Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Second Chance Dance Begins

Cousin Billy taught me my first Buddy Holly song on guitar. Billy would pass from a sudden heart attack while puffing on a cigarette sitting on the edge of his bed one morning. Cousin John ,who was like an older brother, played basketball like Pistol Pete. John’s ticker gave way while coaching his son at courtside.A weak heart sidelined his own basketball career. They say he was a transplant candidate .His sister ,Clare, passed for a similar reason years later.We had dinner with Clare and her husband one night while we were on vacation in Orlando. We came home to Jersey the next day to hear the news that she was gone. I turned right around back to Florida.

Cousin John and Clare's mom, my dad's sister, also passed because of some heart condition. Their father died in his sleep before they left and their neice,my cousin Christine, died of heart problems while giving birth.

My dad ,an overweight,smoker, drinker, butter and salt on everything eater just had one chance. I got that call we are always afraid to get. It was the middle of the night right after the Americans had experienced a miracle at Lake Placid by defeating the Russians in ice hockey at the 1980 Winter Olympics. No one expected the Americans to win. It was also the night Ginny,my wife, and I reconciled after being separated for a few months .It was three nights before my thirty second birthday and seven days before I would run my first marathon. It was a night to be remembered.No one expected this phone call or this incident. First my mother was on the phone and then a police officer who just said if I live nearby to come down quick. I expected a miracle but I didn't pray much then. When we finally arrived at my mother and father's house our fears were realized, dad was gone.

I was told I had a heart murmur as a kid but it went away and wouldn't be an issue. Obviously Sgt Pepper had nothing on my family!

Uncle Herb, a relative in name alone, and Good Ole Pete were mentors to me in the ways of consulting and the journey of the soul. I had very unusual enlightened blended conversations with them separately and never knew what to expect. Herb worked 24/7 ,made a lot of money, dieted on snickers and eggs benedict which he called “bullets of death.”He was right about the name of that delicacy. He had a quadruple by-pass and 15 years later his heart gave up on Good Friday. My girls ,who knew and loved him, wondered if Herb expected to comeback again that following Easter Sunday.

Pete on the other hand had by-passess , stints and a pacemaker. Ginny,my wife, wondered if I had selected a good profession as I was a consultant like Pete and Herb. One night while on a retreat the "Spirituality of Work" with Pete there was a knock on my door and Pete collapsed in my arms whispering to take the tiny nitroglycerin tablet and place under his tongue. Little did I know then that years later I too would eventually carry my own tablets. Once in Tulsa Pete and I were dining with a client in a Mexican restaurant. At dinner suddenly Pete stood straight up ,and collapsed backwards. In a flash a patron was at his side rubbing Pete's chest and whispering in his ear. The patron said he was a doctor and asked if Pete had a pacemaker. He looked at Pete’s place at the table and saw the half empty frozen margarita. The patron ,a local doctor, said Pete had frozen his pacemaker. Pete and I shared many cigarettes and adult beverages together over the years until the day they couldn’t place any more stints in him and the pacemaker gave way.

It's a small world isn't it.? No too long ago I met with the man who's company invented arterial stints. As a matter of fact he built his company's headquarters just minutes from my sister's home in Santa Rosa, California.Did I mention that my sister has had heart fibrilations? Then there's my mother who didn't want to worry her children when she went in the hospital to have an arterial stint put in her. She rationalized that it was an outpatient procedure. But then she also get's upset if we don't call or visit her regularly.

Now Brad,who was a former client and now good friend, gave me the bad news on the third hole on a round of golf. He needed a new heart. His original one was at 15%. We didn’t laugh that much that day.I told my friend Les,who had once been Uncle Herb’s business partner, about Brad’s plight and Les called his rock star cardiologist, "the Doc." I had heard story upon story about "the Doc" that would fill a book. The Doc saw Brad and and corrected the diagnosis and had a pacemaker and fibrilator placed in Brad’s chest. Brad did not need a transplant.A few years have gone by now and Brad’s still alive with his wife living in Arizona.

Years after dad’s passing I was playing golf in Princeton with Bernie , a good friend and the man I ran my first marathon with 28 years earlier. During my second shot about 170 yards from the green and over some trees I took out my seven iron and tried to place it over the trees . After a high arching back swing I mishit the ball which found its way on a line drive through the trees right to where I had planned to place it. What I had not planned was the pain that suddenly raced across my chest.Some gorilla must have stepped my chest while I wasn't looking. It could also have been a muscle pull as I tried so hard with the shot. Maybe it was the horrible hot dog I gobbled down before the first tee-shot. A little light headed at first I smoked a Cohiba and finished the round. Afterwards I met up with Lindsay,my oldest daughter, and her boyfriend Joe at a Mexican restaurant and the frozen margarita seemed to bring back the chest pain. I knew I didn’t have to worry about freezing a pacemaker as I had none. Lindsay was worried and I became concerned. Two days later I saw my doctor who sent me to a cardiologist who had the bedside manner of an undertaker in the Good the Bad and The Ugly.A friend,Hal,in Providence just had a stints put in and he spoke to me with faith and encouragement. So I made a call to Les about my circumstance and without hesitation he called good ole Doc and before you know it I was in to see the doc the same day. We spoke about the C.O.U.R.A.G.E. trials of treating my condition with meds and diet and scheduled an angioplasty and the prospect of possible stents. But on the day of the procedure the Doc looked and decided against stints. He said I had “rusty pipes” and a by-pass was in order as he consoled Ginny with a hand on her shoulder. This was one of those time where my brown -eyed comapnaion showed some emaotion and concern .Doc said he had already called the best surgeon in town to look at the films of his procedure and to talk about what he would do,how and why. I was about to be invited to the second chance dance.

The surgeon said that I could have the CABG(by-pass surgery) right away or wait a year. The problem was that the family and I were about to see Bruce Springsteen at Giants Stadium as my sixtieth birthday gift and then Linds and I were to go to Boston to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox play. I asked if it was ok to schedule the surgery the day after the return from Boston. Leigh,my second daughter, also wanted me to have the operation before she returned to college in the fall.She didn't want to worry while away at school. The surgeon put in a call and voila the appointment was made. So the new journey , a new adventure would begin. I accepted my invitation begin the writing songs of the second chance dance.

I never wanted to forget....forget the emotions, prayers and experiences that engulfed me before, during and after the bypass surgery. So I started to write. I was finishing a book I had been working on for two years and put it aside to begin to assemble my reflections in poems and a few short narratives about my recent experience. Most of these pieces in this blog are about how I felt,prayed and reacted during that time. Family,friends, life, work and my odyssey would become center pieces to these reflections. So here they are. Included are also reflections from another book I have written and excerpts from other commentaries and conjectures.


No comments:

Post a Comment