I dropped dead on Friday, Oct. 29, 2004, at approximately 1409 hours while working as the incident commander at an apartment fire in West Seattle. Only by the grace of God, quick work by Seattle firefighter/EMTs and firefighter/paramedics, and the miracles of modern medicine am I alive today to talk...
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The next day, Saturday, I was feeling great. I even told my wife and the nurse that I felt guilty taking up a bed in the cardiac intensive care unit. The nurse gently patted me on the shoulder and said that she was glad the medicine was working and that I was exactly where I needed to be. A while later, Dr. Gabriel Aldea walked in. He would be the surgeon leading his team as they performed open heart surgery on me. He said that his schedule was really tight for Monday and Tuesday, so they would be performing the surgery on me at 9 o'clock Sunday morning, Halloween. He didn't want me to wait until Wednesday.
That night we were to change from Daylight Savings Time to Pacific Standard Time; turn the clocks back an hour. I had fallen asleep early and woke up Sunday morning around 5:30. Our oldest son walked into the room just about 6 o'clock and woke up his Mom with a big, "Good morning!" He thought it was 7. After a laugh and the realization that he was an hour off, he took his Mom down to the cafeteria for breakfast. That left me alone with my thoughts.
For the first time, I started to get a little anxious. Before long, thankfully, Bob Myers and his wife, Laurean, a couple of other friends and our children showed up. All of my fears disappeared in an instant. The support I was receiving was unbelievable. I was now fearless and realized that I had placed everything into God's hands and all would be good. A nurse came by at 8:45 and we were off to the basement and surgery. I had not a fear in the world.
I was returned to intensive care a few hours later. The surgery was a complete success. Dr. Aldea and his team did a four-way bypass. One coronary artery was 100% blocked and the other three clogged in the 80%-90% ranges. A mammary artery from the left side of my chest was used for one graft and three sections of vein were harvested from my right leg for the others.
Janna took one look at me and had to sit down. I had tubes sticking out of my neck, two tubes coming out of my chest, six or more intravenous bags hooked up to my arms, lots of wires connected to sticky pads all over me and a catheter for urine output. Asked what my pain level was on a scale of one to 10 with 10 being the most intense, I kept flashing five fingers in an attempt to signal a 9.5. Thank goodness for drugs, as I have no recollection of that pain.
The intubation tube was removed after I was able to take seven or more breaths per minute. The rest of that day is kind of a blur. I would fall asleep and then halfway wake up, normal for the surgery just experienced. The nurses gave me a pillow and told me to hug it tightly whenever I was about to cough or sneeze. I never let it leave my sight! Each day after I kept feeling better.
I was relocated to a regular room late Monday or early Tuesday and visitors were allowed. That was great. All of our children and grandchildren and lots of folks stopped by and the firefighters, of course, kept things lively.
On Thursday, Dr. Jeannie Poole and her team installed an automatic implantable cardioverter defibrillator (AICD) inside my upper left chest. Should my heart ever decide to go back into ventricular fibrillation again, the AICD will fire off an electrical charge to convert the heart back to a normal rhythm. Fortunately, it has yet to fire. Every four months, I go in for a checkup and a special computer is used to read the output from the little $50,000 titanium machine. When it says that the battery is running low, I go in for another surgery and have it replaced. The wires run directly to my heart, so all they do is unplug the old unit and plug in the new one.
The next evening, Friday, Janna was allowed to take me home. It felt good to be home and weird at the same time. I knew that my life had been changed forever and wondered how well I would adjust. My worries were unfounded. Everything has worked out just fine. I quit smoking, of course. I started working out in a gym four days a week with a routine selected for me by a physical fitness professional. On the fifth day, I ride a bicycle five miles and try to walk a couple of miles on the sixth day. I'm still working on the heart-healthy diet, but have changed my eating habits nonetheless.
Prior to 1409 hours on Oct. 29, 2004, I was the perfect "before" picture for physical fitness and heart-healthy living. I'm the one who might have said, "Quit smoking? I'm a firefighter, smoke is my business!" Or, while getting ready to bite into a bacon-cheddar cheeseburger, might say something like, "Mmm, a cardiovascular dream come true." I have said things like that and it took me 53 years to figure out that I was dead wrong. It took a good whack in the middle of the chest to wake me up, but I got the message loud and clear.