One of my favorite quotes is from Will Rogers: “Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me, I want people to know why I look this way. I’ve traveled a long way and some of the roads weren’t paved.”
Like an old car, I have parts that don’t work as well as they once did. Two weeks ago I visited the doctor for a quarterly check to see that my parts were working, if not as they should, at least not worse than they did three months earlier.
Several years ago, as the Resident Nurse and I passed through Milford, PA, on the way home from New England, I received my first notice that I was no longer immortal. I probably never was but there was a time when convincing myself otherwise was an easy conversation. That night, standing beside I-84, the conversation became a bit more difficult.
I won the argument, and convinced myself the pain in my right armpit, the indigestion, and the momentary feeling of someone snugging a cargo strap around my chest were nothing to worry about.
Two days later, I was still worrying, and toddled over to the doctor to have it checked. Sure enough, I had had a heart attack. But it was a minor one, as heart attacks go. A friend had one the same day that resulted in a quadruple bypass. I have been ticking along just fine the past dozen years without any such repairs to the Primary Pump.
Fast Forward to Monday morning. I had just finished trimming the lawn around our trees and flowers when I discovered I was weak. I didn’t have even the energy to lie down and sleep. The Resident Nurse clapped a stethoscope to my chest, declared my heart was beating about 166 times a minute – except when it was shipping beats – and asked, “Should we go to the ER?” She looked at me as though daring me to say, “No.”
Two days of medication and monitoring, starting in the Intensive Care Unit, and it was time for a stress test, so called in part, I believe, because of the stress I put myself through studying for it…
I stepped aboard the electric sidewalk and started walking, on a 10 percent grade at almost two miles an hour. Three minutes later, it was a 12 percent grade at 2.5 mph, and no longer an easy stroll.
A steep hill on US 30 through the SouthMountains is only 7 percent.
The idea is to get the heart going fast and hard; if there is a problem, someone is there to see it happen.
I didn’t crash.
Then they shot pictures of the errant machinery. I had been dosed with some mildly radioactive stuff that made my heart glow in the dark. For 13 minutes. a rotating camera recorded images of my aging pump; a lack of recorded particles would mean part of it was not receiving blood. The one most critical piece of equipment in the body has no redundancy. When it fails, the rest of the machine…
My doctor said the only injury visible was that heart attack back in Oh-Two.
For the rest of my days aboard this planet I will be swallowing a couple tiny pills intended to keep the ol ‘ pump from overspeeding and blowing itself up.
There is a great bunch of folks at GettysburgHospital. Everyone – doctors, nurses, technicians, everyone – treated me as though I was the most important person in the world. I’m sure they do the same for everyone who shows up at their door in pain.
Certainly when I showed up with a misbehaving heart, they were the most important people in my world. Thanks, y’all.