Return to mass is the next step on the road to recovery
Mass started late last Sunday at St. Joseph Church in Rosemount. Father Paul Jarvis just couldn't get away from the crowd of parishioners who kept coming up to say hello, to say they were glad to see him, to wish him well.
It's the kind of response Jarvis probably could have expected as he celebrated his first mass just three months removed from an incident that could very well have ended with his death. But he was overwhelmed just the same. Even once the welcomes had stopped, he found himself on the verge of tears and unable to begin mass until someone in the congregation shouted, "We love you, Father Paul!"
"That kind of shook me out of the pause, and I said, 'I love you to,'" said Jarvis, who had emergency heart surgery in April after suffering an aortic dissection. "It's kind of nice, but it's also a little bit embarrassing when people are clapping and stuff."
Jarvis' problems started with the classic signs of a heart attack. He had pressure in his chest and an ache in his left shoulder. His first thought was to lie down and wait for it to go away. His second thought was to call a member of the church staff to take him to urgent care in Apple Valley.
That second thought probably saved his life.
Jarvis hadn't had a heart attack. He describes what happened as something like squeezing a balloon. Squeeze one spot and all that air tries to burst out somewhere else until either the squeezing stops or the balloon pops.
Jarvis' artery didn't burst, but it the tissue separated.
From urgent care Jarvis was rushed to Fairview Southdale Hospital for nearly eight hours of emergency surgery. It's a procedure only about 10 percent of patients survive, he said.
It didn't take long for prayers to start flooding in. A woman at the hospital recognized Jarvis from a retreat they had both attended and asked if she could start spreading the word. By the time he was out of surgery and in the intensive care unit there were members of St. Joseph in the waiting room.
"Within minutes, thousands of people were praying for me," Jarvis said.
He credits those prayers with helping him beat the odds, and they were just the beginning of the support he has gotten. Jarvis received thousands of cards while he was in the hospital and after his release. Staff members and others at the church have taken on increased duties since Jarvis' surgery. They've had to organize the parish float for the Leprechaun Days parade, and they put together the church's second annual tailgate party and Commode Champions -- races on wheeled toilets -- for July 27.
"It's been extraordinary what the parishioners have done in the three month's I've been away," Jarvis said. "It's amazing how people have stepped up."
Jarvis' appearances at masses last Sunday and Monday are one more step in what will still be a long recovery. For the first week after the surgery he was very confused. He didn't know where he was, or what was happening.
"It was trying to pull out my tubes. They had to tie me down," he said. "In my mind, I actually thought I had been abducted and put into a cult. I was trying to escape."
Full recovery is expected to take a year, but Jarvis has gradually gotten stronger. He has returned to office work on a limited basis. He gets admonished, he said, for trying to work more than he is supposed to. At the end of June he participated -- from the seat of a golf cart -- in a 5K fun run. He got up long enough to cross the finish line, arms thrust triumphantly into the air.
Jarvis plans to be in the Leprechaun Days parade, too. He'll ride a scooter or, if he can find someone with one to lend, a Segway.
He'd really like to ride a Segway.
Those are just details, though.
For the time being, Jarvis just feels lucky to be where he is. And he feels happy to be back at St. Joseph.