“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”

Pale yellow light bathed my hospital room as I tried to figure out in which direction my home was. Call it my training or whatever, but knowing which way is North always makes me feel better. I needed to do what I could to try to make more sense of the world because right then my personal gyroscope was malfunctioning. I had no real frame of reference to understand why I was there, and what had really happened.

I guess once they have severed and cooked and served you your perception of reality on a plate, you grasp any straw you can.

Double Big Mac Supersize Me. Nom nom nom.

Double Big Mac Supersize Me. Nom nom nom.

A heart attack. Un-buh-leave-ah-bel.  Un-f*-king-buh-leave-ah-bel. Morbidly obese people who chain-smoke and eat their Double Big Macs supersized with a barrel’o’coke have heart attacks. Frail old men who are at the end of their lives have heart attacks. And on the rare occasion, élite athletes who have doped, get heart attacks.

Yes, 48-year-old men can have heart attacks – but not this 48-year-old man.

I lay there beating myself up for almost 2 hours as I watched the sky lighten. Occasionally I became aware of my surroundings and wondered why my window provided such a shitty view of the inner bowels of the Hospital Courtyard. My only company was my new roommate’s snoring – the one I had yet to meet…no one is really friendly at 0430hrs. And as I found out later, no one even notices any noise on the floor – it is like hearing the sentry coming to wake you up for your 0200 -0300 hrs shift when deployed on manoeuvres. Your best bet is to pretend it’s a bear and play possum.

To add to the misery, I was starving, and there was no food forthcoming – I’d even take a cholesterol friendly rice cake. Breakfast may or may not show up – I was a late arrival at the starting gate so who knew.  And even though my mind was racing, I guess eventually even it had enough and so it shut down to let me doze off for a bit.

And later, after the new shift nurses took blood, my O2 levels, my temperature, my blood pressure, listened to my heart and lungs, made sure my legs weren’t swollen and I was not retaining water, I waited for someone to come and be with me. And then the day brightened and became more bearable the moment my wife walked in.

With a sheepish grin, I shrugged my shoulders and with my eyes said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry to introduce this steaming pile of dog doo into our lives.  I wish I could take it back.”

And her eyes and body and hug said, “You’re an idiot. It’s not about what has happened it’s about how we fix it.”

Things are always better when you’re with the one you love.

After what seemed a long time, because time drags on when you are wearing one of those ill-conceived gowns and your world is upside down, the Head Honcho of the

I love the beer....

I love the beer….

cardiology ward came in and chatted. His assessment was pretty fantastic! Yes, I had contributing factors – 10-15lbs, high normal cholesterol, ex-smoker, cream ales and red meat. But I had a lot of things going for me: I was a “runner”, an active fella, relatively healthy – I mean I aced the Forces’ fitness test (those in uniform can groan now); the only unknown was my ancestry.  As many find out, you can run from a lot of things, but you can’t run from your genes. But that is Act Four…

And we spoke. He was a runner, too, and a triathlete and he saw my numbers and my history and my chart and he was fairly confident. He talked about an angiogram – an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for your heart – and from what I gathered, an angioplasty and stent would probably be enough to take care of any nasty constrictions in my arteries. He ended with a chuckle and a grin, closing with how I might need to do things in a different way in the future and told my wife that I should be back and running in 30 days.  The angiogram was scheduled in 48 hours, on Monday, unless something changed.

So I settled in. With Wi-Fi and my laptop and Netflix, I was set for a slow but not necessarily an unpleasant weekend.  I would rather be home, enjoying a weekend with my lady, but if I had a coronary incident, it was playing out rather tamely. I realised that heart attack may be too strong a word; what I really had was a heart “skirmish”. Things were ok.

And then things got even better. Mid-afternoon, I learned someone had a critical heart attack and Team Angiogram, led by the “Interventionist” (yes, no kidding, that was the term used to describe the expert who does the angioplasty. I prefer “Master AngioPlaster”…but I keep thinking of Mr. Wolf of Pulp Fiction fame.) was coming in and that they would be able to “fit me” in immediately after. And if all went well, I would be able to catch Sunday Night Football and all would be right with world with some follow-up and good care. I felt a wee bit guilty that someone else’s critical heart attack was making me happy – but, hey, you take your small joys where you can.

This heart thing wasn’t turning out so bad after all. Not great, but not at all as dismal as I expected. The health system seemed to have responded very well to all our triglycerides and trans fats and sugars and stuff.

And not too long after I was prepared with a happy pill, locally anaesthetised and wheeled into the operating room. As is my nature, there was banter. In the space of 10 minutes the angio team and I had talked about running and half marathons and how it was surprise I was there and how it was probably going to be a quick in and out and how an angiogram worked and the steps of the angioplasty procedure and the mechanics of the stent and an overview of the anatomy of a heart. And because I had been given joy juice to ease the anxiety, I kept up with the conversation and probably even increased the revs by inserting questions to keep the conversation going because I was nervous and a little afraid of the unknown.

Well, it's a little smaller than this....

Well, it’s a little smaller than this….

The angiogram was a lot like watching a military drone fly over a target area. The heads up display board of six TV monitors provided vital stats, some sort of spatial referencing system, catheter status,  and then on one main screen, a picture of my heart.  That looked like a thermal image through a weapons system’s lens or a pregnancy ultrasound – depending on your experience you’ll get the essence. The Doc gave me an aerial tour of my heart and she explained it all.  But it was like the Enigma code to me; I could not understand any of it.  To tell the truth, I was really, really lost. The Grade 12 frog’s heart I dissected looked nothing like this.

The banter continued and then abruptly, it stopped.

“Hmmm…that’s interesting…”

Those words mean so much in so many contexts:

  • At home reading a magazine, it usually means, “Here’s an interior decorating idea we should use.”
  • About the internet it means, “we should try this restaurant”, or “let’s go see this movie.”
  • Amongst guys at the bar rail it means, “Sum up. Your story sucks.”

But in an operating room, while a cardiac interventionist is looking at your heart from inside your body, it sounds a lot like,

“Hmmm…you’re f*cked.”

And for three of four minutes she looked at my heart with all the intensity of a….of a… a….well,  with all the intensity of a heart surgeon, I guess.

And then she said, “you have a fair bit of arterial hardening.” And she showed me what can only be described as opaque lines in sea of billowing gossamer spider webs. I had no idea of scale or scope or whether it was the front of my heart of the back. I was hearing terms and references that were foreign to me. But this was my heart and I had to understand exactly what she was saying.

So I parroted back what I thought she was saying in terms in that I understood. And after that layman’s read back, I understood that while my major arteries were in fantastic shape, two smaller ones were heavily, and quite extensively, blocked.  At times all I heard was a Charlie Brown-like “bwah bwah bwah” as my mind scrambled frantically to understand what was being said.  Some words resonated, others didn’t:  heart disease, atypical, unique locations, awkward dispersion, angioplasty may not be the best option, must confer with my colleagues.

Wish mine looked this good...

Wish mine looked this good…

And all I could get was that this was now a whole lot more complicated and that I was not going to be a “quick patch and go”. There was no easy fix, no small stent, no going home quickly. No Sunday Night Football.

My heart skirmish was telling me that my heart was not just pissed at me…no, it was telling me any more bullshit and it was about ready to go on strike! I was not just a guy who suffered a scare – I had some serious heart disease. And running, or eating better, or cholesterol medicine, or happy thoughts weren’t going to fix this puppy.

I was crushed.


But much worse than before because after the first news there was hope this was might be easy. Now, as far as I knew, that easy road had been cratered. I had no idea what to tell my wife, or my kids, my family.  And I was speechless.

All I could hear was the Rod Serling voiceover “…the Twilight Zone, the Twilight Zone, the Twilight Zoen…” over and over again.

End of Act Three…

Later (like after my surgery and when my Tyrannosaurus Arms can use a keyboard again…),