How the Heart Works

What my old dog taught me about love

Pamela Gwyn Kripke
Human Parts
Published in
7 min readFeb 15, 2024

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Had my ex-husband taken the full dose of the blood-thinning medication, he’d have woken up dead. But the phone rang, distracting him from the task. Instead, Bob woke up with black marble-size blisters lining the inside of his mouth and tongue. So much better.

The medication, Plavix, had been prescribed following the insertion of metal stents into his obstructed right coronary artery, “The Widowmaker,” as it’s known in the trade. Teensy mesh tubes, the stents would support the vessel’s wall, which had been scraped of its plaque and weakened in the process. The drug, which was new on the market at the time, 23 years ago, would keep Bob’s blood flowing unimpeded, or so it had been hoped.

Up at dawn to catch a flight for work, he woke me with garbled words I couldn’t understand, something about toothpaste and looking in mirrors. He sat cross-legged on the bed, wrenching his lower lip from his face, thrusting out his tongue, shaking. I followed him into the bathroom where the light illuminated the rest of him, sheet-white and speckled in crimson pin-dots. I re-routed his taxi to the hospital.

We had been married for about nine years. Bob was bleeding internally. It was serious, and I was worried, knowing about such things as a doctor’s daughter. But I didn’t fall down on the floor in desperate fear that my husband might not make it.

Later, he called me at home, where I had stayed with our daughters, one a year old, the other, two and a half. “I had a hundred platelets left. You’re supposed to have 250,000. At least.”

The doctors were able to reverse the effects of the drug, a complication. They kept Bob hospitalized until his platelet numbers rose into acceptable range and his blood could clot again. If ever the word Plavix was mentioned in the remaining years of our marriage, we shuddered.

I’ve had two boyfriends in the 20 years since our divorce. One per decade, though neither lasting nearly that long. The first, whom I met soon after, was enduring litigious escapades with a previous spouse, as I was. Our individual lives were under attack; together, we helped each other fight off the onslaught, defend our respective Texan homesteads a bit like Bonnie and Clyde. He was clever and…

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Pamela Gwyn Kripke
Human Parts

Journalist, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Slate, Elle; Author, At the Seams (novel), And Then You Apply Ice (story collection), literary magazines