My life has few parallels with that of Bill Clinton, which is my loss more than his. However, his recent heart surgery brought our histories into synch in a few ways.
It was 10 years ago this month that I had the same kind of operation performed on me. I’m delighted to still be here, to tell about it.
Slick Willie and I had similar eating habits. Our mutual standard was this: If the food item was sweet, salty and contained fat, it was fit – nay, mandatory – to be eaten. In huge quantities. And fast.
Like Clinton, I also was a jogger – not a fanatic, but fairly persistent. I went huffing and puffing along the quiet side streets of Indian Rocks Beach for 20 years before my heart trouble showed itself. A third common denominator Clinton and I shared was a family history of heart disease. My mother began having heart seizures at age 48 and died within a dozen years.
So I was not greatly surprised when my turn in the barrel arrived. On a quiet morning in September 1994, I felt a rising pressure in my chest as I mowed my lawn. When I stopped mowing, the pressure subsided. When I resumed work, it immediately returned. Show time was finally here. The chickens had come home to roost.
I made a quick visit to my primary care physician, who listened to my tale and said, “You have just described classic angina. Let’s take some pictures.” A check-in at Morton Plant Hospital produced an angiogram that looked like a Rumanian road map. But a quintuple bypass would fix things. Hoorah.
On the night before surgery they sent me to the shower room with a bottle of brown liquid soap that made my skin pure and cuttable. My chief memory of the surgery was not pain, but baffled rage at all the tubes and attachments fastened to me. Next day a nurse said, “Get yass out of bed. Walk down the hall and back. Take the tubes with you.”
A few days later I was home. In the ensuing decade I have partly reformed my eating habits. I still work out at a fitness center twice a week. Even so, I weigh 35 pounds more than I should, and hate it. A few months ago a pacemaker was installed in my chest for an electrical problem unrelated to my bypass troubles. Generally, I feel good, optimistic, ready for another 10 years, but not boasting that I’ll make it. My main feeling is gratitude for the good doctors who attended me.
Bill Clinton and I learned the same lesson: Big-time heart trouble can sneak up on you with little warning. Does that mean that more Americans will now take heed, and give up the French fries and milk shakes?
Of course they will, at about the same rate that young lovers postpone sex because of the fear of pregnancy. Medicine keeps improving, but human nature mostly stays the same. So mote it be.