Last Sunday, as Hurricane Sandy was steaming up the Northeast seaboard, setting its sights on the Tri-State shores with seismic-sized waves and anticipated storm surges, I went to a Jets game with Sam. Sam, aka Samuel Pekarne DDS, is a dear friend and former dental partner who in fact, some 66 years ago, started the dental practice that I now call home. Sam is also a dedicated Jets fan and longtime season ticket holder. I, on the other hand, am not an avid sports fan and limit my “Root, root, rooting” for the home team to the Super Bowl, the World Series and NBA finals.
So why drive out to New Jersey on this particular afternoon with all that was about to unravel in a matter of hours? That’s what I’m about to tell you:
Back in March while I was getting ready to have some elective surgery performed (see my previous blogs), my friend Sam took ill. He had contracted an infection and was hospitalized. Two days before my procedure, I visited Sam in the hospital after hearing the news that he was improving. Curiously, when I arrived at his room, he was not there. I was directed to the ICU where to my shock, Sam was lying unresponsive in a hospital bed with monitors beeping, IV fluids running, and doctors and nurses hovering around. “The next 48 hours are critical,” a doctor told his beloved wife Greta. After a couple of hours I hugged Greta kissed Sam and left in a state of despair. How could this be if he had been supposedly on the mend? It’s an amazing thing how life can be in such a delicate balance between being and not. This was not the last memory I wanted to carry of Sam; nor was it the image that I wanted to take with me as I was going into my own surgery.
Though small of stature, Sam Pekarne was by all counts a very strong and determined man. Never in his more than 50 years of dental practice did he call in sick. So dedicated to his patients and his professional credo, Dr. Pekarne only closed his office twice in his professional career: during “ The Great Blizzard of 1947” when 26 inches of snow fell in Central Park and after “The Blizzard of 1996” which recorded 20+ inches. He would routinely arrive in his office before 8 a.m. and often put in a 12-hour day with nothing more than coffee to keep his engine running. No, Sam was “The Little Engine That Could.” He was a fighter and that was what I kept telling myself as I left him that day.
After I had my surgery and emerged from the cloud from narcotic analgesics, I realized that I hadn’t heard anything about Sam. No news is good news? I called Greta to learn that he was sitting beside her in his hospital room drinking coffee. Hallelujah!!! Several days later I visited Sam at New York Hospital. He wasn’t in his room. Here we go again! I was once again directed to a room near the ICU.
The vision of Sam Pekarne lying in a hospital bed in a seemingly comatose state with Greta, their two daughters and his sister-in-law standing vigil nearby was overwhelming. The fragility of life once again came to mind. Greta had told me that Sam was fine until the previous evening when his condition turned south. There was nothing to be done but wait. She then encouraged me to speak to him. “One never knows.”
Rarely at a loss for words, I did not know what to say. Do I tell him that I love him and how much he has meant to me over the years? Do I thank him for entrusting me with his legacy of devoted care for his beloved patients? I leaned over Sam with my mouth close to his ear and said firmly, “DR PEKARNE, YOUR NEXT PATIENT IS HERE!” Eyes closed, Sam replied clearly yet softly, “Alright, I’ll be right there.” We all expelled a collective sigh of comic relief. He regained consciousness the next day. I went back into the hospital a few days later because I developed an infection and needed a second surgery. Subsequently, we spoke to each other from our respective hospital beds. I was released from the hospital after three nights. Sam was in the hospital for more than two months.
I don’t know what brought Sam back from what seemed to be “the brink”. Surely it wasn’t my wit! Probably it was the ever-present love and devotion of his family. All I know is that Sam, 87 YEARS YOUNG, has made a miraculous recovery and while he was working hard at his rehabilitation, I promised him that we would go to a Jets game this year. AND WE DID!
FOOTNOTE: Hurricane Sandy has brought much suffering to the region. So much destruction. So much loss. Loss of life; loss of property. My prayers go out to all who have been touched by this horrible and tragic disaster. Godspeed.