By Richard E. Peck
The results of my annual physical exam? A clean bill of health: low cholesterol level, low/normal blood pressure, low triglycerides (whatever they are), spotless X rays … all followed shortly by a heart attack.
Since my doctor is impressively expensive, how could I doubt him? The test results he read to me were obviously mine. It was the heart attack that belonged to someone else. If it weren’t for the honor of it, I’d just as soon have skipped the whole thing.
As a conversation squelcher, a heart attack ranks right up there with wheel alignments, acne, and your nephew making the “wait list” at Kutztown State College.
In fact no one calls it a heart attack; they call it your “ummmm.” As in “How do you feel since your . . . ummmm?” Friends say comforting things like, “My, you look natural. Just as life‑like and . . . ummmm,” or “Should you really be out of bed, so soon after your . . . ummmm?”
I’m not complaining, just offering observations. Among them, observation #1 says that a silent heart attack is a waste of time. Unless you can display high color, bulging eyes or chest scars, no one believes you’ve experienced anything worse than indigestion. They smirk and mumble cryptic comments about “stealing a little extra vacation, right?” (Clutching at your chest and wheezing cuts them off in mid‑smirk.)
Observation #2. Everyone has a relative who experienced an identical attack, and he “lived to be 50.” (Pointing out that you passed 50 long ago shortens this conversation, too.)
Observation #3: Each bit of advice has its exact, contradictory opposite. Nutrition for Healthy Hearts, a book sent by a friend, approves of a HIGH cholesterol diet, as long as it’s vitamin E‑enriched, though your doctor advises otherwise. For each advocate of bed‑rest you can find someone who attributes his own amazing good health to handball or pumping iron.
Observation #4: Your jogging friend — every family has one, admit it or not; just as every family has a “poor Aunt Millie” or a spot beside the palm tree where nothing will grow — your jogging friend pants out his advice as he lumbers past: “Every hour you jog adds another hour to your life.”
The problem is, he wants you to jog that hour TODAY, so you can add an hour of rocking chair time in March of 2047.
Observation #5: Some advice seems suspect. “Nitroglycerin under your tongue can blow out your fillings.” “Never raise your hands above your shoulders!” (Following this advice creates grotesque postures when you comb your hair). And most imaginative: “Always climb stairs backward. Your heart will think you’re going DOWN the stairs, so the strain is less.”
But, though you listen to all this contradictory, well‑meant advice, it’s the doctor you pay most attention to. My cardiologist claimed that one of his patients, only three years past a myocardial infarction more serious than mine, finished the Boston marathon. Why he even started the Boston marathon, the doctor didn’t say. The story proves, the doctor said, “You’ll be able to work up to whatever level of physical activity you want.”
My answer was instantaneous. I want strength enough to type … when I’m eighty‑five. Energy enough to chew, now and then. And the ability to remember sex.
We’re working on it.
- Richard E. Peck is a part-time Kaua‘i resident and a retired president of three universities. He has written numerous books, plays, columns and TV shows, and his work can be seen at www.richardepeck.com.