Saralee Perel

Award-winning columnist, Saralee Perel, can be reached at 

Her novel, Raw Nerves, is now available as a paperback and an e-book on

Make of Our Hearts One Heart

I don’t pray much. I pray before every mammogram. And as my first dog lay dying. Two weeks ago I prayed as my husband was taken by ambulance to Cape Cod Hospital with intensifying pain spreading through his chest.

There’s exquisite simplicity and purity in the words, “I love you” that two people share when it may be for the last time. And in that instant, everything else, every thought, every action, every other part of your life falls into the “who cares?” bin. 

I want to tell you something very important. It is not a big deal to call 911.  You call. They come. There’ll be sirens, but you’ll welcome their sound. The EMTs don’t want you to wait until you’re positive something’s wrong.

Bob, on the couch, saw me struggling to quickly answer their questions through my crackly voice. And I wasn’t breathing well. He mouthed the words, “I’m sorry,” which, of course, broke my heart even more. Then he was taken away.

Ten minutes later, I ran through the hospital parking lot with just one prayer. “Please let him be alive.” 

And my prayer was answered.

Joyously, I flopped down on the chair next to his gurney. Apparently, it wasn’t his heart, though we still don’t know what it was. We were bubbly with happiness.

The nurse connected leads from an EKG machine to different points on Bob’s chest. As she unbuttoned his shirt, he looked at me and started to laugh. It was then I remembered his recent mid-life decision to try Grecian Formula to get rid of the gray in his beard. But afraid to try it outright, he had experimented with his chest hair and was therefore sporting brown polka dots. The nurse was quiet. She also didn’t say anything while Bob and I tried in vain to squelch a giggling fit.

“What have you eaten today?” she asked before taking blood.

“Jellybeans and coffee.” By now, he had lost all credibility as a grown-up. After the EKG, he had x-rays. Then he was given a little plastic jar for a urinalysis. It took a heck of a long time for him to come out of the bathroom.

“What was the matter?” I asked when he came out. “Don’t they have dirty magazines or something?”

“It wasn’t that kind of test,” he said, looking around in hopes I couldn’t be heard.

So all continued well, until our drive home. Bob, feeling good, wanted to drive, but half way down Main Street, I saw him reaching for his chest again.

“What is it?” I said, panicking.

He was feeling around. “They left these things on.”

“What things?”

“They put BBs on my nipples so they wouldn’t be mistaken for spots on my x-rays. But they’re imbedded in some sort of adhesive and I can’t get them off.”

I went ballistic. “You’ve got to get them off! What if we have an accident?

What are people going to think if you’re wearing nipple buttons?” I grabbed his nipples and started yanking. He swerved to park the car.

So, I’m leaning over Bob’s chest with my face in his nipples trying to wrench the BBs off. And a couple with three kids walked by, looked in the window, said something to each other, then ran away.

I still don’t pray much. But one thing I’ve learned lately is to choose my prayers carefully. “Is this really important?” I’ll ask myself, because if it’s trivial or too selfish, I’ll scrap it. And maybe prayer is really a process of evaluation that teaches me what matters and what doesn’t.

And I’ll tell you something else. Most of those things that fell into the “who cares?” bin during those terrible life and death moments  . . .  are going to stay right there.

Which is where, when it comes down to it, they should have been all along.