When we saw Tony again he was heavily sedated; he didn't know what was going on.

I told him, "I love you very much, and may God be with you." We each gave him lots of hugs, and kisses. As they wheeled Tony away, the tears rolled down my cheeks silently. Just before the doors closed behind him I told him, "Fight like hell; I'll be right outside the door waiting for you."

As he faded away down the hall, I wondered if it would be my last time to see him alive. I couldn't stand the thought of that possibility, so I immediately switched to a positive attitude and continued praying. Everything had to be all right, I could never go on without him.

I sent him off with my heart torn to pieces and my mind filled with worry and anguish.

After the Surgery

Dr. Vital had told us Tony would be in surgery about six to seven hours. We all stayed, except for the twins and our son-in-law Mike. We agreed it was best that the twins went home to sleep. They weren't happy about that. Their Papa was one of the most important people in their lives; they didn't want to leave him.

Our children, Aida, and I lay all over the waiting room, sprawled on the floor, chairs and couches. Our children used their jackets either as pillows or blankets. The tiny waiting room with pale blue walls—supposed to be comforting and soothing—was a torture chamber for us. Mario and I stayed up the entire night while the others slept. There was no way I could sleep. I kept pacing, and going in and out of the hospital to smoke and calm my nerves with Mario. In between our cigarettes we'd visit the chapel, praying— praying— like I had done many times before. Please, Dear God, don't let anything happen to Tony. Give the doctors the knowledge, confidence, and strength to do the job that needs to be done to save Tony's life.

That night was long, grueling, and dreadful. Our children tried to get some sleep, since they had to work the next day, providing everything went well with their dad.

After; an awful, fatiguing, six-and-a-half hours, Dr. Vital finally came out of the operating room. He looked exhausted and drained. He said, "The surgery is over, Tony's in recovery; and the next twenty-four hours will tell if he'll make it. It was tough!" Tony's veins were very small, but Dr. Vital had accomplished all the bypasses. We'd be able to see Tony in a few minutes, but he would still be heavily sedated. By that time our children were bright eyed as they listened to what the doctor said. I was relieved and pleased that Tony had made it that far.

Prayers continued! Praying together and separate; we went to the chapel as we felt the need to pray.

We took turns going in to see Tony. After the children saw him they left for work, knowing that their dad was doing as well as could be expected. Tony would be sedated the rest of the day—no need for them to be there. They said, "We'll call you later to see how dad's doing."

I assured them that if anything changed I'd call them immediately. Aida, however, stayed with me until later that day, making sure that Tony and I were doing okay.

Later that night, all our children returned bringing dinner. After they each saw their dad, we ate, and then they left. Tony wasn't even aware we visited him; he was still under heavy sedation.


Excerpted from With Death Before Us by Mary Lou Mirante Copyright © 2012 by Mary Lou Mirante. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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