A team of specialists is waiting for me in the emergency room. The very first blood test instantly reveals the gravity of my condition. There is a definite risk of heart attack. The doctors exchange incomprehensible comments in their own jargon. Their conclusion is quick, unambiguous and unanimous: An immediate procedure is required. There can be no delay.
Marion whispers in my ear that we are fortunate; she has just learned that the surgeon who will perform the angiogram is the one who operated on her two years earlier. I remember him, a handsome, strikingly intelligent man. I had been struck by his kindness as much as by his competence.
"I hope," he tells me, "that we will be able to do for you what we succeeded in doing for your wife: to restore a normal flow of blood in the arteries by inserting a stent." But then he adds, looking grave, "I must warn you that we may have to intervene in a more radical way. We will know very soon."
I am drowsy and fight against sleep by trying to follow the brief professional exchanges in the operating room. Actually, I don't understand a word. About an hour later, I hear the surgeon saying, "I am so sorry, I don't have good news for you: Your condition is such that the insertion of a stent won’t suffice. You have five blocked arteries. You require open-heart surgery."
I am shaken. Sure, I know that these days open-heart surgery is regularly performed the world over. Dr. Christiaan Barnard's face appears before me; I had met the famous surgeon at a conference in Haifa and we had engaged in a long dialogue on medical ethics, comparing Judaic and Christian points of view. I had looked at his hands, wondering how many human beings owed them their survival.
But now the words "open-heart surgery" are meant for me. And they fill me with dread.
"You're lucky. A colleague of mine, an expert in this type of surgery, is at the hospital right now. I have spoken to him. He is ready to operate on you."
"Doctor," I ask, "have you told my wife?"
"No, but I will do it right now."
In a moment he is back: "I've seen Marion. As well as your son, Elisha."
The fact that my beloved son is already at the hospital does not surprise me. Since his earliest childhood, he has always made me proud, always been there for me.
"What do they think?"
"They agree; we have no choice. But the decision is yours alone."
"May I see them?"
Marion and Elisha are not good at hiding their anxiety. Their smiles seem forced. And how am I to hug them without falling apart? Marion, holding back her tears, tries to reassure me: "The doctors are optimistic. The surgeon they propose is world-renowned."
"It will go well," says Elisha. "I know it, Dad. I am convinced of it."
I remain silent.
"Shall we go?" urges the attending physician.
The nurses are ready to push the gurney toward the OR. I steal another glance at the woman with whom I have shared my life for more than forty-two years. So many events, so many discoveries and projects, unite us. All we have done in life we have accomplished together. And now, one more experience.
As the door opens, I look one last time at our son, the fine young man who has justified—and continues to justify—my life and who endows it with meaning and a hereafter.
Through the tears that darken the future, a thought awakens a deeper concern, a deeper sorrow: Shall I see them again?
Excerpted from Open Heart by Elie Wiesel. Copyright © 2012 by Elie Wiesel. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.