Etta James’ “At Last” played from a smartphone speaker as the bride walked through the tulle-adorned hospital room door.
“Oh, wow,” said Joe Platt, the groom, three times, as his bride, Jackie, came into his hospital room.
This was not a typical wedding.
To begin with, marriages in a hospital aren’t common. There hasn’t been one at WakeMed’s Cary Hospital for a few years, officials say.
The couple also has been together for 42 years and decided to wed after Joe was diagnosed with a terminal respiratory illness.
“This is where I would normally offer couples that I marry words of advice.” said Lisa Koch, the WakeMed chaplain who officiated at Friday’s impromptu ceremony. She said she had never presided over a wedding in a hospital before.
“But I’ve never officiated a wedding with someone who’s had 40 years of togetherness,” Koch said.
The pair decided to get married on Wednesday. In less than 48 hours, nurses on the floor put together the room’s decorations, and the staff assembled a ceremony so quickly that the Platts’ four grown sons and seven grandsons weren’t able to attend.
Joe, 62, wore a black button-up shirt, complete with a rose boutonniere. Jackie, 59, wore a veil that draped over her floral dress.
The pair have been together ever since Joe followed Jackie home from a club one night when he was fresh out of high school.
Joe was an employee of WakeMed for seven years as a housekeeper, until 2007. The next time he came to the hospital, he had to be treated for a respiratory illness.
The past month has been a trying time, Jackie said. She has stayed with him in the hospital during his three intermittent visits. His current visit has lasted about eight days.
Joe said he can’t imagine life without Jackie, and her support during his time in the hospital has meant everything.
“She gave me the juice to go on,” Joe said.
She gave me the juice to go on.
The love is still apparent between the two of them.
“You’re still cute and pretty,” Joe said.
They hadn’t married before, simply because they had never gotten around to it. For those 42 years, the groom said, “She was always there.”
Before Friday afternoon, they had a common law marriage. With Joe in the hospital, they both said it was “just time” to make it official.
“Bless her heart, we got a chance to do it,” Joe said.
The Cary couple were surrounded by their hospital family Friday.
Stacy Richardson, his primary nurse, said patients like Joe are the reason she does her job. Kelly Radford, supervisor of the hospital’s medical/surgical intermediate care unit, knew Joe when he worked at WakeMed. She said he was always a “ray of sunshine.”
“Joe is very loved here.” Radford said. “He’s just like family.”
Joe loves the hospital staff who care for him just as much. He refers to the nursing staff who take care of him as “my girls.”
“God, it’s the best staff in the world,” he said.
He was in the Intensive Care Unit when he was first admitted; now he’s in the cardiac intermediate step-down unit. He’s stable at the moment, and the plan is to discharge him to a care facility.
He may be able to go home at some point, hospital staff said, although he’ll have limitations and will need to use oxygen.
But Friday, the attention was on giving the Platts their wedding ceremony.
Those in attendance laughed when Joe’s doctor had to remove a monitor clipped to his finger to slide on his wedding ring. The ceremony ended with the traditional invitation to kiss the bride, which Joe did. Soon after, hospital staff wheeled in a wedding cake, decorated with the words “Best Wishes.”
Joe said his best times with Jackie have been on the beach, or spending time with relatives. In an ideal world, Joe and Jackie would like to pack their bags and travel to visit family.
“That would be a good idea,” Joe said. “That’s what I want to do.”
Wildeman: 919-829-4845, @mkwildeman