A triple-bypass to a new life.
When we first moved to North Andover, Massachusetts, in late summer 2002, I made an effort to make new friends. Easier tried than accomplished, even when you have something obvious in common. An ancient bent geezer down the street from us spent a whole afternoon talking about his and his family’s history in the area, fascinating stuff, full of wit and humor.
Then I ran into the fellow a few weeks later, hailed him by name, and found myself in the same conversation all over again, him having no clue who I was.
I used to walk our old dog Cody past one of the rented houses on the Edgewood Farm property. All winter long, at late dinner time, I saw a lady with a shining face and long gray hair, obviously talking to her counterpart at a small dining table.
“Boy, she looks nice,” I’d think.
The following summer, I passed that house, with its windows and doors standing wide open, and from inside I could hear a fiddler sawing away at “Soldier’s Joy.” I called out a greeting, walked in, and found a man of about my age with a droll grin and a moustache and a fiddle. That was Jim Walsh, the husband of that very nice looking lady, Susan, who is the only female steward at a major race track, Suffolk Downs. We are now all great pals.
But the one man I could never get to know I think of as the heart attack walker. You can find him every day maintaining a grim pace around the neighborhood, covering great distances, four and five miles at a pop. I’ve nodded and tried to start conversations many times, but no luck. Tramp, tramp, tramp goes the walker, in all weathers and lights, and I can only imagine his story.
It will soon be mine.
ON OCTOBER 20, I HAD A HEART ATTACK, serious enough that our neighborhood hospital could not handle it. They shipped me by high speed ambulance to Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Brookline, which cranks out bypass operations like a factory. My attack did not come on with a bang, the way it’s portrayed on TV — no, just a series of grinding little agonies taking place over a period of many hours.
“You’re having a heart attack right now,” I was told. And I was rapidly prepped for a triple bypass coronary operation, stripping a big vein out of my left leg, waking up with an oxygen mask on my face. I couldn’t get a breath high or low. My rehab sheet says, “The most important exercise is walking.”
I have a cane. I have to set goals every day. I have to work on getting about 20 extra fluid pounds off me, through hemodialysis.
“You have a new heart now,” says my wife Sally. “And you’re going to have to walk regularly to get it working.”
Tramp, tramp, tramp. I will soon be joining my unnamed neighbor. “Just give us 72-75 days’ worth of health,” my transplant coordinator in L.A. told me. Then we can get back on course for my kidney transplant. Excuse me a moment now. I have to go eat an apple. I’m expecting a phone call from an old friend in Chicago who has been through something similar. He’s in Boston now for a five-day bridge tournament.
MY FRIEND AND I FINALLY RANG OFF after an hour of conversation. We could have gone on all night.
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