Life, death and a love letter to my angels: Jim Harmon's story

October 11, 2021 Kelby Johnson

Angel wings

This story was originally published by the Missoula Current on October 4, 2021 here

Hello, history fans!

I’m Jim Harmon, and I’m back from my near month-long “R & R” with a story that I’d like to call, “Life, Death and a Love Letter to my Angels.”

For reasons that soon will be clear, I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of medical knowledge in the late 19th century, and the fate we all would have faced.

Imagine living back then and having a life-threatening disease. You and I would have confronted the same destiny as William Lammette: no testing, no blood workup, no X-ray, no CT, no MRI, and no skilled surgeon with the training and experience to help us.

Just substitute your name in the notice carried in The Butte Daily Miner in 1886: “July 5 – Wm. Lammette, found dead. Verdict – that deceased came to his death by a heart attack.”

While references to heart disease can be found dating back to ancient times in Greek and Arab writings, remarkably nearly all major advancements in our knowledge of the heart and treatment of heart disease have occurred in our lifetime.

From 1950, when a new “mechanical heart” was developed, which the press of the day exuberantly declared “may even bring humans back from the dead,” to today’s world of intricate computer-assisted procedures, the developments have been nothing short of miraculous.

That brings me to today’s story of “Life, Death and a Love Letter to my Angels.”

As a lifelong journalist, I first must apologize for the miss-characterization I used to describe my recent absence. I was not on “R & R.” There was nothing even remotely restful or relaxing in my time away.

My initial Pollyanna-ish view of the relatively rare heart procedure I needed and post-operative world that followed crashed head-on with reality.

But set all that aside. I don’t think many of us truly appreciate what we have here – right in our own backyard.

We who live in western Montana are blessed. We have, at the International Heart Institute at Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Dr. Joe Schmoker, a heart surgeon skilled in the rare procedure I needed. My next nearest option would have been hundreds of miles away.

The OR team, the ICU team and the 4-North Recovery team similarly get my highest praise, gratitude and appreciation. You’re the best!

Of course my wife, my family and my many friends were there for me when I needed them most.

But it is to a very special group of professionals I wish to send a sincere love letter – my angels, the nurses.

They were there 24/7. They were there every step of the way. Honestly, I don’t know how they do their jobs – their calling – with so much care and always with a smile.

After a short time, I would begin to greet every one of them with, “Hey, there’s my angel.” When they departed, I’d be sure to say, “You’re an angel, thank you so much.”

By many accounts (most of them quite accurate), I’m a 75-year-old crusty old goat. But these men and women – these nurses – these angels – brought me to tears. I developed such respect for them that I’ll admit more than a few times I hesitated to push the bedside call-button because I knew they were so busy helping others.

With all the publicity relating to the pandemic, and the endless reports of these caring, yet exhausted nurses, one would think all of us might have gained a new level of respect for these professionals. I’m embarrassed to admit I still didn’t really make that connection.

Now my eyes have been opened. I have a new perspective – based on personal experience.

I wish I were a rich man. I would fund their every need. I would triple their wages. (I hope I didn’t cause any embarrassment by actually saying that out loud to the physicians and staff on their morning rounds.)

In the end, it would make me the happiest man on earth, if each of you reading this article would share it with everyone you know.

Yes, Virginia, angels are real – they are all about us, in your town and mine. You just have to develop the right appreciation for their work and you’ll begin to see them for who they really are.

__________

Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at harmonshistories@gmail.com. His new book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is now available at harmonshistories.com.

 

About the Author

Kelby has spent the last five years leading the content strategy, editorial programming, and brand storytelling for Providence. He's a connector with a passion is finding the cultural and expert insights that can be turned into relevant and helpful stories that help people live happy and healthy lives.

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