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Calamity ware: What’s in a plate?

When I was a little girl my Bubbie and her sisters, my great Aunties, got me a miniature tea set as a present. It was very special, a full set of dishes made of real china, in the classic Blue Willow pattern. I loved that set, and was only allowed to use it on special occasions and under supervision. I was careful with them and still have one or two surviving plates over sixty years later.

When I got married in the late 70’s I kind of wanted a set of Blue Willow china, but was persuaded to get a more modern blue and white china pattern which today screams, “I was a bride in 1976!” I still have a deep and abiding love for blue and white china. A few years ago I saw an ad on the internet for these amazing dishes. At first glance they were very much Blue Willow China, a scene with a bridge, a stream with a little man fishing from a boat, and a pagoda.  When you looked more closely, however, strange anomalies appeared. The sky was filled with pterodactyls, there was a menacing giant robot and a flying saucer shooting death rays and many other possible calamities crowding the mugs. I had to have them! I started with the mugs, then a set of salad plates, and finally two years ago I received a full set of dishes for my birthday just before Passover. I was thrilled and was looking forward to using them for the Seder. This was March 2020, just before Passover, then the world shut down and all gatherings including the Seder were cancelled.

Three weeks ago it was the night before my youngest grandson’s third birthday. My husband, Dave, and I had spent the day making an elaborate rainbow birthday cake which was decorated as per the birthday boy’s inscrutable request, with a giant marzipan ear. I was very tired.  I had a busy call earlier in the week and worked extra days after that. Dave had seen his cardiologist on Wednesday and been given a clean bill of health after an extensive work-up for an arrhythmia. So when I went to bed early that Friday evening I was exhausted. Around 11:30 that night, Dave woke me up. “I don’t feel well,” he said. 

“What is it?” I was groggy with sleep and disoriented.

He looked terrible, grey and sweaty. I could feel his heart pounding. “I think I am having really bad reflux,” he said. “Or maybe it’s a gastro, I just threw up. I took some Aspirin and a Tums.”

“Let’s go to the hospital,” I said, “you don’t look well.”

“No,” he said adamantly. “Nope, I do not want to sit there all night for nothing!”

“Could he be having a posterior MI?” I thought to myself, “but he just had an echo and a stress MIBI that was all normal, how could this be?” I persuaded myself that I was wrong. After all, he did have bad reflux and the occasional panic attack. I got up and got him some expired, four year old Maalox, and another PPI.  “Do you feel better?” I asked him.

“I think so,” he said.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go?” And so, in the worst decision of my life, I allowed myself to be persuaded.

I fell asleep, and when I woke the next morning Dave was sitting on the living room couch looking sick and anxious. “Are you OK?”

“I haven’t slept, and I vomited twice,” he said. “I think I’ll go lie down and have a little rest while you go to the party.”

At this point I panicked. All I could see in my mind’s eye was coming home to find him dead. I called my daughter Emma, mother of the birthday boy who is also a family doctor. “Gimme the phone!” she said and I heard her yelling into the phone. “Don’t be an idiot Daddy! Put on your pants! Get into the car! Go to the ER and don’t argue. Mummy will drop you off and come to the brunch! Now go!”

Suddenly his reluctance evaporated. Emma can be like The Borg in that way. When she insists resistance is futile. Into the car he went. I dropped him at the ER door and went to Emma’s where my grandson was very excited about his many new trucks and his ear cake. Emma and her wife comforted me.  Less than an hour later the Emergency Cardiologist called me to confirm my fears, he had a posterior MI.

I sat on the stairs weeping, I felt like a complete and total fool. I should have insisted. I know that if I had done what Emma did, he would have gone in within those first few hours. When I got to the CCU, he was mostly relieved but still looking scared. We hugged and cried. Over the next few days we were treated with skill and kindness. My family medicine colleagues covered my work, dropped into the CCU with coffee and hugs. The first angiogram and angioplasty relieved his pain but also revealed there was another threatening blockage in the LAD. My daughter Ali stayed with Dave when I needed to see the few patients I could not cancel. They watched an old musical and held hands. The next days I sat at his bedside, while he had his second angioplasty.

Now he is home, well and with the benefit of hindsight better than he has been for some time. We are preparing for the Passover Seder where, if the pandemic allows, we will be all together for the first time in two years. We will use my Calamity Ware plates, laugh at the pretend calamities on the dishes and be grateful that thanks to luck, and the skill and dedication of the doctors and nurses at the Jewish General Hospital, the real calamity has passed us by.