Late one Saturday night in May of 1998, while managing a group of radio stations in Youngstown, Ohio, I felt a wild tickling in my chest. It wasn't remotely painful and might even have been considered mildly pleasurable were it not for the fact that my dad had died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 52. Such family history made me more cognizant of potential personal peril in this area than otherwise may have been the case. This saved my life.
With complete blockage of two main coronary arteries and dangerously high percentages on two others, a ten-hour quadruple bypass bought me a measure of time long enough to see 11 grandchildren (each one smarter than the other ten) grow and flourish.
These last 14 years also witnessed abandonment of a three pack a day cigarette habit, the adoption of much healthier dietary practices and, most unbelievable of all, the loss of over 40 pounds of waddling weight through regularly daily exercise. That's me you see on Stage Coach Road (425A) every weekday morning from Live Oak right up to the fence and back. Coming down is easier than going up. And, even though I've never felt better, I regularly undergo annual stress testing. This time, that's what saved my life.
Spotting an almost undetectable aberration, my cardiologist explained that, although there was a computer generated analysis predicting only 5% blockage, there was "something that bothered him" and a full angiogram study was worth of serious consideration. This soon proved that the practice of medicine is, in its finest form, a combination of both art and science. I herein thank my son-in-law, Richard Seiling, for this insightful observation.
For those unacquainted, I should briefly mention that an angiogram is no casual walk in the park, day at the beach or teddy bears' picnic. One is securely strapped down as a needle and thin tube are run straight up into your heart for the insertion of telltale dye. Then they shoot interior pictures, but you don't have to smile.
On May 23, Eileen and I celebrated our 48th wedding anniversary with a trip down the hill to St. Agnes Hospital and a rendezvous with a most prescient Dr. Michael Gen and his merry band of astoundingly professional assistants.
The following is personal correspondence I just sent to family and friends:
"I have returned from an unexpected overnight stay at St. Agnes Hospital in Fresno after a fortuitous angiogram yesterday morning revealed over 90% blockage in my left anterior descending artery, more popularly known as "The Widow Maker." This precipitated the insertion of two stints and a more careful study of the rest of the heart. Bottom line seems to be that my 1998 Youngstown bypass now is pretty much shot, with three of the four grafts completely gone and a fourth barely functioning. There is the possibly of yet another stint in the not too distant future. I'll know more after my next appointment June 14th. C'est la vie. So, the great news is that a completely unsuspected and immediate "LAD" threat is enormously diminished, but the concerning news is that I'm now told I must have experienced a "silent heart attack" sometime in the last few years as the Youngstown bypasses collapsed, rendering around 10% of my heart "deadened."
And that's what initially freaked me out the most. A silent heart attack? Yes, and the stunningly attractive administrative associate who detailed the situation offered -- in explanation -- these exact words, "Dead meat -- no beat!" Honest! I feel much better now, having been assured that the initial graphic image of an ancient cheeseburger lying a-moldering in my chest like John Brown's body has been thoroughly dispelled and that "no longer functional muscle tissue" (my words) has been more or less absorbed by a comparatively healthy surrounding environment.
And so here I am as the beat goes on, still crazy after all these years (along with Paul Simon), hoping this testimony might remind all of us (myself included) that all those things it takes time to learn and accept are extraordinarily important in such lives as we lead. And yet when the end must come, I still fantasize blissfully toppling down into eternity from the towering heights of a well-worn bar stool, my face on the floor frozen in lasting, perpetual, satiated smile. But that's me -- reserving the right to -- upon ever more age limiting occasions -- not practice what I preach.