Today is “National” Laura Zannucci day…

One of the first blog posts I ever wrote was dedicated to my wife, who had come through some serious personal and medical issues.  I later deleted that blog and lost the post, or so it seemed.  As it turns out, one of those nefarious blogs that never puts anything original up, but only steels original material from other blogs, had kindly stolen and preserved that post.  It was my wife’s favorite, so I am glad that they did it.  You can read that post here:  Laura Zannucci Day.

Actually, I think I will also steel it back and place it here:

Paul Zannucci–My wife and I were married a number of years before we decided the time was right for having our first child.  We had no difficulties conceiving or during the pregnancy, but when our beautiful and perfect baby girl was born, it still seemed a miraculous event.  It is amazing that something so common as birth still can be so awe inspiring and bring a newly formed family closer to God.  Seeing this newborn creature look into my eyes made me well up with tears.  In fact, just thinking about my daughter during those first couple of years often brought tears of joy to my eyes.  Fortunately, that doesn’t happen quite so much these days (people think you’re rather odd when you are always walking about looking as though you’ve just had a good cry), though I love her even more than I did the first time I saw her.  But the blessings of this first pregnancy would not prepare us for the different type of blessings we would receive while having our second child.

Before our daughter was two-years-old, we decided it was time to give her a sibling.  Simultaneously, we were experiencing a life trial as my wife’s grandfather was dying of pancreatic cancer.  He was a kind and generous man who could make my baby girl giggle like few others.  Like most other men of his generation, he didn’t understand the meaning of rest.  A day without work was not a day at all.  Even well into his eighties, he did not stop going until the hospice bed was set up in his living room, and he was physically unable to move about on his own.  Such was his condition when my wife and I found out we were going to have another child.

There is both good and bad to knowing the death of a loved one is coming.  You can mentally prepare (though it never blunts the pain too much when death finally comes), and you have the chance to say all those things you should have been saying all along.  But you also become obsessively needy.  You need to soak in as much time with that person as you can.  You need long talks.  You need long hugs.  You need to leave the room with a brave face before bursting into tears.  My wife and I, but especially my wife, drove the winding mountain roads endlessly to visit with this great family father during his final days.  His home was about three hours away, but frequently my wife would take a detour and pick up her mother and add time to the trip.  Sometimes they would reverse course in the same day and she would arrive home late in the evening, spending more and more time on the road in our small car.

A good man died on June 2, 2004.  Despite the forewarning, the permanence of a world without him was only then made real.  There is little point to detailing the mourning.  Nearly everyone has experienced it.  Even such odd traditions as the viewing, when family and friends gather to chat while ignoring the empty body of a loved one resting nearby, are commonplace experiences to most Americans over a certain age.  And, in any event, for those who have not experienced it personally, it would be impossible to convey the nauseous waves of loss, of finality, of never again on Earth, that come at you so hard for so long after a death.  It was during this time that my wife noticed a cramp-like pain in her lower leg.

It didn’t take long to realize something unusual was going on.  Busy with the day to day world, though, my wife fought through the pain as best she could before finally giving in and going to see the doctor.  They talked about her pregnancy as he examined and measured her calf.  Just to be on the safe side, he said he wanted her to go to a hospital and get her leg scanned to check for a blood clot, or deep vein thrombosis (DVT).  It was on her way to the hospital that she called me at work to tell me what was going on.  I should have left to be by her side then, but I didn’t know anything about DVT’s.  The doctor had told her that clots in the lower leg were not uncommon, so we weren’t that worried.  I told her to call me after she got the results of the scan.  About an hour later, she was being transferred to a larger hospital, and I was multitasking–driving and praying.

With my daughter safely in the hands of my parents, I spent time with my wife in the hospital as she endured an intravenous drip of an anticoagulant called heparin.  After a few days, the doctors were comfortable that the clot seemed stable, and she was sent home with instructions to give herself three injections of heparin per day until the baby was born.   That was a hassle, but it could have been worse.  There was no reason to believe that the drug or the DVT would in any way harm the baby.  My wife was cleared to return to work and resume normal activities.  Everything was the same as before except for the shots.  That illusion was shattered a couple of weeks later.

On June 29th, a Tuesday, I returned home from work to find my wife lying on the couch having difficulty breathing.  Trooper that she is, she stated that she had a lot going on at work and that if her breathing didn’t improve by Thursday she would call her doctor.  Remembering that breathing problems were something we were warned to watch for as a potential danger sign, I encouraged her to go ahead and leave her doctor a message just to see what he had to say.  By eleven o’clock we were checked into the hospital where we learned some new initials, PE (Pulmonary Embolism).  A PE is where a blood clot, or parts of a blood clot, break free and travel through the heart and get lodged in the tiny vessels of the lungs, thus obstructing breathing.

From WebMD we borrow this information: “PE is the third most common cause of death in the US, with at least 650,000 cases occurring annually.  It is the first or second most common cause of unexpected death in most age groups.  The highest incidence of recognized PE occurs in hospitalized patients.  Autopsy results show that as many as 60% of patients dying in the hospital have had a PE, but the diagnosis has been missed in about 70% of the cases…Approximately 10% of patients in whom acute PE is diagnosed die within the first 60 minutes.”

As we waited for confirmation in the middle of the night with a sleepy, confused little one-year-old girl with curly hair, I was scared out of my mind.  If it hadn’t been for the blissful unawareness of my daughter, I likely would have been in tears already.  As it was, I was merely trying to convince her that the hospital (which she referred to as “the big house”–imagine having her tell people her mother was in “the big house”) cafeteria really was closed and that she couldn’t have any of their yummy macaroni and cheese until the next day.  Eventually, my wife was transferred to the CCU and the bedside vigils (when allowed by hospital rules) began.

Blowing off work indefinitely with a single phone call, I spent most of my time over the next week at the big house, home of the yummy macaroni and cheese.  I was only allowed in with my wife for a few hours a day.  I stayed by her side, holding her hand and praying silently.  When I wasn’t in her room, I was mostly in the CCU waiting room watching the clock until the next visitation period–and silently praying.  More than that, I was learning how to pray without words.  I was in a state, it seemed, of constant prayer, as though a direct line to God had been set up.  God and I had each other on speaker phone.  Mostly we sat quietly, but I never sat alone.

My wife was moved into a private room on the 4th of July.  That night we could see the city’s fireworks show from her hospital window.  We often miss these things at the time, but looking back, I almost think of this display in the sky in the same way I think of Noah’s rainbow.  Our ordeal was at an end and a promise was given.  This promise was fulfilled on January 8th, 2005, with the birth (at the big house) of my second perfect and beautiful child, this time a son–a baby who had endured his mother’s life-threatening condition and prevailed unscathed.  Now I have two little ones who can make me cry from happiness overload (though I should mention that the first reaction of my daughter to seeing her new brother at home was to slug him).

Over time I have turned off, by neglect rather than intent, my side of the speaker phone connection with God, but whenever troubled times arise, I find that the other end is still open.  God is always there, patient and enduring.  I must only seek with an earnest and humble heart to find him.

I share this  story with you for two reasons.  One, because I wanted to let you know a little about my personal relationship with God, and also because my wife asked that I share it.  We didn’t realize that pregnancy and extended car travel were serious health risks.  My wife has become active with a non-profit organization that raises awareness, both in the general populace and amongst physicians and hospitals, about the dangers of DVT’s and PE’s.  March also happens to be DVT awareness month.  If you would like to learn more about DVT’s and PE’s, about how to assess your risks and what the early symptoms are, you can check out some of the following sites:

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