Cooking with Myra: Appreciate every precious moment of life
July 12, 2011 at 2:12 a.m.
By Myra StarkeyI walked down the hall of the clinic near the end of another busy day. Most of the patient rooms were now empty. Taylor, my husband, was sitting at the nurses' station pouring over a stack of charts. He is a family doctor, and we have both worked together in the clinic for more than 20 years. I heard an overhead page for me to come to the receptionist area and made my way to the front of the building.
Standing in the waiting area was my old friend, Eleanor. She looked tired and weary and beckoned me to her side. Her husband, Charlie, had suffered a stroke many days before, and she was worried about him. She had spent most of her last nine days at his side, but was struggling with an upper respiratory illness and had come to the clinic at the end of the day hoping Taylor had time to see her. I immediately reassured her that we would stay as late as she needed us, and I sat by her side.
Charlie is a giant of a man in my eyes. Our friendship started many years ago when I was looking for people to start a Habitat for Humanity in Victoria. Our preacher had mentioned that Charlie was due to retire and thought he might be interested in helping. I called him and invited him to an organizational meeting at Town Plaza Mall. My friend, Susan, and I had contacted several friends hoping to find a group large enough to be able to form a Habitat chapter. Even though we were committed to the purpose, we were unsure if we could pull it off. Charlie, along with a group of other service-minded folks, showed up and filled every chair in the room, with others even having to stand. From that first meeting, Charlie went on to become one of our most dedicated volunteers and leaders and helped build more than 40 Habitat houses.
Eleanor explained how Charlie had felt ill late one evening and then suddenly could not move the left side of his body. He was still in the hospital and was very slowly regaining some of the movement on that side. She explained that she could tell he was feeling a little better since he had started to tell jokes again, which is characteristic of him. We laughed that he had at least nine lives since he had already fallen from a roof, had a stent put in his heart and had multiple other close calls, but continued to live well. I shared several stories from our old Habitat days, and Eleanor began to chuckle. I left her as she was being called to talk with the doctor.
I decided to go to the hospital on my way home. As I was driving there, my mind was already on the weekend and my preparations. My daughter, Hannah, and her new husband of one year, were coming home to celebrate Ben's birthday. His mother and sister would be joining us with Ben's darling little 8-month-old niece and 3-year-old nephew. I was looking forward to being with family and enjoying good food. I was giving very little thought to the present. Almost without thinking, I parked my car and entered the elevator to the second floor. I found Charlie's room and quietly knocked.
I could see him half buried beneath the white hospital sheets. His gray hair was spread across the pillow and his head was cocked unnaturally to one side. He was breathing with a steady rhythm and a slight snore. Edwina, a longtime friend, sat on the couch reading. Selfishly, I wished he would wake up so that I could hear his voice and know he was the same ol' Charlie. Edwina explained that he had several restless nights, so we sat quietly and reminisced about old times and told Charlie stories.
A nurse came in to wake him, but he drifted in and out of sleep as she took his blood pressure and tried to ask him questions.
When he did wake, I went around the bed so he could see me and made small talk. His head moved a bit side to side, but I'm not sure if he recognized me or not.
The medicine he was taking caused his eyelids to flutter and close once again. Steady deep breathing told me he had drifted back to a time-warping sleep, so I told Edwina goodbye and left.
I sat in my car and large tears formed in my eyes because I realized how often I take life for granted. Just about two weeks ago, I had seen Charlie and Eleanor eating Mexican food at a Ventura's, smiling and happy as folks often are when they have just had some of those great enchiladas. And now, he slept in the hospital trying to recover from a stroke.
I have no doubt Charlie can put his mind to it and come back strong.
Charlie has demonstrated many things to me over the years, and sheer determination is something I have observed in him on more than one occasion.
I left the hospital with more appreciation for life than before I arrived. It wasn't so much of what Charlie was able to say as what he has done in his life.
Since staying healthy is something we are all concerned with, here is a summertime dessert of fruit and sorbet.
I have taken this recipe from Donna Hay's cookbook, "The Instant Cook."
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email email@example.com.