Arthur was born on October eleventh nineteen thirty-two at Beth El Hospital (which was later sold and renamed Brookdale University Hospital & Medical Center) in New York. His mom Gussie (Kohl) and his dad Joseph Stillman came to New York with their parents from Poland and Russia respectfully, when they were very young children. Arthur remembers Sheffield Avenue as his first address before they moved to Dewit Avenue. His grandfather kept carrier pigeons at the house that he owned and rented out the ground floor.
He came from Russia in the early nineteen-hundreds
Where birth records of Jews were not kept
He would have been about three years old
His countrys' intolerance was hard to accept
With his parents and brother Louis
They settled in New York's Lower East Side
A new language they had to learn
In a country with opportunities to provide
Freedom to practice their religion
And live in a land where the work-ethic
Was to strive to work hard for a living
Joseph joined the army and served in the Pacific
As chief-engineering officer on an army communications ship
Leaving behind his wife and son without much warning
When his son Arthur was born in Beth El Hospital Brooklyn
This proud dad honked the horn of his taxi-cab at three in the morning
Nine years before I became his daughter-in-law
On January fifth at the Veteran's Hospital in Miami
My hero father-in-law went to his eternal reward
Arthur always says that his dad would have liked me.
Arthur attended school PS 109 on East 45th Street, Brooklyn and remembers the day that his class visited a radio station in Manhattan where they met the great Baseball player Babe Ruth. At summer camp in upstate New York was where he learned to swim and he often recited the rhyme "hip hip, dominica synica Hanukkah sock the bumble-eyeya ho" which they said every morning. His best friend was Aaron Block. When he was twelve years old, his parents moved to Miami which was a huge disruption for Arthur. He lost contact with his school friends and had to make new friends. Not very long after they moved to Miami his parents divorced which caused more anxiety for Arthur as their only child. Following the divorce his mom's health deteriorated and she was hospitalized on several occasions. She never dated or showed any interest in meeting another man in contrast to his dad, who married two more times.
After graduating Miami Beach High school, he enlisted in the Navy. He was supposed to go to Michigan for boot-camp but a lot of military were getting pneumonia there, so he was sent to San Diego, California instead - much to his liking. He traveled from New York to Jacksonville, Florida where he had his physical and was sworn-in. From Jacksonville he was put in charge of five men on a train to New Orleans. From New Orleans they took another train to their destination San Diego. He told me that it took five days to get there adding "I thought we would never get out of Texas." They stopped in Oomagh, Arizona where Indians were selling pottery that they made. He told me about the time that he was hitch-hiking in Norfolk, Virginia going home to New York for New Year when a big car pulled-up and gave him a lift. He remembered how nice and warm it felt in that car and on the radio Eddie Fisher was singing 'Oh My Papa'! While he was in Norfolk he saw the USS 'United States' pass by on its 'trial voyage'. He served onboard an oil tanker and made numerous trips to Thule, Iceland accompanying the ice-breakers during the Korean War.
Following honorable discharge on August 20 1954, he worked in Miami roofing houses, he said "that was the hardest work I've ever done." As he had a chauffeurs license he drove the truck that the workers traveled in to the jobs. He enrolled to study accountancy at Miami University where he wrote a paper on Charles Dickens. In 1956 he answered an advertisement in the Miami Herald newspaper for summer work and was offered full-time employment at the end of the contract. Despite being top of his class in exams each year, he did not continue with his studies, he often told me "that is the biggest regret of my life."
His dad was in his eighties when he died at the Veteran's Hospital in Miami on January 5 1986 and his mom passed away in a nursing home on Miami Beach on February 2 1987. He had great respect for his parents and often spent Sundays visiting his dad and his third wife Roselia who was Cuban. His dad who owned a gas station and rented out property, would give Arthur business advice.
I met Arthur at Temple Beth Am in South Miami at a Valentine Day dance in 1994. We dated for a couple of weeks before I returned to London. He kept in touch by phone-calls and in one of those calls he asked me when I was returning to Miami. I told him that I had no plans to return and suggested he come to visit me in London. To my amazement he took me up on my offer and spent a week with me in my studio-flat in Du Cane Court, Balham. Before leaving he purchased a return ticket for me to come to Miami. On my mother's birthday October twenty-ninth I boarded that British Airways flight to Miami and to a man who only God could have put into my life!
From the moment he picked me up at the airport I knew I would not be using that return ticket to Heathrow airport. There was something very special about him. We were married in Coral Gables court house on January 9 1995 and had a church wedding in The Church of the Little Flower, Coral Gables in August. He was planning to retire from working at the Miami Herald newspaper and on his days off we looked at apartments and houses in Broward County. He settled on a retirement community in Pembroke Pines as it was convenient to Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports and also the ports as he wanted to take cruises. We went on several cruises to the Bahamas, and the East and West Caribbean. For my fiftieth birthday we flew to Vancouver for a cruise to Alaska and nine days after our return home we went to Israel with a group from a Baptist church that we had been attending.
Century Village offered activities that we both enjoyed. He played bridge and poker every week. I played tennis three and sometimes four days a week. We joined several clubs and went on bus trips and cruises with them. I joined the Monday morning writer's club which was chaired by Ben Levitan who had been a fireman in New York and I think for my benefit, told stories about some Irish men with whom he worked. I did the aquasize classes in the Olympic size pool at the clubhouse three days a week. Arthur and I would race each other in our satellite pool by our building. He would always beat me and we argued that the reason was because he was six foot tall. Those days were magical!
We volunteered at Memorial Hospital West for twelve years. Arthur was in the kitchen where he helped ladle the soup and carry trays of special diets to the floors and the emergency room. I worked at the information desk where I answered the phone, directed people to the various departments, delivered flowers to the patients and discharged patients in wheelchairs. I also volunteered in the HR department and the Administration Office. We enjoyed helping out and the annual appreciation luncheon at the Signature Grand in Davie that always had a 'theme' was entertaining. Arthur's poker playing friends liked to gamble and we went to the Hard Rock Casino to play the slot-machines and Calder Race Track where we made small winnings on the hotshot machine. Arthur had a curiosity about all religions and particularly Buddhism. He attended the catholic church with me for a while. One day he came home from shopping at Publix - he liked grocery shopping but hated mall shopping - and told me "I took the scenic route and passed by a church that looked like the little church in the dell." We attended that church for a few years. We joined a bible-study group of eight or nine neighbors in the village that was led by Harold who was a Messianic Jew and the most knowledgeable person about the bible that I ever met. Arthur liked to sing at karaoke in the clubhouse and on cruises. His favorite was the Jo Stafford song 'You Belong To Me'.
On January 18 2014 he said something that surprised me. I don't remember exactly how he said it but it was something like "if I get old put me in hospice." It made me cry and he was so sorry after he said it. He said "that was stupid of me." After lunch he was very chatty and told me about his first car. His dad bought him a 1936 Oldsmobile for thirty-six dollars in 1949 or 1950. In 1959 he bought his first car, a brand-new frost-blue Chevrolet Biscayne with radio and manual gear change. He always bought American cars until 2003 when he bought a Honda Civic. I suggested a two-door but he decided on a four-door so that we could drive our neighbors. Several years before, when a neighbor was in the back seat of our two-door Cougar, she had such a hard time getting out, we thought we would have to call the paramedics! He was the most kind person I have ever met. He helped several new neighbors move into the building and told them about the village rules. When I remarked that they never showed any appreciation his reply was "I didn't do it for recognition..." One of the byelaws in the village stated "no four-legged animals allowed" Arthur joked "we could get a three-legged dog" He would often burst into a song "Bell-bottom trousers, coats of navy blue, she loved her sailor-boy and he loved her too." When I commented on how silky his skin was, he would reply "its all that gefilte fish" When we saw the blood donations bus outside Walmart offering a free movie pass he said "what movie do you think they see?" I said I've no idea, he said "Dracula." He always watched the CBS program 60 Minutes and when each of the presenters had introduced themselves, he would add "and I'm Arthur Stillman" - that gave me a laugh every time! Most mornings during the week he would sit in the lobby of the clubhouse with a group of men who called themselves 'The Harvard Club' and discuss what was in the news. One morning a lady walking past collapsed, he ran to the security desk to get help, no one else made any attempt to help. He had a wonderful dry sense of humor and a brilliant mind.
We visited my family in Ireland in 1995 and 1996 and stayed two nights with our friends Theresa and Jim Thompson who live in Century Village. Theresa is first generation American whose family emigrated from Belmullet. They built a summer home in Belmullet - a few miles north of where I grew-up. Arthur and my mother had a common conversation subject as her mother and her aunt lived on Gates Avenue, Brooklyn, New York for ten years in the early nineteen-hundreds. My mother's aunt (grandma's sister) Hannah Cunniffe was lost in the Lusitania tragedy on May 7 1915. In 2000 we flew to Shannon for my godchild Fiona's first communion in Knock. We toured the surrounding counties and saw W.B. Yeat's grave in Drumcliffe County Sligo. In County Roscommon we visited The Irish National Famine Museum in Strokestown Park, Arthur bought a clay pipe there (his dad always smoked a pipe) We explored Galway and Connemara where Arthur did a very funny imitation of an Irish jig when we stopped along the road (I took a picture) In June 2008 he made a special effort to be with me at my sister Hannah's fortieth wedding anniversary party in South London. He didn't want to go, he said "I'm doing it for your sake..." 'Mensch' is a Yiddish word to describe an decent, upright, mature and responsible man.
Arthur felt unwell on Friday August 5 2011. At 2:15pm I called his doctor's office and got the on-call number. A young female voice told me that the doctor was out of the office for the day. I told her that Arthur's blood pressure was 80/40 and his pulse was 50. When I asked to speak with a doctor, I could hear her relate my question to a female in the background who told her to tell me to have the blood pressure checked at a fire station. I asked her if she had made a note of the readings. She said "what readings" I said the blood pressure and pulse readings that I gave her. She didn't reply but asked if we lived near a fire station and when I said we do, she said we should go there to have it checked and she hung-up the phone. Saturday morning at 9am Arthur's blood pressure reading was 144/72 pulse 48! I called the doctor's office and asked for the on-call doctor to call us. At 9:30am the on-call doctor called back and told me that I was taking the blood pressure too often. He asked me how old is Arthur and when I told him he said "that's normal for his age..." At 3:15pm it was 138/68 his pulse had dropped to 44! I called the office number for the third time and spoke with an associate who said he would have the on-call doctor call us. Within fifteen minutes the doctor called and said to go to the Emergency Room.
It was pouring rain when I dropped Arthur at the entrance to the ER and parked the car. I had to drive quite a distance for a parking space and despite having an umbrella got soaked from my knees to my feet. Arthur was waiting for me at the entrance so we rushed in, checked with the security-guard and filled-out the mandatory form to give to the nurse at the desk. She told us that "Arthur's notes are not down yet" so to take a seat and she would call him. Ten minutes later Arthur's name was called. He was brought into a small room where a nurse took down his medical history, a technician drew blood and an EKG was taken. A wheelchair was brought for him and he was taken to room 1, where he was put on a heart-monitor. Shelley was the nurse assigned to him put him on oxygen. John inserted a cannula in his left arm and crash-cart was brought into the room. His pulse was 40 on the monitor. Shelley explained that because his pulse was low she was giving him Atropine IVI. After about forty-five minutes the doctor came to see Arthur and told him that he was in second-degree heart block and that he would need a pacemaker. He said a cardiologist would insert a temporary one for the weekend and that a permanent one would be placed on Monday. I asked him if it would be under general anesthetic and he said yes. An X-ray was taken of his chest. There was excitement when a baby was born in a car outside the ER and the doctor attending Arthur, assisted with the delivery. On the TV there was a story about a volunteer at Memorial Regional Hospital who was 101 years old! These two occurances I felt were good omens for Arthur's recovery. At 7pm the night nurses came on-duty and Patricia was Arthur's nurse for the night. She said that he would probably be in the ER overnight and the cardiologist would see him in the morning. At 7:20pm Arthur told me to go home and get something to eat.
I had just finished eating when the phone rang at 8:15pm. I was very nervous about what I would hear when I picked it up. It was Patricia to inform me that Arthur was being moved to room 2026. I was delighted because it meant that he would be able to lay on his right side which is the way he always sleeps. The next morning I called the hospital at 7:30am and asked for room 2026, only to be told that a Mr. Graham was in that room! Again I was fearful of what I would hear but after a long wait was told that Arthur was moved to ICU. I spoke with nurse Michele who reassured me that he was fine, he was in room 2045 and the only reason he was moved to ICU was so that they could monitor him more closely. After breakfast I visited him and he told me the name of the doctor who inserted the temporary pacemaker. He also told me that the ER doctor said the he could see signs of this in the EKG's from Arthur's primary-care doctor's office - I found that very disturbing!
Monday August 8, I arrived at Arthur's room just before 9am. We didn't know what time he would be going for the pacemaker until 11:30am when two young men in scrubs came to take him to the operating-room. They told me that Arthur was singing in the ER when they were putting in the temporary pacemaker! I accompanied him to the cath-lab preparation room on the second floor. Nurse Cindy prepped him which included shaving his chest. The electro-cardiologist asked me "how did this come about?" I explained that I take Arthur's blood pressure every morning as he is on three medications for it and that it was very low on Friday last and his pulse was also low. He explained the procedure to Arthur and said that he didn't see any problem but added "there's always a risk with every procedure." I walked behind the bed as he was wheeled to the entrance of the operating room. The two young men in scrubs got a good chuckle as I leaned over the protective railing to kiss Arthur and wish him "Good Luck and God Bless." A nurse showed me to the waiting-lounge. With Arthur's hat in my hand, I took out my rosary-beads and prayed. I knew that it would take about forty-five minutes so after an hour passed, I walked along the corridor and met a nurse. She asked if she could help me and I said that I was waiting for my husband who was having a pacemaker procedure, but that it was taking longer than I expected. She called the operating-room and was told that he was doing fine and would be out shortly. I kept a close watch on the 'startrack screen' in the waiting-lounge for his name to come up. As a volunteer was leaving the desk, she announced that the telephone was accessable to the waiting relatives and that a nurse or doctor may call for a relative when the patient is out of the operating room. Three times I answered the phone but it was for other patients. I was on my sixth rosary when nurse Regan came for me. As we walked to the consulting room I asked him how Arthur was and he replied "he's fine." When I mentioned that it had taken longer that I expected he said "the doctor will speak with you."
The cardiologist was waiting at the door and as Regan was leaving, he asked him to stay! He reassured me that Arthur was fine but there was a problem when he removed the temporary pacemaker - it punctured the heart causing bleeding in the heart cavity. He said that he was able to "plug it" and inserted a chest drain "a pig-tail" to drain the blood from around the heart. He said that a 'critical-care team' was put on standby. Regan comforted me with his arm around my shoulder as we walked to the preparation room where I waited for Arthur to return. He was semi-conscious and looked pale as he was wheeled back at 2:43pm to the cubicle where he had been 'prepped'. His nurse Cindy did a great job taking care of him and it was such a relief when Arthur called my name! He complained of pain and said "it was worse than I thought it would be!" He knew something went wrong. About an hour later Cindy and another nurse wheeled Arthur back to room 2045 in ICU. He had asked when he would be going back there.
I sent email to Julie to say that Arthur was critical and she called me on Tuesday morning. She asked me if I would like her to come over and I said yes - I needed all the support I could get. Sherri was his nurse today, she and another nurse said they had "never seen this happen in their thirty years of nursing! Sherri said "he's a lovely man, he thinks outside the box." The doctors visited and asked the nurse how much fluid had drained since coming from the operating room. She didn't know as they had not been measuring it, adding "there were no orders for that in the notes" - both doctors were surprised and went to check the notes. From my nursing experience if a patient has a drain-in-situ we always measured the fluid output.
Wednesday morning I got phone-calls from Julie, Dorothy and Nuala in Ireland. It was great to get those calls as I felt very much on my own. In the hospital lobby I met Arthur's poker-playing friend Billy who ironically was visiting his doctor for his pacemaker check-up! He told me that in 2001 when he had his pacemaker fitted that he felt like a new man. Jim the ultra-sound technician told us that he had never been called to the operating room before "its usually after the operation that I'm called." I said "I'm sorry that it had to be my darling husband to be the patient" He just smirked. The cardiologist's nurse-practitioner came to remove the "pig-tail." It was very emotional to watch her remove approximately eight inches of drain from the heart cavity.
Thursday August 11, Julie called from Ireland and Miko called from London early in the morning. When I told Arthur he said, "its nice to know that so many people care for me..." Sherri was his nurse today and she had the best news for me. She said that Arthur may be going home tomorrow! I sent email to Julie to let her know so that she could decide if she wanted to book a flight. When I called the hospital on Friday I got the great news that he was moved to a regular room 2020. Throughout his stay in the hospital he remained very positive and just accepted his situation. He has a dry sense of humor and can laugh at himself which endears him to a lot of people. When I told him that the cardiologist mentioned the fact that this happens in only 5-10% of cases he said with a laugh " it would happen to me!" The physical therapist came to assess if he would need physical therapy at home and decided that he would not. With the IV in-situ we walked along the corridor and he did great. As we passed by the crash-cart, he commented "the karaoke machine." My niece Olivia in Chicago called the hospital and spoke with Arthur.
Sunday August 13 - this is the day I get to bring my darling Arthur home! Debbie was his nurse today. We had to wait for the doctor to write-up the discharge papers so I went home and waited by the phone. At 3:20pm Arthur called to say "the doctor was here he's getting the discharge ready...are you coming in?" I said "I'm coming right now..." At the East entrance to the hospital I met the hospital doctor for Arthur, he was eating an ice-cream cone. While we waited for Debbie to remove the cannula and the heart monitor, a dove alighted on the ledge outside Arthur's window. It remained there preening itself for a long time.
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