A Woman's Courage, a Husband's Devotion
Pattakos, however, was gravely injured, with a fractured skull, broken ribs and punctured lungs. For eight days she lay unconscious in Bethesda's Suburban Hospital, and for 58 days she could not speak. Keeping vigil by her side was her husband of 23 years, retired Army colonel Arion Pattakos, 71. After the accident he began writing a daily journal for her—a chronicle of his emotional odyssey during her long, slow recovery as she became more responsive, and began to walk, talk and breathe on her own. Progress was fitful, a series of little victories. None was sweeter than when Arion visited last Dec. 9, accidentally bumped his wife's head and heard her first hint of speech. "You clearly said 'Ow,' " he wrote. "My darling...soon we'll be talking."
"I've been scared to death at every phase," says Arion, who often brought in Greek Orthodox priests to pray over her. "I started writing it all down so that one day she would know what happened." The diary covers current events—the Iraq war, the U.S. election, the tsunami, even the engagement of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. And it recounts some of the more mundane details of Arion's day-to-day life ("I watched CSI...and missed who killed the victim"). But above all, it is a love letter to his wife. "We can learn a lot about love from my dad," says his daughter Nadine, 46. "As Mary gets better, he gets better."
Arion was studying in Greece in 1962 when he hired Mary, then 17, as a nanny to his children Nadine and Nick, now 43, and nurse to his first wife, Thalia, who had multiple sclerosis. The family eventually returned to the U.S. Ten years later, as Thalia worsened, Mary came to the States and cared for her and the kids. "I loved them all so much, so much," Mary says. Five months after Thalia's death, in 1981—and with the children's blessing—Arion and Mary wed. Their passion is undimmed. Now walking without assistance and speaking normally, Mary still suffers some memory lapses. She was discharged from the hospital on Feb. 24, but Arion plans to keep up his journal.
On day 125, Valentine's Day, he summed up his devotion: "I love you for all you've been, for all that you are, for all that you'll ever be to me. I love you now and ever into the ages of ages...Your Arion."
Richard Jerome. Jane Sims Podesta in Bethesda