Happy Heart Attack Anniversary…Almost

English: Skull and crossbones
English: Skull and crossbones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As it gets closer to the one year anniversary of my heart attack and near-death experience, I find myself  in that state of cautious anticipation at night before sleep. The one where any little twinge in the chest or forearms – it was agonising pain in my forearms and hands that presaged my heart attack – and I will lie awake for hours waiting to see if I am going to have a revisitation to the most pain I’ve ever felt in my life.

Another anniversary date is also approaching, it has almost been a year since my blog was Freshly Pressed. An event that occurred just four days before my heart attack. Interestingly enough, that anniversary has none of the wariness and fear that the other one has.

I was lucky in a sense that after my two emergency surgeries – that for the record, kicked my ass – I was in such an exhausted and doped up state that I had no problem sleeping. I was so messed up that I found that one night I had squashed a good sized spider to death by apparently rolling over it. When I found the poor critter’s carcass the next morning my only reaction was to dispose of its body.

The first few months of my recuperation are a blur of pain from a lower back injury sustained at my previous job as a prison officer and the subsequent steroidal injections just a week before the heart attack that made the pain worse instead of alleviating it.  Shambling to the bus stop that is only a 20 second walk from my front door, stopping no less than seven times, heart pounding and head swimming from the pain.

The slow process of increasing my walking distance each day and feeling like I had a sign on my back that said,  “Mug Me I am Helpless.”  During that time period I was given an early retirement from my job with Her Majesty’s Prison Service and was in financial dire straits. It was not a great time, but apart from the stresses from my life changing event, I was shocked to find out just how close to death I’d actually been.

I had come to grips with that a little while back. I was sleeping like a baby at night and had increased my “usual” sleeping time from four hours a night to eight and over. It is only recently that I have had problems dropping off and fighting the panic that these unknown twinges evoke.

In my old job, the mental health folks who dealt with the prisoners (aka psychiatric types) used to talk about triggers and anniversary dates as being a normal thing for people to experience and in-turn, these two things affected how people reacted to things. While not a prisoner, I’m finding myself back to the time when the terror of an unknown pain could keep me up for hours.

This trigger will pass, just as surely as the anniversary of my heart attack will come and then go.  While time rushes on in the greater scheme of things, the minutiae of our lives trudges along with all the intensity of a turtle trudging resolutely against that fast footed rabbit that is our life. I, like many others have to fight against that irrational fear of the grim reaper calling again so soon.

For as resilient as the human body is, like the old Timex adverts it can take a licking and keep on ticking, we all have a limited warranty in the area of the body’s  almost magical ability to heal itself. As we get older, besides the obligatory aches and pains that increased age brings about, the parts of our machine get worn, old defects that we never noticed before suddenly leap to the forefront screaming, “Look at me!”

As we all reach that age where our mortality is shoved, sometimes brutally, in our face we have to accept that, like everyone else in the world, we owe a death. It is a debt that we all must pay, as Katherine Hepburn used to say, “Of course life is hard, it kills you.” But I have not yet reached the age where I can look back over my life and say, “I’m okay with dying right now, I’ve lead a good life and won’t complain when it is time to pay my dues for a life lived.”

I do not think that such an age exists for the average person. I believe that none of us are ready to shuffle off this mortal coil. Most people fight the grim reaper with whatever strength they have left. Some, who have been in pain for so long that they welcome it, are of a different ilk. Suffering for any amount of time is tiring and soul destroying. I thank God, or whoever is in charge, that I have not had unbelievable pain for longer than the 5 hours  or so that I was conscious before my heart surgery.

I admit that it is only at night, in the quiet hours, that I’ve had a revisitation of the alarm that came once I’d gotten out of my exhausted stage of post surgery. The daytime is full of more things to do than I have time for and that is a blessing. This anniversary heart attack trigger, my almost one year anniversary, will pass soon enough. Until then, I’ll lay in bed at night listening to my body and sweating every time something feels “wrong” in the areas that my body remembers from the heart attack.   During the day, I’ll keep writing the articles for the paper, doing posts for my blog and trying to fit everything else in around the two.

Happy heart attack ‘almost’ anniversary to me.

Thumbs up!
Still here and damned glad! Self-photo

Michael Smith

United kingdom

22 August, 2013

‘Cause it’s Your Birthday…

For the love of all that’s holy! Don’t blow those candles out!

I sit here this morning on the day that is officially the day I turn 54. For the past few years I’ve always shared the same status on the day of my birth.

‘So this is what it’s like to be (fill in age here). *puts finger out from under cover and makes pinching gesture* Feels the same.’

Well, I can’t do that this year. My 53rd year was so event filled that anything after that has got to feel different.

There is an old saying that goes something like this, “Life is what happens while you’re making plans for something else.’ [sic] I have discovered that is true. Everything that happened this year, happened while I was making plans for other things.

Life changing things.

Can you feel the irony in that statement? Probably not if you aren’t aware of how completely SNAFU or FUBAR (military acronyms, just Google the terms if you need a direct translation) my 53rd year has been.

Suffice to say, the only two constants in my life are my daughter and my blog. Of course including my blog also includes all the wonderful folks I’ve met through the WordPress site.

There will be some folks who read the above paragraph and grumble, “Hey ass-hole, why don’t I count as a constant in your life? Aren’t I a: colleague, friend, relative, twitter-pal, facebook friend, YouTube subscriber? I could go on listing the folks that I interact with on a daily and not so daily basis.

But the key word in both the statement and the question is ‘constant.’ “Do ye ken?” As they say in Scotland. Constant meaning that no matter what level of interaction, these two things remain the same. Got it? Right, time to move on then.

Because I am still in recovery mode from my latest gift bestowed upon me by the number 53  (sorry I just kind of slid into Sesame Street for a minute) I cannot really make plans apart from immediate ones.

Getting to where I can walk a bit further each day. Going to the many different medical appointments and the cardio exercise classes. Everything I am planning is on a ‘step by step’ basis. Some of these steps are just as ‘life changing’ as before, but, in a different sense.

Due to the nature of my last gift, everything has changed. The lady at the hospital did ask me if I was ready for my ‘new’ life. I really did not know how accurate that question was.

I have learned one very good lesson this past year. A lesson that you would think I had learned already being just a little over a half-century old. The lesson is actually two-fold.

The wise old sage takes a power nap before solving the world’s problems.

Don’t get angry. Not only is this a colossal waste of time, it show a side of your character that weakens you and detracts from who you really are. Don’t complain. This also falls into the ‘colossal waste of time’ category. I remember grumbling non-stop when I was recovering from my back injury earlier this year.

I was annoyed at how painful and slow my walking was and how long it took to walk to the Tesco’s Metro from my house. Behold a few months later (figuratively speaking) and now I can’t even walk to the bus stop just outside my house without stopping for a break. The Metro? Uh-uh, no way Jose, not happening.

I used to joke that while I was gimping around with the back injury I should have a sign on my back that said, ‘World’s easiest mugging victim here.’  Now I don’t think I even need a sign, my gait and snail-like pace says it all.

I have learned one thing though. It was re-enforced yesterday in my first visit to the cardiologist since my surgery, emergency and otherwise, I am a fast healer. The doctor repeatedly reminded me that all this had only happened three and a half weeks ago. My overall recovery rate is off the chart.

So my new catchphrase for my 54th year is look ahead. Just those two words and all their limited meaning will suffice, I think. If I don’t waste too much time worrying about the things that are ‘life changing’ or stressful, or time wasting. I can just look ahead to the next thing I need to do.

Sometimes looking ahead requires that we look back. Not too far though! That way lies madness my friend. A little introspection is good for the soul, a lot is not. Just trust me on this one. Okay? I have been around for well over a half-century you know.

So for the immediate future I will focus on the things that need to be done to move forward. The simple things, like getting my car sorted. I’m not sure what happened to it. I don’t know if it went into a decline because it missed me  while I was gone or if I left something on to drain the poor old girl dry. (personally I think the latter is more likely)

Once that is done, I’ll focus on getting me sorted. The process of taking a few steps more each day and eating properly. Doing the  limited sort of introspection necessary to insure I’m not repeating past mistakes. Most importantly though, I’ll be taking my time on the things that need ‘long-term’ changing.

I came face to face with my own mortality this year and that in itself is a life changing event. One that, if you’ll forgive me, I’m not in a hurry to repeat. I also found out that unlike a few short years ago, I did and do not fear the reaper.

He’ll come for me when he’s ready and I’ll react the same way.  I’ll fight to keep what I deem as mine and he will either win or not.

He’s gonna get mighty lonely up there…

Playing with the Grim Reaper or Babes in Hollywood-Land Part Three

Grim Reaper (advertisement)
Grim Reaper (advertisement) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My wife had gotten a job with the Salt Shaker Restaurant near the Pasadena Convention Centre. It was working as a waitress on the ‘graveyard shift’ from ten thirty at night till five thirty the next morning. The pay was pretty good and the tips weren’t bad either. The only draw back was that we didn’t have a car, so I walked her to work every night. We couldn’t really afford a car so we decided to ‘hoof it’ everywhere that was reasonably close and use the bus for the longer jaunts.

In the meantime, I had let my hair grow and I’d grown a moustache and a goatee. I hadn’t gotten a job yet. I was applying for just about everything that had cropped up with little success. I was also trying to figure out how to get into the entertainment business. I talked to Martin’s fiancée Lillian. She had worked as a model and was full of suggestions on how to get work as an actor. Her first suggestion was to check out the Pasadena Amateur Theatre scene.

I went to the Pasadena Playhouse and asked about auditions for their next Am Dram. They took my details and explained that I would be responsible for  supplying my own wardrobe, make-up and that I would have to pay a ‘fee’ to be considered for any auditions in future. I was also told that agents frequently attended their performances so it was a good place to get noticed.

I was a little concerned. Back home wardrobe and make-up were provided by the Theatre and we didn’t pay any fees. I was in a completely different world in California and one where I couldn’t afford to even join an amateur group. I would have to re-think my options.

I had gotten into a regular routine and route when I walked my wife to work each night. We would walk down past the Southwestern Bell building and take the next left, walk straight up till we passed the convention centre and then the restaurant. I would drop her off and then either repeat the journey in reverse or walk up towards the Pasadena Hilton on South Los Robles Avenue.

I started going the Hilton way regularly. The main reason was that if I took the route that went back by Southwestern Bell, I would invariably bump into a pimp and his three or four ladies who hung out on the street  corner across from the Bell building. The first time it happened, I was amused and surprised and, let’s face it, a little shocked.

I mean this tall thin black man with the ‘lollipop’  afro, big ten gallon panama hat and long leather coat was very friendly and funny. He was amazed that I was not interested in any of his ‘ladies’. I first met him when I paused on the street corner to light a cigarette. He asked if I had a match. I said no but I had a lighter. He laughed and started chatting with me. This became a regular occurrence until he decided that I was a plain clothes cop. Hence the reason I changed my return home route.

Walking towards the Pasadena Hilton, I passed what looked like a tennis or country club. I would stand and watch the tennis players in their pristine tennis clogs as they batted the ball back and forth. One night a “drop-dead gorgeous” blonde woman stopped to talk to me.

“Hey! You’ve been coming by here an awful lot.”

“Yeah.” I replied, feeling friendly, “It’s kind of my regular route now.” I chuckled, waved and started to move off.

“Don’t go!” She waved her tennis racket. “You play?”

“I’ve tried it once or twice.”

“Well you ought to come down, we’ll have a volley or two.” She was smiling and shielding her eyes against the lights.

“I’m not a member.” I shrugged and started to wave again, when she moved closer to me.

“I can sign up to two guests in. Come on in and we’ll see what you can do. We can get you some tennis clothes, so you don’t have to worry about that.”

I laughed again and started off.

“Wait! What’s wrong? You scared I’ll beat you?”

I laughed again and shaking my head, I gave a friendly wave and kept walking.

“Some other time then.” She sounded disappointed and I had the briefest moment of thinking about turning around and going in. Then it hit me. I realised that she wasn’t really interested in playing tennis with me.

Hilton Pasadena

I always was a little stupid when it came to women and their possible interest in me. While pondering this new information I had reached the Hilton. As usual the doorman greeted me with a smile and a “Good evening, sir.” I was always amazed that he would be so welcoming to a young long haired guy in boots and jeans. I mean the Hilton was rich with a capital R and I could never figure out why they didn’t  tell me to get lost.

I found out much later from my friend Nathan that the hotel staff thought I was an ‘undercover cop.’ It turned out that my appearance combined with my attire pretty much screamed cop. I thought that was very funny until he said that for safety sake I should either get a haircut or vary my route a bit more.

On the night I met up with the Grim Reaper twice, I had indeed varied my route. I walked by the Pasadena City Courthouse. It was, at that time, touted as the most beautiful courthouse in the country. It was pretty impressive. It sat back from the road and was surrounded by gardens and weeping willow trees.

As I approached the courthouse heading north, I noticed a van parked on a side street facing away from me. The engine was idling and every now and then the driver would goose the gas pedal. I could see the driver’s bearded face watching me in his side view mirror. I had turned down the road he was on and noticing that he was watching me, I got a tingle that crawled  up the back of my neck. He was revving his engine again when I decided to turn around and go back the way I had come.

I nonchalantly strolled up to the corner where a huge weeping willow was. I walked out of the van’s sight line and kept my casual pace going. The second I was out of the van driver’s sight, I heard the squeal of tyres on asphalt. I glanced back and saw he had made a U-turn in the road and was racing his van in my direction.

I jumped forward like I had a rocket up my ass and ran to the intersection. I darted through the street lights just as they turned red. The van shot through right after me; the other cars screeched to a halt and angry horns were blatting out their disapproval. I ran through the supermarket parking lot, dodging between cars and ducking down so the van driver could not see me.

I made my way to the supermarket doors and ran in. I stood hunched over and looking out into the parking lot. The van went up and down each row of cars repeatedly. He was obviously looking for me. After what seemed like hours he gave up and left.

Years later I read with horror about the ‘green death van’ that had been cruising the roads in Southern California and how the bearded driver was kidnapping and torturing people to death. The van that had chased me that night was green and the driver had a bushy beard. I think someone was looking out for me on that Pasadena street.

But I think that whoever had kept an eye out on my well being with the van fell asleep for a bit while I was in the supermarket. As I was headed towards the opposite exit in the store I caught sight of a group of about eight black teenagers disappearing through the door.

I walked out seconds later and saw them all jump over a cinder block wall as I came out. I was about to have my second close call of the evening.

I walked over the 210 Highway on the street bridge. I was about halfway across when I got that tingle again, but this time I felt the small hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up. My heart jumped into my throat. The van! I looked quickly behind me. No van. But there was a group of eight black gang members who were quickly and silently closing the gap between us.

I turned back around and quickened my pace. Only a little, I didn’t want them to either sense fear or decide to speed things up. I was headed for a vacant lot just a few yards ahead. I passed it several times and I’d noticed an empty glass Sangria gallon-sized bottle there every time I’d passed the lot.

That jug was my immediate goal. I figured that they would probably overtake me before I could get to my house which was just around the corner from the empty lot. In my head, I knew they were going to get to me before I could get in the house. If  I could get hold of that huge bottle, I could at least take a couple of the bastards out with me. I got to the lot and looked quickly for the jug. My heart jumped from my throat to the back of my mouth. Someone had broken it. All that remained was the very end of the neck with it’s finger hole.

Change of plan. I walked a little bit faster. The gang was getting uncomfortably close by now. I turned the corner opposite my house. As I got out of their line of sight, I did a replay of what I had done with the van. I ran like the devil was chasing me. Sprinting moved in a big half circle and crawled on the porch from the side of the house. I crouched and opened my front door and slipped in.

I looked out my front window. The eight youths had reached the corner. They stopped and looked up the street. Not seeing their prey they bolted up the street shouting to each other as they looked for me.

I sat on the floor covered in sweat. Two close calls in one night.

The next day, we got a car.