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Longwood just opened and it's not a bad day for first day of tennis, well maybe a little chilly, but Rob's in the ICU and it wasn't supposed to be this way. It was a routine surgery on an otherwise healthy, vibrant and charming man. He did his research, pulled favors from connections, found the best doctor, was serene going in.

It is a nice hospital, with a beautiful array of people; conversations weave in and out; medical people, car valets, food servers, organ transporters. Some wear their nationalities on their badges, covered with surgical hats and masks, others with full faces that tell stories about where they might have been born. There is an air of united compassion. The atrium is light and airy, there are real plants, polished floors and bathrooms that have full doors and some pretty glass art that greets you on the way in. There is a chapel that is not ugly.

It is a long wait, longer than we expect, but you know how it is, things happen, car accidents, shootings, other things that may take precedence and those doing this crucial work to save lives are thinking about that rather than communicating, right? So, we sit, in this quasi- enclosed room that reminds me of a car rental place with seating, plastic upholstery, understandably. There are four of us; my friend the wife, her dear friend from up north, and his buddy from college. In the hours we sit together, we ramble conversationally; sailing, kids, citizenship, college, arrests, mixed marriages, camping, people we knew, payroll services, skiing, sheriffs voted out of town, dogs, pony tails, salad preferences, we even dip into politics. All to distract, to make those many hours of waiting go by more quickly for our friend.

The friend from up north and I sometimes lock eyes, sharing a reaction to something, making me feel I've known her forever. Facing the surgery update monitor, she casually checks, kindly not wanting to draw extra attention to our waiting posture. But the stripe remains blue, he's still in the procedure. It is longer so we go up to the desk and talk to the man with a 6 inch afro that has been put into two perfect high pony tails. He says there is no news, my friend turns away before he's done, he looks at me with question and compassion in his eyes, I ask if he knows anything more, no. I see us for the old, stressed out people we appear to be and quietly thank him for being gentle and kind.

My friend is sitting in the corner of our enlarged cubby when finally her phone rings. Her face freezes, she begins to hyperventilate, she bends over and puts her head between her legs as she's listening, once in a while saying no, no. She stands up to her full 5'10", turns around and faces away from us to the corner of our cubby. We watch as her body, which has been slammed with news too awful to comprehend, physically struggles to reject it by continuing to move around, not able to let it all in at once. She is breathless, nodding a lot. The surgeon is talking, talking, talking. Occasionally she writes down a few words on a crumpled piece of paper with her fat, white Dana Farber pen, but how can she listen, transfer words from ears to brain to hand, writing down anything intelligible when her being is processing this surprising and potentially life changing news? Her body continues to fight the news, eventually she hangs up.

Breathlessly, she says "What am I going to tell the boys?" She is a brave woman with the tenderest of souls who thinks only of others. The kind man from the hospital senses what's going on, we lock eyes, he moves us to a more private room. We try to get her to focus on herself and let this news sink in to her person, but she is only concerned for others; uppermost her kids, but also his family, her siblings, friends. Eventually, we come together with a plan and begin to execute; communication, logistics, prayer.

At night, we visit him in the ICU. There's an odd contradiction between his serene, hooked up body and the 8 people with stress on their faces, urgently moving around him, scanning tags, administering to him, setting up temporary oxygen, keying things into the computer. The attending, immediately identifiable as German by the side bend of his head and nodding, comes over to the friend from the north and me and ever so graciously introduces himself while the chaos is going on in the room. His words are compassionate, respectful, encouraging, avoiding optimism. He invites us inside where we are in the way, standing next to our friend, in shock.

The boys have arrived now from the other side of the country, being there for their mom and processing the news and visual of their father, who currently needs help with breathing and pumping blood. He is resting peacefully and we are all letting him know how much we want him to take the time he needs to heal his body and come back to us. If you are a prayer, we'd be most grateful for them now.


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