This could be about Father’s Day or my birthday or science or all three. That' s my Dad on the left, and that good-looking, fair-haired boy at Mom's shoulder is me, back in 1962. Somewhere (somewhen?) down the line I skewed a lot more toward Dad. In the second photo, you see him a few years earlier. He rode his horse to work after what passed for a blizzard in Kennett. He probably could have gotten the car out, but rode the horse for fun. His law office was just north of the Ely Walker shirt factory there on the right. Love for horses was a big part of our lives.
When I was a little boy, I decided that from birth to thirty was young, thirty to sixty was middle aged, and above sixty was old. My father had his first heart attack at 59, second at 63 very close to four years later. His third and fatal attack was about six months later, a couple of weeks after his 64th birthday. I was twenty-nine then, and sixty-four seemed terribly old (much as it did when I first heard the Beatles singing about that advanced age).
Now I am sixty-four myself. I thought that my lifestyle would be proof against the heart disease my father suffered, but not so. I inherited his myopia, balding pate, knobby knees (“like a sack full of doorknobs”, as my mother said), tendency toward hernia, and coronary artery disease. There were many good things that I got from Dad, but the body stuff could have been better.
Chances are I’m going to outlive him by several years, but I had to cheat to do it. After his first heart attack, he was advised to have bypass surgery, but he refused it. The thought of having his chest split open like an oyster was too much for him, since they wouldn’t guarantee him longer life or immunity from another heart attack. I can’t help wondering how both our lives would have been different had he had access to today’s technology.
Twice now (about four years apart, like Dad) I’ve experienced chest pains and other harbingers of an impending heart attack. Both times a cardiac catheterization and dye study found dangerous (possibly deadly) blockages that were readily treated with a stent. This was my third cath, and I experienced no anxiety about it. Sort of, “Oh well, if I’ve got another blockage, I’ll get another stent.” Something along the order of getting my oil changed or tires rotated… well, maybe more like a new fuel pump. Just an hour’s drive to Jonesboro, relaxing in a nice room, and home again, home again, jiggety-jig. The things we take for granted… it's incredible.
This is truly a miraculous technology. Without it, you could superimpose my timeline on Dad’s. The difference being that I’ve had three overnight stays in the hospital and right back to work. He had two periods of recuperation that took months, and then the fatal attack.
There is always the potential for something to go wrong with the procedure, even fatally wrong. I have been fortunate to have mine go smoothly and have great results that allow me to continue working and enjoying life. Both are important to me. Like my father at sixty-four, I still have unfinished business to attend to.
I am very thankful for the good things my father gave me, and for this technology that has let me dodge the bullets that took his life at such a young age (as I now think, being of the same young age).
I see good friends stricken by cancer and betrayed by their bodies, imprisoned in useless vessels until they can pass on to the next adventure. Their plight had already made me resolve to be sure that each day I learn something, help someone, enjoy the natural world around me, and make some music. But for the medical miracle of this technology, I wouldn’t have had many days to live up to that. I would say that I am doubly grateful for the resolve and for the reprieve, but I don’t think double is strong enough. I am immeasurably grateful.
Don’t wait to see death on the face of a friend, or in the mirror. Love your family, love your friends, love life.