As usual, I was moaning about my students, my lumbago, my work load and then I almost lost my bro. Dick was a dead man walking with 99% blockage of not just any old blood vessel, but of the Widow Maker, left anterior descending coronary artery, so named because if the artery gets obstructed the result is usually the Big One, sudden death.
The doctor said that my 54-year-old brother in law has the heart of 70-year-old man and wonders how a man who lives so right, could have a cardiovascular system so wrong. Dick, a non-smoker, exercises daily and eats veggies grown in his own garden. Good habits. Bad genes. His dad died at a massive heart attack with no warning at age fifty-four. Dick’s only warning was strange pain in the neck.
Dick, cheerful, outgoing, athletic, is a wonderful husband and father, a soccer coach, and businessman, who loves the outdoors. He’s always the first to do someone a good turn for no ulterior motive. He donates gallons of blood, gives his Christmas check to the underprivileged and contributes to church and community service projects. A good man.
He’s the kind of guy who takes a thousand pictures of his nephew’s first U.S. college ball game, to capture one perfect shot, so that Nic’s parents in Switzerland could feel a part of that milestone. The guy that buys his in-laws (he named Outlaws) goofy gifts like matching shirts with gaudy fish patterns. That drives 500 miles to surprise a friend. That never forgets a Mother’s Day.
When my sister, Karen, called to explain the crisis, the only time she broke down was when she said, “I would have been lost without Nathalie by my side.” Our daughter, Nat, in her last year of Medical School, moved into Karen and Dick’s basement to help defray expenses. Nat was working ER at the hospital where Dick underwent emergency surgery. Dick, a man of great faith, knows God was watching over him. And Nat was at the right place in the right time doing what she was born do – console, comfort, guide – people through the perils of the medical world, that other planet where they communicate with doctor-speak, another foreign language.
Last week, Dick comforted Nat after a tough day when she came home distraught, after they tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate a Code Blue baby in a case of child neglect. This week, Nathalie held my baby sister’s hand when the cardiologist explained her husband’s alarming test results and requested his living will before the procedure.
Forty-eight hours later, Dick is home with a stent restoring the blood flow to the heart. When people call to wish him a speedy recovery, he doesn’t lament the diseased heart, medical bills, or pills for-the-rest-of-my-life regime; instead, he rejoices in the miracle of being alive.Ever positive and upbeat he tells you, “I guess God still needs me here on earth.” As do his wife, daughters, mom, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews, in laws and out laws, neighbors and friends.
In the aftermath of almost losing a loved one, we face our own mortality. Dick inspires us; he always lives each moment as though it may be his last. With a broad grin, The Dead Man Walking wraps you in a bear hug and shouts his motto, “Seize the day, Sista!”