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I am sure that I’m a dead man walking, the blissful recipient of medical magic. I’m not sure what comes next, but glad there’s still a next. Every time I brush a bath towel across my chest, I am reminded of why I still live when, by all nature, I should be dead.
The story begins in 2003 when I had a heart attack, and underwent my second bypass surgery in 13 years. I returned to my normal life after the surgery, including tennis and golf, and felt well as time went by.
From the day he met me in the hospital in 2003, my cardiologist, Dr. David Avino, kept close tabs on me with regular exams spiced with fan-to-fan talks about our favorite sports teams. More importantly, Avino kept his pulse on mine, adjusting medicine when he thought it necessary, and explaining to me what had happened to my heart and what to expect. In late 2010, he gave me a test that measured some arcane (to me) important heart function.
It appeared that my heart had gotten worse as a result of the 2003 attack, and now I was threatened with arrhythmia, a not-so-nice condition that causes the heart to suddenly stop beating.
That heart starter – a defibrillator – is about the size of a Zippo lighter (remember those?) and has wires extending like tendrils into the heart. Battery-operated, an implantable defibrillator triggers when it senses arrhythmia has occurred. Many of us have seen the larger portable units with paddles operate in TV shows about hospitals, cops and firefighters.
I wasn’t too hot for the idea of becoming some sort of bionic man, but the alternative was less attractive. So I went off to see Dr. Donald Switzer, a Williamsville surgeon who’s said to be able to pop these units in without missing a beat, so they work to beat the devil.
Whoopee, now I could have another incision in my chest. I was running out of space for much more cutting, though a move to the upper left found a suitable spot to slot in the defibrillator unit. After an overnight stay, I went home with an uncomfortable lump in my chest and a bunch of stitches holding the lump in place.
I dutifully read the owner’s manual. Then I promptly forgot everything it contained except that I would have to have a battery change in six or seven years, if I lived that long. I bragged to my friends that I was a new bionic man, and pretty much ignored the thing, except when I showered or bumped into a doorway.
That was until a July night at a Manitoba fishing camp, more than an hour’s flight from the nearest doctor. Charlie Troccia and I have been fishing partners for more than a decade, and we were sound asleep after a day’s combat with toothy northern pike, some of them more than 3½ feet long.
I woke up in a flash when a mule kicked me, and sat up in my bed as I cried out. Charlie was as stunned as I was, startled by my shout. The blow from the defibrillator doing its job was a violent surprise, but seconds later there was not a trace of pain. It was as if it had never happened. I not only was alive; I was well – scared as could be – but that was the extent of it.
Sleep didn’t come easy the rest of the night, though I spent the next few days fishing with Charlie with the incident almost forgotten.
But not quite.
I’m really not a dead man walking at all. I’m a live fisherman, and very thankful.