September 18, 2009

Don't Try This At Home

The following post was originally posted
Sunday, August 26, 2007
It has been two years three months and twenty two days since that night.  I count my blessings I can still do all the things I love to do.  I still need to exercise more and lose that extra twenty lbs, but its good being on the green side of the grave.  I would like to thank all the wonderful people who have written to my blogs, commenting on what I write. Thank you Rachel in CA for your wonderful words.  I'm sending out positive energy to you and  your family.  There is always a light if look long enough.  Even when darkness threatens to press in from all sides, there is light.  There is light in the beauty of a smile, in the child that looks for comfort, in the animals who share our houses and give only love,  This is a story of survival in the face of that darkness.

One of the things I have learned this summer is that I would not recommend having a heart attack while flying. Now I'm not totally sure that was when it all happened, but I do know I had a heart attack sometime between 7:00 Thursday evening and 10:00 Friday evening when I checked myself into the emergency ward of the local hospital outside of Atlanta.

As I explained earlier, I have been feeling lousy since the Thursday evening, in mounting waves of discomfort, nausea, cold sweats, shortness of breath, and this incredible feeling that my lungs were on fire, and every breath I took was increasingly difficult. My good friend (best man to be precise) Broadway Sol Goodman and I had left his apartment in Long Island City headed to the airport by subway first.

"This is the right line for JFK", he said. I said the ticket says La Guardia. Ooops... We exited the station and crossed the street, finding the right line to take us closer to La Guardia. Even though I was travelling light, the weight of the baggage, the humidity, and what I later learned was the symptoms of a heart attack, started to weigh on me.

I started the game we have all played of making deals with God. Just get me to ____, and I'll _____. We start small with "get me to the bus to the airport", then "get me to the airport check-in", then "get me through the check-in". Anything in the baggage, sir? Let me see, when should I tell someone that I might be having a major health crisis?

I move on to the airport bar, which is very full, this being Memorial Day weekend in America. I contemplate what kind of food goes best with a major health crisis, and decide that beer is what has got me this far, so it should be good enough to help me get where I need to go.

In America, nothing is done half-ass, except perhaps wading into a hornet's nest of blood hatred in the land of sand and oil like a drunk at a kid's pinata. The beer was gigantic, but even with my major health crisis, I was able to get most of it down. Not all of it, which shows that something was definitely going wrong for me.I made my way to the boarding gate for cheap flight from NYC to Atlanta. My nephew (and godson) had become a high school dad, and they were having a baptism for his son. I was totally pleased with my week long stay in NY with my best bud; we had turned the clock back so far that a spring had sprung. But I was looking forward to getting to Atlanta and being with my family. My mother had surprised all of us by booking herself a ticket to join in the fun, and my sister was coming from Toronto where she had been on business. It looked to be a great finish to what was already one of my best vacations. Too bad I couldn't breathe.

The lounge for departure was overfull, with many people hanging around trying to get home on a standby ticket. Standby, as the very funny Indian ticket agent informed all who cared to listen, was what you had to do when waiting to see if someone might not show up. If they all show up, then you keep standing. One guy was told that it was likely he would be there until Monday (this was Friday). Even though I had a ticket, my fear was that I would be left behind in this hot, humid, stinky departure lounge suffering from what I did know for the next few days. Finally, the plane boarded, and I found my seat. They informed us that just as soon as everybody got on and we were able to leave, they would then turn on the air conditioning. Until then children, you are all to sit and sweat and enjoy the fact that you were flying for next to free.

All very well except that every moment I am having to making bigger deals with God just to get me to Atlanta. I thought maybe I had come down with pneumonia since I had that in 1989, and the feelings in my lungs were similar. I tried concentrating on my breathing, concentrating on how an extremely tall black man with a ipod could actually fit into one of these sardine size airline seats next to me. He was prepared with his tunes for the trip and all I could do was hope to hear some kind audio exhaust; alas, his earphones were top quality, and no leakage of the tunage was possible.

It's amazing just how long an hour and a half flight can be when you are having a heart attack. The deals were made with God and Devil and I landed in Atlanta drenched in my own bodily liquids. I turned my cell phone on, and my sister let me know that they were waiting for both me and my mother, who was fortuitously coming in about ten minutes after my flight. I informed her that I was feeling majorly lousy, and not to expect the party animal I can be.

The airport in Atlanta is so big that they have a subway train that takes you from the gates to the baggage area. I made it to the train, and held on for dear life, getting to the baggage area and my waiting family. We picked up my mother and headed in airconditioned SUV to suburban Atlanta. It felt so good to be off the plane and among my family, that the symptoms of the heart attack ebbed until I arrived at my sister's beautiful house. I told them I thought maybe I had pneumonia and they hooked me up with some killer antibiotics that reported killed the walking pneumonia. They apparently were not so effective for myocardial infarctions. After a tour of the house and up the stairs to the deck, I informed my brother-in-law that perhaps it was the "widowmaker", a term I had picked up after reading the great Joan Didion book, A Year of Magical Thinking. My brother-in-law said if that is what you feel, you should get it checked out. I called the 1-800 number on my extended health care card and they said if you are having chest pains, get thee to a hospital, dummy. OK, they didn't say dummy, but by now, that is what I was thinking. As I was told later at the hospital, I was extremely lucky that I was still living.

Posted by dense milt at 12:21 PM 0 comments Posted by Dense Milt at 12:22 AM 0 comments Links to this post

September 13, 2009

Like drowning in your own body

In April of 2006, my father died of congestive heart failure. Congestive heart failure is like drowning in your own body. The body produces more and more fluids and cannot get rid of them. This puts strain on the heart, which lacks the power to pump all the blood, causing more fluid to collect, making the heart work even harder until finally, the day comes when it can work no more, and you drown in your own body.
From 1979: (I was mad at dad when I wrote this poem)

the heart: it chokes the lodger in my throat
the father a man but not a family man
his love his company his children his interest
his use of vocabulary was economical
his power unconscious
he was not a bank,he said.
he said he was not a bank.

the heart: it chokes the lodger in my throat.
dense milt 1979

Despite the feelings this poem recalls from almost thirty years ago, my father and I had grown close as he neared the end of his life. My sister and I had travelled to visit him on what turned out to be his last day. His knees were the size of thighs, and his body was heavy and full of fluids. His breath was laboured, and he drifted in and out of full coherence. Still, he knew we were there. I don't remember him smiling, or having words of wisdom to impart. He was in pain, and he knew that he was dying. At one point, he wanted to go to the bathroom, so we helped him up and started to guide him to the toilet. He was really out of it though, and started to stumble. I was trying to hold him up, but he ain't heavy, he's my father. The weight was simply too much for me to keep him vertical. This is why they call it "dead weight". My sister went to get nurses to help, and it took about 4 or 5 of them (and these were all big overweight American nurses) to lift him and get him back to his bed. From then on, they told him that it was bedpans or diapers as he would not be allowed to go on his own.
Knowing the force and pride of this man, I knew this was not in his plans. It seemed that he would not be long for our world. We said our goodbyes, and he held my hand and thanked us for coming. I remember the feeling of my father's hands. Like other hands of his generation, they were the hands of men who worked with their hands- bigger, meatier than hands today. Our relationship which had not always been so close, had changed (for the better) with the birth of my daughter.
Growing up, my dad was often "not there" for me. I grew up thinking that somehow this was my fault, but found out after he died, when I had the opportunity to spend some time with my second oldest brother, that my father had not been there for him either. He related stories of my mother getting him up to go for hockey practices on the other side of town in the nether hours of the morning. He would take the bus on his own. Where was my dad in this? Probably in bed, although it was entirely possible that he could have been active in coaching other people's kids as he was always more comfortable in the company of strangers.
About a month before he died, I woke early in the morning to the type of dream where you are almost conscious. Your dream plays like a movie, and you are the director. My dad had become a very good grandfather; he was much better at that than being a dad to us. He was always telling his grandkids wild stories of his youth. We would listen as he told us how he was taking this girl home up on Dunbar St, then discovering he didn't have fare for the bus, and had to walk all the way back to east Vancouver. He stopped at the Aristocrat on Broadway and Granville as he had enough for a coffee, and met up with a neighbourhood celebrity who was a prize fighter. The prize fighter asked Freddie (my dad) what he was up to, and he said he was on his way home. The fighter said hang with me for the rest of the night and I'll get you home. He then gave my dad a giant roll of money to hold for him, as they embarked on a crawl of epic proportions through the many afterhour places of ill repute. This, like the Johnny Cash story, was only one of his stories. There were many, and they seemed to improve upon each telling. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. As my father neared his death, I worried that his stories would die with him. I thought what about all the ones he had yet to get to telling; no one would ever hear them again.
As I lay dreaming, I reasoned that I was created from dna that came from my father. Perhaps memory could be stored in dna, then if I could just concentrate hard enough, maybe I would be able to tap into his dna inside of me and "remember" all the stories that he knew but had not had the time to tell. I remember trying very hard to drift back. Just as the memories started to flood back, I awoke and once again they were lost.
Posted by dense milt at 12:24 AM