Saturday, October 29, 2005


October 2005.

A heart attack! Who would have guessed? My entire existence was brought into question this month. An artery blocked not letting the blood get to the lower part of my heart. Time stopped. I could her Marcia talking to me but I couldn't respond. I couldn't even open my eyes to look at her. The paramedics arrived, got me in the ambulance and away to the hospital we go. They have a great emergency staff at Mission Saint Joseph Hospital. It was like watching a highly disciplined drill team. I was checked, prepped, looked over, and tested in ways I couldn't imagine. Finally stable, everyone went about other work while I lay on the gurney waiting for the cardiologist. Adrian, my oldest son was with me. Suddenly the wave came back, and Adrian got the nurse assigned to me. She was quick acting, reviewing the EKG, and shooting chemicals in the IV attached to my arm. Stable again, the cardiologist arrived a few minutes later. He pronounced the diagnosis of the emergency team accurate, and confirmed what I knew. A myocardial infarction is what the cardiologist called it. He meant heart attack, same thing.

My symptoms were not like any of the classical things we hear so much about. You know, the severe pain, elephant on your chest, pain in the left arm, I didn't have any of that.
My first clue, (even though I didn't get it), came about 2 weeks prior to the attack, and emergency room run. I was leaving my office late in the evening and as I walked toward the parking lot I got an excruciating, sharp pain just below my left shoulder blade, in my back. It lasted only for a couple of seconds, but then continued to feel sore. The next day at work I continued to get the same pain, only not as extreme, at different times in the day. I thought something was wrong with my shoulder. I made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon. The sharp pain finally subsided but there was continued soreness.
The orthopedic surgeon diagnosed the problem as bursitis and gave me a prescription for a joint pain medication.

Two weeks later, on a Saturday morning, I told Marcia, my wife, that I didn't feel very well, and that I was going to hang out in the garage, clean up a few small projects, nothing major. So that's what I did. In the evening I was sitting in my loft office, Marcia was downstairs cooking dinner, when suddenly I couldn't catch my breath. I began to feel nauseous, and was sweating. I got up from my desk and made my way over to the recliner, thinking that I may pass out. Marcia called out, sensing something was wrong. I couldn't get enough oxygen to answer her. She came upstairs, saw me and called 911. By this time I was sweating buckets, my clothes became soaked. In a very few minutes the first responders arrived, then the paramedics.

My point in telling this tale is, do not always expect the heart attack symptoms to be the things you hear most about. A nurse told me later as we were talking about my event that in her career she has heard people describe all sorts of various symptoms, but one thing is always the same, the sweating. If you have some weird symptoms combined with profuse sweating, call 911. It's better to be sent back home from the emergency room than to die wondering if you should call.

Friday, September 30, 2005

August in Western

August in Western
North Carolina
The summer skies burn.
A cavatina,
Of Thunder playing

Rain falls violently
Cool wind circles ‘round
Water on the ground
Like rushing rivers

Thunders’ chorus ends
Steam rises to meet
The bluing sky, sends
Waves of moist heated
Air so thick the lungs

Complain. Western North
Carolina in


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

"We need to get our will made out" Marcia would say to me. I always answered ok with some weak promise of tomorrow until one day she became very adamant about the whole thing and brow beat me into setting up an appointment with a lawyer her sister recommended.
A few weeks later we had completed the process and she was happy, and I discovered it didn't make any difference in the way I felt. Oh sure, I suppose I did feel some comfort in knowing that my few possessions would remain in the hands of my children rather than the state. But the fear I harbored for years about making out a will, passed.
I had always kind of felt that making a last will and testament was like the end of the story. There was nothing left after that. It's as if you finally admit your life is finite and that at some point you won't be able to divvy up the stuff your way. So now it's done. I'm wondering though, how will I know if it made any difference?

Monday, January 31, 2005

Facing Fear While Fasting

A three day fasting period prior to a colonoscopy had me worried a lot in the days leading up to the actual event. Why? A fear of not being able to control my appetite, a fear that something bad would turn up in the test, and a fear of the intrusion into my body.

During my lifetime I have never experienced a surgical procedure other than having my tonsils removed when I was 5 years old. Fifty two years of good health. I never wanted to be one of those people that had their bodies violated by a surgeon's steel at every little whim. We all know folks like that. Going to the hospital seems like a vacation for them and they even appear to look forward to those events. Not me. Hell, I don't even like to visit a hospital to see a sick friend. Being in that sterile environment, wondering what germs are lurking about that didn't get killed, thinking of someone else in control of my life and actions. Definitly not for me. But this is necessary, I told myself, and resolved to go through with it. Didn't say I wasn't afraid, only that I convinced myself it was necessary, even if something bad was discovered.

Have you ever noticed how many television commercials are about food? The first day into a fast, where all that could be consumed for three days was clear liquids, I became aware of how obsessed we Americans are with eating. No wonder we are a nation of obese people. The television keeps telling us over and over to eat, eat , eat. How many people do you see in the food commercials that are fat? None, zero, zippo. It's as if they are telling you eat this pizza everyday and you will be beautiful. All you have to do is sit around, watch television, eat, and everything will be ok. In one commericial they are telling you about a baby in a third world country starving, with a plea to send money, then in the next second, I guess to get your mind off of the saddnes of the baby, they show a commerical about how happy you'll be eating a candy bar. All you have to do is have a snack and the world will be wonderful again, problem solved. At about this time I remember that I haven't eaten in the past twelve hours, and while I hadn't thought about it in a while I realize, "damn I'm hungry." No solid food for two more days, but I can have lime jello. My dislike of jello is almost as great as my dislike of lime anything. But, I'm hungry, so I go to the fridge and get a cup of that disgusting green slimmy, wiggely snack that kids love, and eat it. Then three more just like it before thinking, "starving doesn't make this stuff taste any better," and I'm still hungry. It was at this point I thought of the gelatin substance found inside a canned ham, and how much jello reminded me of it. Now I'm angry because I just finished three cups of stuff that reminds me of the goop inside a canned ham. I always thought that stuff was pretty gross. I'm still hungry, but before that last television commercial about macaroni being eaten by skinny people, I was ok..

My youngest brother had colon cancer. He was 46 when he died. Not a very long life. I remember him telling me after the disease was first diagnosed, that he ignored the signs for a long time before finally seeing a doctor. He often noticed blood in his stool but attributed it to hemorroids. By the time he went for an examination the cancer had become advanced. He had part of his colon removed to try and get rid of the disease. He wore a colostomy bag after that. Man he hated that thing. He settled into weekly routines of chemotherapy. The chemo made him sick and weak so he wasn't able to work. After several months of this he started showing signs of improving. After about a year of periodic treatments and examinations his doctors told him the cancer was in remision. Soon their diagnosis was that the cancer was no longer detectable in his body. He was told he would only need to be examined every six months to ensure it stayed gone. He missed his second six month exam, making it more than a year before returning to the doctor for a checkup. During the time between his good report and his next checkup he became addicted to crack cocaine. That was a year of intense pain for our parents. Watching him win a major battle with a deadly disease only to have a different disease take over his life. Somehow dad finally convinced Jimmy to enter drug rehab and afterwards helped him get an appointment with the cancer clinic. Two years after finding out he had cancer, surgery, treatments, a clean report, then a period of wasting his second chance he learned he had a tumor growing in his lung. Turned out to be cancer. Probably linked to the original disease. Gradually it grew from the lung into his lymph nodes, and finally to his liver. After learning of the tumor he returned to the chemo treatments, every week. He was no longer active, spending most all his time in bed, except when he had to go to the hospital for treatments. He was consumed with self pity, and lost all interest in everything. Six years after the first diagnosis he died. I am afraid of this. I don't fear death because it is a natural process of life. I fear the cancer. I fear the possibility of giving up, the way my brother gave up. I fear the way this disease strips you of your independance, forcing you to endure the pity of others, driving you into a state of utter helplessness.

Fasting in preparation for my screening exam, I found myself fearing the results, but not knowing is worse, I decided. A polyp was found that was deemed to be in the very early stage of cancer. I am at risk. I will never give up, and will always be afraid.