My brother had a heart attack a few weeks ago. It was totally unexpected and no warning signals were experienced.
My brother’s name is Wayne. Actually, it is Robert Wayne. For some reason both he and I have been called by our middle names all our lives.
My first name is William. I’m certain my parents had no idea the trouble they caused for us in a world where people are listed by their first name, middle initial, and last name.
My father was a William, as was his father. Where “David” came from, I have no idea. My brother was named after Robert E. Lee and John Wayne which is what happens when a mother asks her almost 9-year-old son for name suggestions. That’s how he became named for two of my childhood heroes.
I am nine years older than Wayne and, to my recollection, we have never had an argument. He is my only sibling and our parents have both been gone for several years now. When I got the news about his heart attack, I was sure that it couldn’t be true. After all, I am the older one.
The day after he had the attack, I was in his hospital room in Kingsport, Tenn. He soon had a heart catheterization and we were all certain that, whatever was wrong, it could be fixed by stints and medication. We were wrong.
Preliminary tests revealed that three arteries were blocked. One had a 90 percent blockage and two others had an 80 percent blockage and a 77 percent blockage. He was quickly scheduled for open heart surgery. I didn’t show it but I was worried. When he had several more “incidents” in the hospital, my concerned deepened.
When Wayne was a kid, I became, in my mind at least, his protector. I was bullied in our neighborhood and in school until I got old enough and big enough to put a stop to it and I was determined that he would not have the same problems.
He was 11 when a 17-year-old punk hurt him at the American Legion swimming pool. I was a 19-year-old Marine and, after some “discussion,” the tough guy never laid a hand on him again. But, I couldn’t fix this one and, frankly, I was scared.
He was quickly scheduled for a triple bypass open-heart surgery which turned into a quadruple bypass. From the time he went to the hospital until several days later, his wife, Kathie, never left the hospital. She was a rock, but she was worried too.
When the doctor came out to talk to Kathie after the surgery, she included me in the meeting. The surgeon gave his brief report that all went well, no complications were expected, and, if all went well during the recovery, he would be better than back-to-normal in practically no time.
I went to the rest room and wept with relief, grateful to God and to all the many who prayed for Wayne.
He’s doing fine now and recovering nicely, although I am sure that he thinks it is all going much too slowly. I called him Tuesday night and found out that he was attending a church service and couldn’t talk just then. I smiled when I hung up and my eyes got wet all over again, this time from gratitude.
My brother inherited things from my Dad that skipped over me: he’s good with his hands, can fix about anything, has been a great hunter and fisherman, has a strong work ethic (something I had to cultivate), and is an honorable and admirable man. My gratitude at having him stay around for many more years is palpable.
We take family for granted, I think, until we lose them or think we might lose them. It is then that we come to realize how terribly important they are to us and how much we really love them.
I plan to see him in just a day or two. I threatened to bring him a fried fatback sandwich with mayo and gravy the next time I visit. But I won’t.
He’s my brother and I want to keep him for a long, long time.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]