HOME page>                  NEW STUFF page> 
          WRITING CONTENT page>       GUEST ARTISTS page>Home_1.htmlNew_Stuff.htmlEssays.htmlGuest_Artists.htmlshapeimage_1_link_0shapeimage_1_link_1shapeimage_1_link_2shapeimage_1_link_3

Heart Attack Leftovers

John W. Pinkerton


Being a naturally frugal person, I hate to allow experiences to go to waste.  My recent heart attack provided many experiences.  I did a masterful job of telling the tale in an efficient manner in my essay “Oh, yeah…and I Had a Heart Attack”; however, there were a lot of details  left out.

Where to start?

Let's start with memorable folks I met along the way.

I think my favorite person was Joe, one of my ICU nurses in St. Luke’s.  As soon as Joe entered my room, I recognized that he had once been a boxer.  I broached the subject with him, and he confessed to having once been a pugilist which led to a lengthy discussion of the art and the history of boxing---particularly the heavyweight division, my favorite.  It was refreshing to find someone who still cares about boxing. 

I'm always interested in peoples' stories, and soon Joe told me his.  He was reared in Mississippi which is adjacent to my home state of Louisiana and shares a lot of history.  Joe shared some of his unfortunate history in Mississippi which he escaped by moving to California.  There he married, had a child and a divorce which he deeply regretted.  He said he was new to Texas and didn't know much about the state.  I advised him that he only needed to know two things about Texas: one, avoid East Texas and two, never go to Vidor.  We talked a lot about art and writing.  I encouraged him to pursue both.  I actually miss our talks.  Oh, and by the way, Joe was probably one of the smartest and most persuasive guys I've ever met.  He almost turned me into a liberal.

Now the other nurses were all extremely professional and efficient.  Only one didn't have a sense of humor but made up for that with her efficiency.  “Squeeky” had the highest pitched voice I've ever heard---bar none.  After a while in dealing with her, I realized that her “Uh huhs” only meant that she recognized that I was speaking not that she was actually listening.  The only one of my nurses I have my doubts about was the young lady who kept insisting I have one more catheter before I left ICU (see “Oh, yeah…and I had a Heart Attack”).

When they hauled me out of ICU, they took me to the heart floor.  The nurses and aides were nice there, but definitely a step down from the ICU folks.  The head nurses seemed to be pretty knowledgeable, and we got along just fine.  However, some of the other folks were a little slow…but nice.  I recall the one young lady in the wee hours of the morning trying to install catheter number one thousand.  She seemed to be having a little trouble with the procedure, and I asked her if she was having difficulties.  The response which I have yet to identify was less than satisfying.  When I realized that her second effort had also failed, I suggested to her that failure was nothing to be ashamed of and perhaps she should ask for assistance.  Again she responded with words I failed to comprehend.  I concluded that IQ's are not checked at nursing schools.

St. Luke’s must have job fairs in most civilized countries in the world because I seldom met any professional folks who were more than second generation Americans.  This is not a criticism---just an observation.  As a conversation starter, I often use, “Where ya'll from,” to which I got a lot of surprising answers.  Not a lot of native Texans.  It was more like a lineup at the UN.  The most surprising one was a young lady from Uganda.  I asked her about their civil war which she assured  me was completed and added that she remembered it as a child.

On the other hand, the hospital in College Station seemed to employ a lot of native Americans.  That's not a criticism---just an observation.  Some were actually Texans, but many came a long way from places like Colorado, California, and Oregon.  The one from Oregon came to Texas to escape her home town which was in her mind perfect when she was growing up there but had been turned sour by druggies and criminals.   Most came from places they weren't happy with and were seeking greener pastures.  Texas is definitely a greener pasture for those in the medical field.  Oh, yeah, one Black girl said she was raised in Odessa.  I told her it was surprising that there were any Blacks in Odessa, being so far West.  She told me her grandpa was the first one of her family to settle there.   I looked up Odessa and learned that 5.1 percent of the population is Black.  Now you know it too.

My doctors in Houston were for the most part Pakistanis.  The most surprising thing for me about this bunch was that they had a sense of humor.  Being that I consider most doctors only marginally humans, I've always been direct in my dealings with them.  I recall asking one doctor in Bryan if he had ever actually healed anyone.  After giving my question a moment's thought, he gave me the perfect answer, “Not many.”  In the last few years dealing with various ailments, I've explained to more than one doctor, “I know what you think your job is: my job is keeping you from killing me.”  I guess that ain't PC, but there you have it.

In my first conversation with my surgeon, I asked him if the educational system in Pakistan was worth a damn.  After a moment's thought, he responded with a smile, “Good enough.”  We both laughed realizing his little joke.

On one of my last days with these nice folks, the doc and I were chatting, and I commented to him that I suspected that the doctors were a little surprised that I had survived the operation.  At first he said that they never doubted that I'd get through the operation fine.  I basically said “bullshit,” and he confessed that indeed they had doubted my survival.  Hell, I knew that.

Which brings me to another point.  I know folks in hospitals are encouraged to be positive and cheerful and act as though we're all surrounded by unicorns and rainbows, but…who the  Hell are they kidding?  More than once, I had to admonish these cheerful folks to bring the cheerfulness down a notch.

During our stay in the hospitals---I say our stay because Linda was there too---she often admonished me for cussing and being too loud in my response to folks when they were hurting me.   Well, I had already been restricted in my one pleasure, smoking, so I substituted cussing for the loss.  As for being loud in response to pain, as I explained to one of my doctors who commented to me that he could hear me while in a separate building and that there were other people in ICU, “I don't give a damn about other people.  I am a selfish old man, and I'm only worried about myself and there is no extra charge for being loud.”  He never mentioned the subject again.

By the way, the folks in Houston had me hooked up via tubes and wiring to enough machines that taken apart and reassembled would have made a fine space station and the tubes and wires seemed to have a life of their own entangling themselves with each other, the bed sheets, and my arms and legs on an hourly basis.  There has got to be a better way.

One more “by the way” about my Houston stay.  On most days, the same custodial lady came to my room to empty the trash.  I surprised her each time by making eye contact with her.  I'm pretty sure she was surprised by this because usually custodians are pretty much invisible to folks.  I engaged her in conversation.  Just little things like, “Do you live nearby,” etc.  She finally asked me if I would like her to pray for me.  Damn straight.  I much appreciated this.

There was a fellow, an Asian looking fellow, I kept seeing with a big smile in the hallway of ICU .   One day the folks there needed to do some kind of work on me, and Linda was asked to excuse herself.  I remember this fellow coming in and telling me that he had talked to Linda, and that she had sent the message through him that she loved me.  I responded, “Lying bitch.”   He almost fell out laughing then asked me if I wanted him to tell Linda what I had said.  “O, Hell no.”

It’s easy to make people laugh when the purveyor of the humor looks as though he's on death's doorstep.

I recall while in the Bryan hospital being pushed down a hallway in a wheelchair on my way to a CAT scan by a fellow with the strongest East Texas accent I've ever heard when I saw a nice looking man in an expensive suit approach one of those double doors that requires a push on a big button on the wall to open.  He seemed confused as to why the door wouldn't open the way most doors open.  Just as we got to him, he turned toward us with the question on his face.  I looked up and him and said, “Dumbass.”

He almost peeded on himself laughing.

In the same hospital the good folks took me to an operating room to perform some kind of torture.  When I arrived on a gurney, they prepared to pick me up and place me on an operating table.  They seemed to be having a little problem figuring out where each person assisting in the lift should be.  One person said, “Bill, (I have no idea what his real name was) come over on this side to help.”   “Bill” was exceptionally small, and I had difficulty understanding how he could be of any help at any point.   I was only a foot or so from a  small Hispanic lady who was eye level with me and was looking directly at me.  I quietly commented, “Why.”  At first her face screwed into a question mark but was followed by an understanding laugh.  She got it.  Bless her heart.  A good audience.

In Bryan one young lady learned it's not nice to sneak up on an old man trying to sleep.  Having good peripheral vision, I noticed that a blond youngster was extending a finger toward one of my bedsores.  “What the Hell are you doing?” ended this exercise.  In the future I expect that she will ask first.

I was able to get the life stories of most of the nurses and aides and doctors pretty quickly.  However, there was one fellow in College Station that I noticed was avoiding telling me anything.  One day when it was just the two of us, I asked, “What's your story?”  He responded that he didn't have a story.  I said, “Of course you do.”  The story that followed was not pretty.  Holy crap!  I wish this young fellow nothing but the best in his life.

My first night in the hospital was my first time since I was about seven years old.  Immediately I realized that there was no such thing as privacy in a hospital.  I gave it up almost immediately.  I even got in the habit of asking new folks visiting me if they wanted to look at my butt because everyone else had.

One more thing and I'll shut up.  Hospital baths are weird and disturbingly Biblical.   In preparation for my first hospital bath, the attendant asked if she should bathe my privates or would I prefer to.  I, of course, said I would bathe my  privates.  I'll never forget her words of advice to me:  “Do not scrub your right side of your groin.”   Enough said.

Sorry, I just thought of another one more thing.  I don’t remember if it was a man, woman, or a talking parrot who said the following to me: “You have purty feet.”  I swear I heard banjos playing in the background.

I don't think I ever shut up for more than a couple of minutes when I was incarcerated in College Station and Houston.  I told story after story and asked question after question about my servants---doctors, nurses, aides, custodial staff, and just folks who stumbled in the wrong door.  Crap, I suspected that I might not survive this experience and I didn't see any reason to be restrained in my conversations at that point.  I might not have a lot of future opportunities.  Waste not want not.