Happy Valentine’s Day! My heartfelt thanks for your continued support of my writing. On this day that celebrates love, I want to share a heartwarming story about my father’s heart attack in 1981 and the exceptional care our family received from the hospital staff and the kind people of a small Ohio town. On our recent epic road trip, Eric and I visited the little town again and added a new chapter to this amazing story.
The story is longer than my usual messages, but well worth the read. If you enjoy the story, I would love to hear from you! Just locate the comment button (at the end of the email) or feel free to “Like” it (note the link is to the far right of the comment line in the email). I so appreciate your support!
OK…sit back, grab a cup of coffee or tea, and enjoy this story of God’s love shared through the hands and hearts of His faithful people!
Out Of The Cornfields
There are some places you never forget. Though my stay there was brief, I will never forget the little town of Wauseon, Ohio. It was a long time ago, but the memories are as vivid as yesterday.
In September of 1981, my parents were traveling from Fort McCoy, Wisconsin back to their home in Richmond, Virginia. Late on a Friday evening, they were cruising through the Ohio Valley. Tired and hungry, they pulled off the highway to seek shelter at a roadside motel. There was a little diner just across the road, so it seemed a good place to rest for the night.
Finishing a late dinner at the diner, my parents returned to their motel room. My mother quickly fell asleep, but my father laid awake, bothered by severe heartburn unrelieved by several rounds of antacids. At 2 AM, Dad finally woke my mother up and described his increasing chest discomfort. Mom sprang into action, reaching for the telephone to call 911, but there was no phone in the room. Since those were the days without cell phones, Mom’s only option was to go find help. Dressing quickly, Mom ran toward the motel office. Describing the situation, she asked the motel manager to call for an ambulance, but the manager had another idea. Explaining that there was a hospital only three miles down the road, he proposed, “You’ll get him there quicker if you just drive straight down this road. You’ll see it easy.”
Mom wasted no time. Returning to the motel room, she gathered their things, hustled Dad into the passenger seat and raced for the hospital. She found it easily just as the manager had advised. Directly ahead on the right, a four story building sprang up out of a maze of corn fields, the sign touting, “Fulton County Health Center.”
Entering the Emergency Room, my Mom quickly explained the situation to the staff. Dad was immediately whisked away for testing while a staff member directed Mom to the waiting area. The staff was incredibly caring, providing frequent updates on my father’s status. Before long, the doctor confirmed that at the age of 44, my father was having a heart attack. The staff rushed Dad to the CCU and Mom was ushered to the fourth floor waiting room.
It took some time to get Dad settled in the CCU, but soon, the kind day shift nurse, Melanie, was out in the waiting room checking on my Mom. Melanie sat with my mother as the cardiologist carefully explain Dad’s condition. Mom was hoping Dad could be transferred to Richmond, but the cardiologist was adamant that Dad could not travel. Melanie stayed afterward to help Mom sort through the information. Concerned about my parents being so far from home, Melanie contacted the social worker who visited my mother, providing her with personal care supplies and helping her find something to eat.
Afraid to leave my father, Mom decided to stay the night in the waiting room. The social worker commandeered a cot and Melanie brought linens for her makeshift bed. The entire nursing staff seemed to rally around my parents, touched by their story and concerned that they were weathering this storm all alone and far from home.
When Melanie finished her shift, she found my mother in the waiting room. “Pat, let’s go for coffee. There’s someone I want you to meet.”
Arriving in the cafeteria, Melanie introduced Mom to her best friend, Charlene. “Pat, you need to rest. You can’t sleep on that cot night after night and you don’t need to be alone in a motel room. I would invite you to stay at my house, but I have three kids and you would never get any rest. That’s why I called Charlene. She has a room for you at her house. Her son just left for college so there is plenty of room. We both want you to come and stay there.”
Charlene chimed in, imploring Mom to come to stay with her. My mother had no idea how to respond to this generous offer. “Thank you both so much, but that’s not necessary. I’ll be fine. That’s just asking too much.”
Charlene tried another approach, inviting my mother to lunch after church on Sunday. This would allow Mom to see the house and get to know Charlene and her husband. Mom agreed to the plan.
Over lunch together the next day, Charlene conveyed a surprising story. While taking a shower on Saturday morning, Charlene recited her daily prayer, “Lord, what do I need to do for you today?” Just as she stepped out of the shower, her phone rang. It was Melanie, telling her about my parents situation and the need for a place for my mother to stay. “Pat, I knew immediately that this is what God wanted me to do. I was supposed to help you.”
My mother was so touched by this amazing story and realized that Charlene sincerely wanted to help her. Mom agreed to return that evening to stay in the spare room, but she never got the chance. On Sunday evening, Dad took a turn for the worse. The evening shift nurse carefully explained that Dad was showing signs of congestive heart failure. She advised Mom to call me, that I should come to see my father as soon as possible.
Having just started my senior year of nursing school at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, I was about to leave my apartment headed for the library when the phone rang on that Saturday morning. My mother was on the line, explaining that Dad had been hospitalized. Shocked and tearful, I begged her to let me travel to Ohio, but Mom was insistent that I stay put. She did not want me to miss school. With every subsequent phone call, I had pleaded to come up there, but both my parents wanted me to stay at school. However, on Sunday evening, everything changed.
Given the late hour, I could not get a flight until early the next morning. While I should have arrived in Toledo by 10 AM, the fog over Pittsburg delayed my arrival and my connecting flight was cancelled. When I fell apart at the airline counter, the staff found a pay phone for me to call my mother. The news was good. Dad’s condition had stabilized. Mom calmed my frayed nerves and after a frustrating series of delays and detours, I finally made it to Toledo at 5 PM on Monday. Not wanting my mother to leave the hospital, Melanie arranged for she and Charlene to drive to Toledo to retrieve me from the airport. It was Melanie’s day off, but she was not off duty when it came to helping us.
My father did improve dramatically over the next two days. I joined Mom in her waiting room vigil and we took Charlene up on her gracious hospitality.
Mom and I made friends with the other families in the waiting room. One of the families insisted we get out of the hospital to join them for dinner at a local restaurant called “Sterling’s”. When I saw the huge statue of a black and white Holstein cow guarding the restaurant’s front entrance, I laughed out loud. I soon learned that the cow’s name was “Sterlina” and once I tasted her famous hot fudge sundae, I was hooked. Thereafter, we made a nightly trek to visit Sterlina.
Staff throughout the hospital heard of our story and often stopped by to check on our welfare. A family member of another CCU patient worked for the local newspaper. She wrote a short newspaper article describing our story and requesting cards of encouragement be sent to our family at the hospital. She wanted their little town to show us some “Southern hospitality” since we were so far from home.
All over town, prayers were being lifted on our behalf. The pastors in the local churches heard of our plight and began praying for us from their pulpits. Melanie and Charlene’s pastor came to the waiting room to check on my mother and offer his support.
Townsfolk began showing up in the waiting room to speak to us. One man insisted on buying our lunch in the cafeteria. An elderly woman, pocketbook in hand, arrived one morning, offering to take us to lunch in town. When we reassured her that this was not necessary, she looked so crestfallen that my mother immediately accepted her kind invitation. The three of us enjoyed a lovely lunch together and she returned several times to visit us in the waiting room.
My father improved steadily, but in those days, heart attack care was about waiting and watching. Aside from oxygen, nitroglycerin and morphine to control pain, there was little to do except wait for healing and watch for complications. Strict bedrest was a mandate. Heart failure was life threatening, but thankfully in my father’s case, the medicines had worked their magic.
I stayed in Wauseon for a week. With my Dad improving, it was time to get back to school. Before I left, Melanie invited my Mom and me to dinner at her house so we could meet her precious little family. No longer just my father’s nurse, Melanie was our friend.
Mom stayed at Charlene’s house for an additional week before driving alone back to Richmond to deposit their car. She then flew back to Toledo, retrieved my weak, but healing father from the hospital and accompanied him on the flight back home.
My family has never forgotten those weeks in Wauseon, for we were quite certain that we had witnessed miracles. My father suffered a massive heart attack, wiping out the left anterior descending artery (LAD) that supplies the front wall of the left ventricle. No angioplasty or stents were available in those days and most patients with that type of heart attack would have died, particularly after succumbing to congestive heart failure in the first 48 hours.
But my Dad survived. More than that, after a round of cardiac rehabilitation, he returned to a normal lifestyle. For 35 years, he essentially had no limitations, exercising regularly and living a full life. Although impacted by mild heart failure these days, he still leads an active life at the age of 82. My father’s healing had been our first miracle.
The lovingkindness of the people of Wauseon was our second. Strangers took time to reach out to us, to buy us lunch, to pray for help and healing. The nursing staff was exceptional, the whole hospital staff going out of their way to ensure our needs were met.
Dad’s nurse, Melanie, went above and beyond the call of duty. It was not enough to provide expert nursing care to my father, but her care extended to the welfare of my mother and me. She was determined to ensure our comfort and support. Charlene had no responsibility for our welfare and yet, she welcomed us into her home with open arms. These Good Samaritans became our good friends and we kept in touch for years. In fact, the summer following our stay in Wauseon, my parents invited Melanie and Charlene down for a visit to our home in Richmond. They spent a week with us visiting local landmarks and exploring the Virginia coastline. It was a great adventure for them and a chance for us to reciprocate their loving hospitality. Without a doubt, the good people of Wauseon made a mark on our lives that cannot be erased.
That’s why, 37 years later, I found myself standing in the lobby of the Fulton County Health Center. My husband and I were headed west on a cross country road trip. As we mapped out our route through the Ohio Valley, I expressed my desire to see Wauseon once again. I wanted to know if the years had been kind to the little town that had been so kind to us.
My plan had been to simply ride through the town. Perhaps we could find that massive statue of Sterlina and step inside to enjoy another hot fudge sundae. I knew there was no chance of finding Melanie again as she had died of breast cancer years before and my parents had lost touch with our friend, Charlene. Still, I wanted to go back and pay my respects to the small town that claimed a special spot in my heart.
There was no plan to find the hospital and yet, as we traveled down the two lane highway toward Wauseon, Fulton County Health Center suddenly appeared on our right, rising up out of the cornfields just as it had for my parents so many years ago.
I had no intention of entering the hospital, but my husband’s urging prompted me to stop. So I found myself standing in the middle of the hospital lobby, just looking around. While the decor had changed, the placement of the lobby, gift shop and cafeteria had not. Noting the signage near the elevator, Eric prodded me to find Nursing Administration. “Go tell them your story. You nurses love that stuff.”
Still uncertain about this quest, I stepped into the elevator. I did not want to bother anyone, but I was curious about how the hospital had evolved in the years since my last visit.
In the elevator, I queried a hospital employee for directions, sharing a snippet of my story as the elevator doors opened and we exited onto the third floor. That’s when Becky walked up. Hearing a bit of my tale, Becky paused and asked if we needed any assistance. Recounting my story, I asked if the CCU was still on the fourth floor.
Becky was clearly taken with my story and soon we were following her back into the elevators. When the elevator doors opened on the fourth floor, a wave of deja vue washed over me as we made our way down the long corridor toward the waiting room. I passed the spot that had once held the pay phone. It had been our lifeline, our only means of communication with our faraway family and friends. The waiting room had been shifted to a new spot, but the memories still flooded my mind as I stepped inside the small, but cozy space.
To my amazement, Becky instructed us to wait while she checked to see if we could enter the CCU. She quickly reappeared, stating that the unit was not busy and we should follow her. Stepping through the doorway, I caught my breath in surprise. The nursing unit was much the same as I remembered. Certainly, the decor and equipment had been updated, but the layout was unchanged. I walked straight toward the little room that had once been my father’s. It was just as I remembered it.
Becky introduced us to the staff and I repeated my story. The staff listened intently, particularly when I told them about Dad’s nurse, Melanie. I knew by their youthful faces that they would not have known her, but wondered aloud whether there would be anyone still there that might have worked with Melanie.
“I wonder if Peg would have known her. Peg is our nursing supervisor. She’s been here 47 years. She used to work in the CCU. Hmm…I wonder if she is working today.”
In this place of miracles, Eric and I were about to witness another one. Those words had barely left Becky’s lips when the automatic double doors at the far end of the hallway opened and Peg walked in. Becky turned and called excitedly, “Oh Peg, come here. I have someone I want you to meet.”
A mixture of surprise and curiosity registered on Peg’s face as once again, I recounted my surprising story. Peg took it all in, clearly fascinated by my memories.
“I probably took care of your father. I was a night shift nurse in the CCU during that time.”
Eric and I stared at each other in amazement. What were the chances of traveling all this way, so many years later, only to find one of the nurses who took care of my father? Dad had been in that 3-bed CCU for two weeks. It seemed very likely that Peg would have cared for him at some point.
I was simply astounded, bubbling over with unbridled excitement. Sharing about how Melanie had befriended us, I asked Peg if she might remember Melanie. At first, she could not recall a nurse by that name. However, when I mentioned that she was a mother of three and had died young from breast cancer, suddenly Peg had a rush of memory. “Yes, it must have been Melanie Kussmaul. That’s just the kind of thing Melanie would have done.”
My heart leapt with joy at her recollection of our long ago friend. I went on to describe our experiences in more detail and both Peg and Becky were amazed by the kind acts of the townsfolk toward our plight. Becky pondered aloud, “I think people would still do that now. I’d like to think they would. It’s still a small town.”
When I explained how much the experience had impacted my life, they were both captivated. “I was a senior in nursing school when I was here. I had planned to be a pediatric nurse, but after seeing these nurses care for my Dad, it changed everything. I became a cardiology nurse and have had a wonderful career. You all are the reason I became a cardiology nurse.”
My words touched their hearts as the impact of my experience in that little CCU sank in. Both of their faces brightened as I described how I had pursued my Master’s degree and spent my 32 year career consulting, conducting research and teaching countless nurses as a Cardiology Clinical Nurse Specialist.
Peg posed a delicate question about my father’s recovery and I quickly realized that I had not shared that my Dad was alive and well, living a full and active life for the past 37 years. At this news, their faces lit up with bright smiles. They were relieved to know that my father had done well after such a serious heart attack.
Before leaving, we took a picture with Peg in front of the vacant room that had once been my father’s. Profusely thanking them both for their time and attention, Eric and I went on our way. As I passed through the hospital doorway, my heart was full of both memories and gratitude.
Peg had shared that Sterling’s was long gone, but Sterlina the cow still made appearances in local parades and the county fair. At their direction, we headed for “Tiny’s” to grab a burger and shake, savoring every sip as we sat on a picnic table soaking up the sunshine.
Circling through the historic downtown, I paid silent tribute to those generous helpers who had welcomed us with gracious hospitality and lifted up prayers on our behalf. Dad’s heart was not the only one touched by those caring hands. Those two weeks in Wauseon had shaped the very course of our lives. Our family had witnessed miracles that made an indelible imprint upon our souls.
Thinking of the good people we had met that morning, I answered my own question. Yes, the years had been kind to the quaint small town. My little stroll down memory lane had revealed that kindness and compassion
were indeed alive and well today in the little town of Wauseon.
Anita P. Sherer
February 6, 2019