Friday, May 30

2%.

If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.
— Yiddish proverb


The ”Framingham scale” is a risk-assessment tool that arose out of an ongoing study centered in Framingham, Massachusetts, into heart disease and the factors that contribute to its occurrence. It takes into account things like personal characteristics, family history, diet, and exercise frequency; based on those criteria, my dad figured he was pretty safe. His family has very little history of heart disease, he eats well, and as was empirically proven not so long ago, he’s probably in better shape than I am. In fact, according to the Framingham model, Dad determined that he had only about a 2% chance of getting heart disease in the next 10 years.

So it came as a surprise when he started having “exertion-induced” chest pains a couple weeks ago. It started when he was doing his usual morning runs, but it progressed to the point where far less strenuous activity — even taking his springer spaniel, Jake, on a leisurely stroll through Cooper Creek Park — would make his chest hurt so much he’d have to stop and sit down. His own doctor suggested that he go in for a treadmill test in the lab at the Medical Center, so he scheduled one for Thursday morning.

My mom, who was out of town all week visiting her own dad in Virginia, called me Tuesday night and asked if, just for her own peace of mind, I would go down to Columbus and accompany my dad to his test. I just had a deadline on a major project pushed from September back to January, so things had quieted down quite a bit at work, and I told her sure, I could spare a day or two off. Dad, of course, thought it was unnecessary; when I called him and asked if he felt like having some company this week, his immediate response was, “Your mom got to you, didn’t she?” When we walked out the door at 6:15 Thursday morning, him in his running outfit, he carried a change of clothes with him in a duffel bag, thinking he’d take the treadmill test, knock it out, then change and go into the office.

Most people — including anyone who runs as much as my dad does — usually go 10 to 12 minutes on the treadmill before it really starts getting to them. Thursday morning, Dad barely even made it to three. His chest started hurting, his EKG spiked, and Dr. Chhokar, the cardiologist, laid him down and broke to us the bad news: There was some kind of lesion blocking one of the major arteries in his heart, and it was serious enough that she wanted to go ahead and take care of it that day. She transferred him down to the cardiac cath lab at St. Francis, and that afternoon they did a balloon angioplasty and inserted a stent into the weakened part of his left coronary artery.

My sister and I saw the pictures right after they brought him out of the lab, and Dr. Chhokar estimated that Dad’s artery was about 98% blocked. Two percent had gone from being Dad’s safety blanket, his reason for being confident in his health, to being the astonishingly thin line separating normal, everyday life from God knows what.

It doesn’t give you a lot of confidence in the rightness and orderliness of the world to know that someone who ate, exercised, and did everything else properly — to the point where he had a better theoretical chance of hitting a double-zero bet on a roulette wheel than contracting heart disease — could still be going into the hospital to try and stave off a coronary, much less someone you love. I told Dad right before he went into the cath lab that if this was all healthy eating gets you, I was going out and getting a fricking Triple Baconator and large fries from Wendy’s. And yet that knowledge, that at any given moment 2% can either be carefree life or imminent death, is also liberating in a weird way: If you know that your chances are almost completely up in the air no matter what you do, doesn’t that give you more license to do the things you want? Eat the Triple Baconator, blow off work to go to that baseball game, go skydiving — you might as well. The chance might not be there tomorrow, and there’s not much you can do about it.

But just as 2% can be two very different sides of the same coin, that freedom brings with it responsibilities. If you know that whatever you have can be taken away from you so randomly, then you’ve got that much more incentive to make sure your “affairs are in order” at any given moment — and not even in a legal sense, but in the sense that you’re straight-up with your family, your loved ones of all stripes, that nothing has been left unsaid or undone. In between Triple Baconators and skydiving, you might also use some of that newfound freedom to hand out an “I love you” or “I’m proud of you,” whether the recipient is expecting it or not — just to make sure there’s no doubt.

I don’t think I’ve been holding back that much on saying those things to my dad, but I guess now I’m going to make doubly sure. I spent a lot of time today thinking about all the things that, had they gone just a little bit differently, might’ve taken away any remaining opportunity I had to do that: What if I’d told my mom I was just too busy to go home this week? What if I’d just ignored her phone call completely Tuesday evening, figuring I was dog-tired and I could just call her back later? What if the treadmill test had been scheduled for one week later, and in that one-week interim Dad went on a run that took him from one side of that 2% to the other?

Like I said, it’s scary to think that all of this might’ve simply come down to Dad, and by extension the rest of our family, being extraordinarily lucky. Maybe even the kind of luck that lets you hit a 49-to-1 bet. But even if that’s all it was, I’ll take it over the alternative. And whatever responsibilities arise out of having to make the most of that luck, I’ll take those too.

19 comments:

hmmmm said...

...and think of how Mom felt, being away from her beloved when the s*** hit the fan! Glad you were there to give her some comfort.

Can I have my "french fry Friday" treat - I thought just once a week would be OK, but then, as you say, what does healthy eating do for you? Other than keep me from being a total blimp, that is....

oreo said...

In a way, your dad's healthy lifestyle actually might have bought him a couple more years w/out any problems. Instead of just getting tired and out of breath after his run things could've turned out a lot worse.
So I wouldn't necessarily dive onto the Triple Bacon head first yet. All you can do is try to be as good and healthy as you can to give your body the best chance to fight off whatever is coming...the rest is really up to God.

Sorry to hear about all that stuff. Must be a scary time for your dad, your mom, you and the rest of the family. I'm about the same age as you are, with parents getting older I catch myself thinking about the very same things.

Anonymous said...

Best. Post. Ever. Seriously. Prayers with you and your family.

Chad said...

My father died after a 3+ month hospital stay fighting a lung infection. A lifestyle of red meat and a strong nightcap seven days a week was his fair, but he figured as long as he never smoked (as his father did) he was doing marginally better. He didn't. But those three and a half months were invaluable to setting almost everything in order.

Your father's attention to fitness at least got him to the hospital in the family car instead of an ambulance. I pray he'll have many years to come of telling you that your mom is overreacting.

Ryno said...

Best wishes for your family Doug. If at all possible, please post any updates about his recovery and how he is doing.

My prayers and thoughts for your mom who has to be a worried mess.

lowlife said...

My dad is quite possibly on the other side of the coin. He has a Snickers bar and a 16 oz. Pepsi for lunch on most work days. He has coffee every morning with his friends, but he actually drinks more Pepsi. He also probably downs at least four or five beers a day. My dad is active, though. He refs HS basketball, plays softball and is always on the run with his City Council duties. But my family has a history with heart disease - so I'm constantly worried I will get a call with bad news.

But he seems to be healthy at 57. And I believe part of it has to do with how much he works and is constantly on the go. Same with my mom's dad. When he retired, he opened up a business to mow lawns for older people and to fix up houses. Hell, he would wake me up mowing our lawn at 7 am. He finally had to move into a nursing home at 97 and died last year at the ripe age of 101. Hard work is just as good as exercise in my opinion.

But here's to a safe recovery for your dad and to you Baconated freedom.

Sarah said...

I will echo previous posters in that even if your Dad had a heart attack (God forbid) he was in much better shape to deal with any surgery and recovery.

I don't know if this has anything to do with your situation but my grandfather was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1975. I'm told he thought he was going to die soon so he did what he always had dreamed of doing: retire, move to the country, give more of his time to the church and play golf five days a week. He eventually passed on - in 2005 at the age of 93.

zen bubba said...

I agree with Anon. I've been reading your stuff for years I can honestly say this is your best post ever.

Anonymous said...

may God bless you and your family this day and provide many more healthy and happy years for your dad.

tantra flower said...

Sending warm, positive energy to GA for you and your family Doug. Much love, Lisa ~Namaste~

Jake (Tailgate Blog) said...

All my best. I have been following your blog for over a year and in a weird way I think we all feel that we know you personally. You are a great writer and even a better son.

Anonymous said...

I just checked your blog, thinking that there might be news here about your dad, and am so glad to hear that the blocked artery has been opened and all is well. This is a wonderful, thoughtful post from such a fine and caring son. We have all been thinking about you and Ann and your parents every day.
P3

Anonymous said...

Liberals have a higher occurrence of heart disease than conservatives. That tightness in your chest when you watch Barack are sympathetic feelings. Er, maybe pathetic feelings? I'm concerned about Barack's health, the incidence of heart disease in black-whites is 10 times higher than caucasians and all his smoking has had to take its toll on his vascular system. Something for us all to think about. Thanks for making us more aware, Doug. Hope the stent works.

Jeffster said...

Great stuff, Doug. Reminds me of a passage in the Maltese Falcon I discussed with one of my sons this evening. Part of the passage: "He, the good citizen-husband-father, could be wiped out between office and restaurant by the accident of a falling beam. He knew then that men died at haphazard like that, and lived only while blind chance spared them."

Amy said...

I read you blog all the time but have never posted before. Just wanted to let you know that was a very touching blog and I appreciate you sharing it with us. I went through the same thing with my own father, and what they can do for hearts now is absolutely amazing. Your family is in my prayers.

Anonymous said...

Luck had nothing to do with your Father coming through this crises. God did however.
May God bless you and your family abundantly.

Liz said...

Doug, I can't imagine how scary and shocking this must be. I hope your dad is doing better very soon. Thinking of you and your family.

Universal REMONSTER said...

Thoughts and prayers from me to your father and family.

Jen. CHICKTASTIC! said...

Doug - I read your blog all the time - die hard Dawg fan and all but seriously even with all the great stuff you write this is by far the best thing I've ever read here.

I'm preparing for my 4th Father's Day without my Dad. He passed away in a terrible accident in July of 2003, and Father's Day that year was the last time our family was together. It is a great memory - I cherish it, but I'm also so at peace with his passing because we always had the best relationship - he knew he was my hero and I knew he loved me best. He taught me everything I know about football, hating tech, florida and UT...and so much more. I'm still very blessed.

I'm so happy your Dad went to the doctor, and that you too recognize the gift of a great family and of making sure that you say and do all you think and feel.

Prayers to your family.